BOOK REVIEW: ‘Yearbook of Astronomy 2019’

93. ASTRONOMY X

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Yearbook of Astronomy 2019

Editor: Brian Jones

Total No. of Printed Pages: 328

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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When introducing this volume to the reader, its Editor notes that it is ‘…The latest edition of an indispensable publication, the annual appearance of which has been eagerly anticipated by astronomers, both amateur and professional, for well over half a century.’ With its provenance thus established, he also notes that it is ‘…Aimed at both the armchair astronomer and the active backyard observer’. It is an accurate summary.

The volume opens with an Editor’s Foreword. Placed immediately after the Contents page this precis’ the volume’s content, outlines intended future developments and acknowledges those who have contributed towards its creation. It concludes with a summary of the title’s recent history. A Preface follows. This defines both the parameters which have been followed in respect of the Monthly Sky Notes (Star Charts) which are a significant part of the volume, and provides the titles of publications which might also be of use. The Preface is in turn followed by a two-page section titled About Time. This gives both a history of the development of time and clocks while also detailing Standard Times in operation in various parts of the world. A section titled using the Yearbook of Astronomy as an Observing Guide now appears. Its title is self-explanatory. The main part of the volume now appears. This is divided into four Sections (analogous to Chapters), each devoted to a specific aspect of astronomy. Within each section, subsections carry both maps and articles relevant to the larger narrative. While some articles carry page-specific Footnotes, these provide additional information specific to the page and do not carry citations. A separate section now appears. While the title (Articles Section) is seemingly self-explanatory (and perhaps even contradictory as ‘articles’ have also appeared within preceeding sections), the articles appearing  within this section are less section-specific than their predecessors and cover a wide range of astronomy-related topics. A Miscellaneous section placed after the Article section, while containing even more articles, also lists Astronomical Organisations and profiles the volume’s contributors. A Glossary completes the volume. The book contains numerous Maps, Photographs, Tables, Diagrams and Drawings. These are informatively captioned, although not all carry source-indicating citations.  The Contents page carries no mention of their existence. No Index is provided.

For this reviewer (possessed as he is of limited knowledge about ‘Astronomy’), the volume’s complete lack of an Index is its major failing. With literally no way of knowing what is within a Section or Subsection, a casual reader (of which the reviewer is but one) has no alternative but to stumble their way through the volume. With no familiar words such as might be found an Index to guide him, such a reader can have no idea of what he will find.  Many searchers will simply give up; a loss to both astronomy and the retailer. On that basis, this reviewer would strenuously suggest that the creation of an Index be given priority for any subsequent editions of this publication.

This is a well-written and very informative compilation, and (the Editor’s comments notwithstanding), is likely to be of interest to both professional and amateur astronomers alike.  Some readers with a passing interest in ‘things in the sky’ may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

Had there been an Index, the rating would have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Yearbook of Astronomy 2019’

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2018

Since 1 January 2018 I have placed 27 book reviews onto this site. Not as many as in 2017, but still an interesting range and variety. As those who follow me will be aware, the titles reviewed cover a wide range of subjects and receive varying ratings out of a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent.

On the basis of the gradings / ratings received, I thought that it would again be fun to list the Top Ten Titles  of 2018. They appear below:

Port of London  (Stone)

Captain Elliot and the Founding of Hong Kong  (Bursay)

River Gunboats (Branfill-Cook)

A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The nautical paintings of Susanne Fournais (Fournais-Grube)

A History of Birds (Wills)

Escorting the Monarch (Jagger)

Around Britain By Canal: 1000 Miles of Waterways (Burton)

Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line (Johnson)

Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II  (Johnen)

Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland (Fallon)

Tempting though it might be, and out of respect to both the titles and the authors, I will not be listing those titles which received the poorest ratings. Should you wish to know what these might be, you are, of course, quite welcome to trawl through the individual entries.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR  TO YOU ALL and thanks for visiting this site.

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AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2018

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

80. Marine artist's portfolio

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais

Author: Susanne Fournais Grube

No. of Pages: 103

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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In this volume’s Introduction, and when explaining the reasons for this volume, the author states ‘I’ve been very fortunate in being able to demonstrate [my] love of and fascination in the sea through art’ and that she has been ‘Lucky enough to be able to devote time to painting those subjects that I find of interest as well. These paintings form the basis of this book’. It is an accurate precis of a beautifully-illustrated volume.

This volume contains no Contents page; the first section being an Introduction where-in the author provides a historical and personal background to her nautical interest, while also acknowledging the assistance she received in the book’s creation. A small, single-column section titled My Painting Techniques appears on the extreme left hand edge of the following page (page six) ; the title being self-explanatory. The six ‘Sections’ forming the main part of the work then follow. These are analogous to Chapters. They are however un-numbered and cover a wide variety of subjects from Liberty ships to Lighthouses, to Crustacea and to Shells. Although nominally on a single subject (for example Tugboats, ferries and pilots in ‘Section’ Two), the section ‘titles’ are frequently ‘catchalls’ for the artist’s work; the previously-mentioned section containing images of both naval vessels and maritime paraphernalia; subjects falling outside the nominal range implied by that section’s ‘title’. Each Section is prefaced by an introductory essay. These provide background to the types of vessel likely to be found within the section (Wooden boats and yachts in ‘Section’ 6 being one such example), and set the scene for the images that are to follow. That the images within the section might include subjects that are neither ships nor boats is not however mentioned. The images, when they appear, are spectacular, and portray their subjects (whether on land, in the sea or from below it) in all sorts of settings and situations. The majority of images are single-paged in format. However, for unexplained reasons, several pages contain groups of smaller images, provided perhaps to display as many of the artist’s works as possible within a constrained environment. The image colours are beautiful, sharp and very evocative. They display the artist’s talent and distinctive style to full advantage. Such Captions as are provided are the titles of the individual pieces. The volume contains no ‘technical’ information about the subjects being portrayed. An Epilogue placed after the last image (Marie) provides information about the artist’s travels, whereabouts and her future intentions. The volume contains no list of the images that appear within it. There is no Index.

As previously-noted, the images within this volume are beautiful and a credit to their creator. They are equally however, the source of a major criticism concerning this work; namely that there is simply no way to find a specific vessel or image. Should a reader to whom ‘A ship is a ship, is a ship’, merely want a ‘Pretty picture book’ of marine things, they will have no problems with this aspect of the volume. However, should said reader (perhaps a ship modeller or a crew-member of one of the vessels portrayed), wish to find an image of (for example) Mineral Zulu (page 51), they will have to spend time trying to find if the vessel is even actually within the work, with no guarantee of success for their efforts. In this reviewer’s opinion such searching for a possibly-disappointing end-result should not be necessary; things could have been done better.  An Index, or (at the very least), a page containing a List of Plates / Images and the appropriate page numbers, would have been extremely helpful. A Contents page showing the titles and locations of the various ‘Sections’ (while also numbering them), when combined with the previously-suggested list of plates, would have also contributed to reduced searching times.

There is no doubt that this is a beautiful book and a pleasure to view. Followers of the artist will, of course, be delighted with its content. Lovers of ships and ‘Things Nautical’ may well find it worthy of their attention, while ship modellers and other marine artists may find the colours and details useful. On the presumption that the vessels portrayed actually exist, it is also likely that the crews of such craft will find the images and the artist’s interpretations to be of interest. It is also likely to appeal to those who simply like beautiful images of ships and the sea and who would purchase a volume of images for just that reason. It is indeed a ‘Work of Art’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

Musings: A Year on…

Some of  those who follow this thread might recall that a year or so ago, I attained the noble status of being a ‘Pensioner’ (aka ‘An Old Git’!), and that I was ruminating about what might lie ahead.

A year has passed, and things have come and gone.

In the interval, I have become partly used to the idea that I am now a ‘Dependant of the Government’ and am also becoming just a little  ‘physically’ old (especially on cold days when injuries from my ‘Mis-spent Youth’ return to remind me of my younger years). To use an aviation analogy, my airframe hours are increasing and the fatigue life is declining. It’s a curious senstion (at times literally) to discover that previously-easy , everyday things can suddenly become awkward to do; that which I did yesterday may not necessarily be done yesterday!

The ‘Computer’ is however still working, I can still think and reason, and as long as that is the case, there is hope to be had.

To my surprise during the past year I was also compelled to spend time in hospital. There was nothing serious; merely one of the previously mentioned and sustained injuries deciding that it would remind me of its existence; and did so with some enthusiasm. The fact that I was in another country at the time it decided to remind me, only served to heighten the experience. Suffice to say that I was able to return to my home, only to be ‘hospitalised’ 16 hours later, and to be subsequently operated on! Not exactly what was intended or expected nor one of the better ways to return from a holiday, although that detail was somewhat compensated-for by the fact that I was declared ‘unfit to work’ and had a futher six weeks at home while I recovered. Thank you the nationalised health service.

And of other events? The previously-mentioned (and totally-impromptue) overseas trip to visit one of my children and their Grandmother, involvement with a local community-based organisation and (inevitably) the continuation of my gold-mining-related research. Publication of a product of said research is expected to occur within the next few months. A significant anniversary as well ; Fortytwo years of marriage to the same delightful lady, who still puts up wih me and encourages my interests. She is definitely a ‘Keeper’… Attendance at a recent model railway exhibition as an ‘invited guest’ was also an interesting experience, in that I was surrounded by others of a similar age. If ‘silver hair’ is an indication of knowledge, then that event was very ‘knowledgeable’. There was ‘silver’ for miles… I did however enjoy the experience, and, according to my goood lady, survived it in better shape physically than I had at any previous shows. An interesting observation.

And finally to this Blog.

I admit to being somewhat remiss recently in not attending to its ‘feeding’ but ‘Due to circumstances beyond my control…’  Thank you to those who read what I write; the knowledge that ‘Someone somewhere’ might read my efforts is appreciated, although I have absolutely no idea who my audience might be, and have to rely on whatever appears in my email as ‘WordPress likes’.  In that context a bit of ‘feedback’ on here would be nice, ‘cos otherwise I’ll just waffle on… 🙂

Thank you though, whomever you are and wherever you might be…

Michael Keith

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Musings: A Year on…

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West’

60. DSCF2123 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West

Author: Paul Moorcraft

No. of Pages: 181

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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If this reviewer was asked to recommend one book as a basic resource for the 2017 international geopolitical scene, Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West would be it. According to the author, the volume ‘…Traces the growth of the Islamic threat and offers some domestic and international solutions by working with potential allies in Europe and the Middle East’. He concludes ‘My conclusion is positive – many of the current problems can be solved’. The result is well-written, well-researched, eminently readable and objective. It is the ideal ‘go-to’ volume for anyone with an interest in international affairs.

By way of introduction, a single page titled About the Author is placed ahead of the Contents page. This details the author’s academic and personal background, while also listing his previously- published books.  The Contents page follows. A List of Maps placed immediately after the Contents page contains eight maps relative to the volume’s narrative. It is in turn followed by a section titled List of Illustrations which replicates the captions of the 31 images that appear within the volume’s 16-pag Photographic section. An Introduction (Subtitled Saving the West) summarises what is to come in the eight Chapters that follow and which form the major part of the volume. Within these the author presents his assessment of the current international situation, while also providing solutions which could be used to neutralise the threats that he defines. Where relevant to the narrative, subsections within the individual Chapters provide additional information relative to their specific topic.  A Conclusion follows. This summarises the narrative, while tendering further thoughts about what the future might hold. The volume makes limited use of sequential and Chapter-specific Endnotes to provide additional information.  Where used, the relevant citations appear in a designated Endnotes section placed after the Conclusion. A Select Bibliography follows. In it the author lists the printed resources he used when creating the book. An Index completes the work. As previously-noted the volume contains eight Maps and 31 Images, the Maps being placed immediately after the Contents page. The Images appear in a 16-page section placed in the centre of the volume. Some are sourced, some not.  Despite the use of numerous acronyms, there is no Glossary to explain their meanings.

Although as a ‘Work of Reference’ this volume is extremely impressive, it is not without fault. For this reviewer, the Index in particular, is a matter of concern. While reviewing this volume, this reviewer randomly searched the Index for additional references to Sri Lanka, Colombia and Angola (all mentioned on page 29). Despite appearing on the aforementioned page, the Index contained no references to these locations. Believing that the omission could have been the result of an ‘Indexing’ error, when subsequently reading Chapter Four (Where did the Islamic State come from?), this reviewer again sought Index references for such words as ‘Zionists’ (page 57), ‘Jews’ (page 59), ‘Muckhabarat’  (page 60)  and Umma (page 62). Again he found nothing, and can only conclude that there are other, similar, omissions within the Index. There is, of course, no way to know what these might be.

While omitting Index-references to three words on a single page may well have been accidental, omitting four different words in four different locations is a cause for concern.  The authority of the Index may well be compromised. As if this in itself was not enough (and also on page 29), the author stated that ‘Earlier in the book I looked at 2016 as the annus horribilus’. Wishing to learn why that that specific year had been so honoured (and believing the author’s statement to be correct), this reviewer subsequently looked for mentions of annus horribilus in the Index and Chapters One and Two of the volume. He looked in vain. In addition (and when presenting his argument), the author uses numerous quotations to reinforce his point. Some of these have been given citations (that on page 27 being one such example). However, the majority have not, with those on pages 7, 85, and 153 being only randomly-chosen examples of many such omissions. In the absence of verifying citations, are these ‘imagined’ / ‘invented’ statements? The reader cannot know. The omission of capital letters for proper nouns (‘pope’ being but one example), was also noted, as were minor errors of punctuation. Although to this reviewer the omissions detailed-above are significant, whether-or-not they are of importance will depend-upon the reader.

As previously-noted (and despite the ‘problem areas’ listed above), for this reviewer, this is the ideal ‘go-to’ volume for anyone with an interest in international affairs. By providing ‘chapter and verse’ on its subject, it is likely to be useful to all and any reader interested in an objective assessment of events currently occurring around the globe. It could well become a standard reference work on the field of contemporary international relations.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West’