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Reviews Written by
Simon Binning "Simonbin" (Bath, UK)

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The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad
The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad
Price: £3.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another superb work from Mr Wolmar, 8 July 2013
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This is the third or fourth book I have read by Christian Wolmar, and it does not disappoint.
What makes his books so good, is that they clearly demonstrate great knowledge, deep research, and detailed understanding of the subject, alongside a writing style that is eminently suited to the general reader. I have no special interest in railways, apart from their general place in history, and yet I look forward to reading one of the author's works, as I know it will be good history.
This book covers the development of the railways in America; it is not really a technical work, but more a social history, and explains very well how America was virtually built by the railways. It looks at the railways in the civil war, the boom and bust periods (mostly bust), and the decline of the last 50 years or so.
Interesting from start to finish, this is a good book for you if you are interested in railways, but also if you are interested in American history, because railways form a major part of that history.


The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812
The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812
Price: £5.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good account of the 1812 war with America, but a bit patchy, 3 July 2013
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The war between Britain and America in the early nineteenth century is not well remembered on this side of the Atlantic; there was another war going on in Europe that was holding everyone's attention, and that has repercussions right down to today.
The author is a naval historian, and his handling of naval matters is exemplary; he is clearly sure of his subject. The strategy, tactics and individual battles are detailed and handled really well. However, that does mean that other areas are less surely handled, and the land battles are dealt with rather perfunctorily. I was also a bit unsure about a lot of the last but one chapter, where the author deals with how America handled the legacy of the war. He covered not just the 'official' version, which might loosely include the way politicians have used the war for their own ends, but also the way artists, writers and others have portrayed it. I felt he was on dodgy ground here, and some of this chapter seemed out of place. I note that some have also criticised the author's grasp of contemporary American politics; my knowledge is not good enough to comment on this, except to say that I found some of his explanations very plausible, so perhaps this comes down to which side of the Atlantic you come from!
In general, the author's writing style is a little heavy. There are some seriously repetitive sections, and although the book is generally chronological, at times, you suddenly realise the author has gone back or forwards in time, for no obvious reason.
Al in all, this is a good account of the war, but it could have been better.


The Thief's Tale (The Ottoman Cycle Book 1)
The Thief's Tale (The Ottoman Cycle Book 1)
Price: £1.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting tale set in an unusual place and time, 24 Jun. 2013
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This novel is very engaging, and set in fifteenth century Istanbul, not long after the fall of Byzantium. The city is suffering an identity crisis, as the Ottoman Empire puts it's stamp on the city.
The story concerns the different paths chosen by two brothers who are conscripted into the janissaries, soldiers who are taken from Christian families, but converted to Islam.
The story is fairly straightforward, a tale of conspiracy and murder, but there are one or two interesting twists along the way, and the main character is very likeable.
As with his 'Marius mules' series, the author has a good sense of history and for the period.
Overall, a very readable tale.


The Drive on Moscow, 1941
The Drive on Moscow, 1941
Price: £5.90

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid account of the campaign, 21 Jun. 2013
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This is a good account of Operation Typhoon, the final attack on Moscow in late 1941, which ultimately failed, and in many ways, reversed the tide of war on the Eastern Front.
It is well researched, and well written, with a good chronological backbone, fleshed out with just about the right amount of first-hand accounts to give some feel for the fighting.
There are a large number of appendices for those wanting detailed information about losses, casualties and orders of battle. However, the rest of the book stands up well on it's own, and if you have an interest in the Eastern Front during WW2, then this would be a good addition to your library.


Marius' Mules V: Hades' Gate
Marius' Mules V: Hades' Gate
Price: £1.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent addition to the series, 19 Jun. 2013
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Volume 5 of this series is another excellent read.
This addition is a little different to the earlier volumes, as much of the action takes place in Italy where Fronto is spending his time having fallen out with Caeser in the previous volume. Here he has more than his fair share of troubles, and finds dealing with them difficult, as he is out of his depth in the very political world of Rome and it's environs.
The situation in Gaul is still followed through the book, hopefully giving us the prelude to parts 6 and 7?
All in all, this series is a great read, and this volume keeps thence and interest going.


The Hobbit
The Hobbit
Price: £3.66

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greats, 6 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: The Hobbit (Kindle Edition)
For all the controversy over the films, it is great to pick the book up again, and read it. I haven't read it in years, but it is as fresh as when I first read it as a child. Compared to The Lord of the Rings, it is much simpler and less detailed. This is no bad thing, just different. I haven't yet seen the first Hobbit film, but it is easy to see how the story can be padded out, as much detail is left to the imagination - as it should be in good fiction. This is a book for all ages, and the perfect introduction to Tolkien.


A Murder on the Appian Way (Gordianus the Finder Book 5)
A Murder on the Appian Way (Gordianus the Finder Book 5)
Price: £5.69

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another corker from Saylor, 21 May 2013
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I am a great fan of this series from Steven Saylor, and this is a great addition to the oeuvre. Although I do read other books based in the period, for me, Saylor is the best. He gets the feel for the time just right, and the atmosphere is always engaging. Gordianus is a thoroughly believeable character - as are the other regular characters, and the writing is way above most of the other 'sword and sandals' sagas.
This book has Gordianus involved in the conflict between Clodius and Milo, and is based heavily on the known facts of the incident of Clodius' death, and the subsequent fate of Milo. Saylor weaves the story around the facts, and involves Gordianus in unravelling the case, along with problems of his own.
From beginning to end, the story is gripping, involving people that he has met before, as well as new ones, who, no doubt, he will meet again in subsequent books.
If you are looking for gripping writing, based in a world that you can almost smell, then this series is for you, although to get the best from it, start at the beginning of the series!


Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa's Deadliest War
Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa's Deadliest War
Price: £6.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Read this: it will make you depressed and angry in equal measure, 17 May 2013
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This is something of an emotional roller coaster. It is part travelogue, part history book, and part current affairs. Ben travels around the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through the ruins of the past.
Although there are meetings with many optimistic people, I came away thoroughly depressed about the future of the country, and of course, about it's past, both colonial, and post-independence. The various ethnic groups have been pushed to hate each other by various groups, and this hatred led to the many wars that have engulfed the area in the last 25 years. Those wars have become a byword for casual atrocity, and the healing process hasn't really got under way yet.
Everywhere the author goes, there is decay and devastation: nothing works, neither government, army, militia, or even the UN and aid organisations who both appear to be way out of their depth.
All in all, a very good book, but don't expect to come away without some emotional turmoil.


The Silver Pigs: (Falco 1)
The Silver Pigs: (Falco 1)
Price: £4.35

4.0 out of 5 stars A good opening novel, 16 May 2013
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This is my first encounter with Lindsey Davis's creation, Falco, and I will certainly be continuing with the series. The style is easy and very readable.
My one real criticism is that I didn't really feel the atmosphere of Rome. I can't really explain what I mean, but I felt that the story could really have been set in any time and place; the writing did not transport me to the setting.
I have to compare this with Stephen Saylor's Gordianus the Finder novels, which are a real favourite of mine. For me, they have a deeper sense of place and time, and a more involving main character. However, I have read several of that series, and only one of this, so there is plenty of time for Falco to grow on me!


Running With the Kenyans: Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth
Running With the Kenyans: Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth
Price: £4.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read, and quite insightful too..., 15 May 2013
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I wasn't sure about this book before I started it, as I am about as far from being a runner as it is possible to be!
However, I needn't have worried, as it was fascinating. The author wanted to know - as does most of the world - what makes the Kenyans such great distance athletes, so he decides to go and live amongst them.
The book is written mainly from his own viewpoint; he wants to see if he can improve his own performance by training and living their way.
Ultimately, he does improve; he learns a lot about what they do, and how they do it, and what it is that motivates them. I won't spoil the conclusions, but safe to say there is no one 'secret' for him to discover.
Overall, a very readable book; part serious investigation, part travelogue.


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