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Robert Lyman (Berkshire, England)
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England's Cathedrals by Train: Discover How the Normans and Victorians Helped to Shape Our Lives
England's Cathedrals by Train: Discover How the Normans and Victorians Helped to Shape Our Lives
by Murray Naylor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual concept, but it works very well, 4 Dec 2013
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This is a beautifully produced book by someone whose passion for both trains and cathedrals is self-evident. Murray Naylor has the knack of gently transmitting this passion to his readers. I could never have imagined that trains and cathedrals had much in common, but Naylor illuminates the relationship between the two. Through it we are allowed to take journeys back into the past on trains - at the forefront of the technology of their day, built by energetic Victorians and Edwardians - to places designed and built sometimes a thousand years before but which themselves were the epitome of the architectural technology of their day. The juxtaposition of the two sets of stories is at the heart of this carefully thought through and well-crafted book. There is much to enjoy here, for those who like railways or cathedrals. For those who like both, it represents a cornucopia of delights.


Burma 1942
Burma 1942
by Alan Warren
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Competent, though more drama please..., 8 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Burma 1942 (Hardcover)
In terms of the historiography of the Second World War that of the Far East remains not just the first cousin to the European and Mediterranean theatres, but such a distant relation that it often appears they are not even related. This is especially true of the Japanese invasion of Burma, which began in late 1941, and reached its triumphant apogee only six months later as the defeated British marched out, humiliated, across the Chindwin at Kalewa, into monsoon-swept Manipur and the relative safety of India. It was an immense disaster for Britain, China and the vast numbers of Indians domiciled in Burma who trusted fully in the continuance of British rule for their security amidst a generally hostile Burmese population. It was also the longest retreat in the history of the British Army, the troops retiring from Rangoon nearly 1,000 miles in 100 days. Had it occurred at any other time in history (Singapore fell in February) it would play a much more dominant role in British military history, on a parallel with such horrors as the retreat from Kabul in 1842, the slaughter on Majuba Hill in 1881 or the incompetent defence of Kut in 1916. There have only been a handful of published accounts of this dreadful time, some by survivors, a few excellent though horrifying memoirs and, until now, only a tiny number of books dealing with the events of this period as part of a lucid, historical narrative.
It is for this reason that Alan Warren's foray into this subject is to be welcomed. An academic historian in Australia, his account is thorough and the context of war in Burma in 1941 and 1942 clearly presented. He weaves accounts of the participants (seemingly secured entirely from published sources) into his narrative in a coherent and thoroughly competent way. His account of the naval battles in the Indian Ocean add very useful strategic context to all that was going on at the time on land. It is clear that Warren is a master of the technical dimension of the historian's art.
However, the book is not the full-orbed account that it could be, because Warren's approach and style over emphasises the principle of historical detachment. As a result the book conveys none of the passion and drama of these times that make the period so overwhelmingly vivid, from the debates in London, Singapore and New Delhi over strategy and resources, to the agony and grief of the wet jungle battlefield. There is no analysis of the protracted and bitter debates between Wavell, Hutton, Smyth and - later - Alexander, about whether or not to defend Rangoon forward. Nor have we any sense in these pages of the human drama of the time; of 'Dormouse-Smith's' naivety, Wavell's exhaustion and anger, Hutton's prevarication, Smyth's arrogance, Alexander's ignorant nonchalance and Slim's cool brilliance. It is these things that bring the reality of life in Burma in 1942 alive, for the British at least. These were tumultuous times, but little sense can be gained from these all too clinical and dispassionate pages of the chaos, fear, passion, anger, trauma and end-of-the-world feeling more readily apparent in books written, for instance, by Louis Allen, James Lunt and Alfred Draper. It is unfortunate that in his laudable eagerness for objectivity Warren has missed much of the human drama, heroism and dirty squabbling, both British and Japanese, that characterised these times.
It appears also that Warren has depended exclusively on accessible published sources for his material, and has ignored the unpublished diaries, memoirs and diaries that are readily available in archives in the UK. The Burma Campaign Memorial Library at SOAS in London has an almost complete collection of everything ever published on this campaign, but a study of his bibliography indicates that Warren was seemingly unaware of its existence when writing his book. There are certainly some surprising gaps in his use of secondary sources, such as his failure to examine the work of Daniel Marston on the Indian Army. Equally, nothing seems to have been taken from the vast treasure of official documents - war diaries, accounts of battles, formal and semi-formal correspondence - that are bursting at the seams of files in the National Archives in Kew. For these two reasons an otherwise excellent account remains deficient. The subject still awaits exhaustive - and less dispassionate - treatment, the best of which still remains that by Ian Lyall-Grant and Kazuo Tamayama (1999).


Skeletons for Sadness
Skeletons for Sadness
by Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable escapism, 17 Oct 2012
This review is from: Skeletons for Sadness (Paperback)
This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the pre-history of the Falklands War, with some unexpected twists and turns. It is beautifully written, by a master of his trade.


Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives
Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives
by Peter Caddick-Adams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.00

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant achievement, 29 Jun 2011
This bringing together of two biographies in a single comparative format is the literary equivalent of a supermarket multi-buy deal, the 'Buy One Get One Free'. Unlike many of its retail equivalents, however, this book is exceptionally good value, not least in the extraordinary depth of detail, context and analysis applied by the author to his two subjects. Caddick-Adams brings together two of the generals most well known to front line British soldiers fighting in Europe and the Mediterranean in the Second World War. Indeed, Rommel was more famous than any of his British counterparts, to the fighting troops at least, until the arrival of Monty in command of the 8th Army in Egypt in August 1942. One of the soldiers I have interviewed about the Desert War, Private Alex Franks, remarked unashamedly that he would have preferred to have been commanded by Rommel than any of the British generals under which he had the misfortune to be led in 1940 and 1941. The rampant mythologizing of the Desert Fox among British troops was a real concern to the British authorities in North Africa in 1941 and 1942, demonstrated in part by the famous memorandum by Claude Auchinleck in 1942 which ended with the remark that 'I am not afraid of Rommel.' Deeply amused, Rommel keep a translated copy of the order in his papers. It was no secret that many British soldiers were like the young Alex Franks because, until November 1942 at least, Rommel had won most of his battles whilst their own leaders (with the exception perhaps of Richard O'Connor) had demonstrated no great success at all.
In bringing these two men together Caddick-Adams employs no clunky, artificial artifice: the parallels between the two men, in terms of their characters and histories, are extraordinary, and enable him to produce a quite brilliant piece of writing. Here in a single volume we have a first rate expose of two of the war's best known commanders, to a British audience at least. In late 1942 into early 1943, and then again in Normandy in 1944, the two men can be seen perhaps as duellists, but the uncanny links in their lives began as early as the Western Front, and in 1940, unknown to each other of course, they commanded divisions (Monty the 3rd Infantry Division of the BEF and Rommel the famous 7th Panzer Division) on opposite sides during the German invasion of France in 1940.
The danger in a book of this nature would be to produce separate commentaries on the two subjects, held together by the thin thread of a common chronology. Caddick-Adams succeeds in avoiding this pitfall, building a beautifully proportioned picture of two great men in which their lives and histories, both professional and personal, are carefully and closely interwoven, not chapter-by-chapter, but within each chapter, the rich context of their lives intricately painted carefully on a vast and detailed canvas. Indeed the book bursts at the seams: if Caddick-Adams were a landscape painter his book would be the equivalent of Monet, full of rich and intriguing colours and patterns. The resultant effect is spectacular, and Caddick-Adams is to be congratulated on his achievement. It is as though this is Caddick-Adams' first and last book: he has been concerned to pack in everything he knows (and as a lecturer and professional military historian, this is vast) but the sheer volume of material, comment and analysis is in no way overpowering. His close links with modern military doctrine are clearly observable to those in the know, but this knowledge is not intrusive, being illuminatory rather than a peacock's display of the author's knowledge. I feel I have learned more from this book than from a plethora of others on similar subjects.
The book is not immune from the minor errors that bedevil very author, not matter how diligent they be (e.g. Maud was 16 when married on p. 6 but only 14 on p.8). But this is nit-picking, for this is quite a brilliant book, written with passion and verve, Caddick-Adams allowing his writing to be suffused with quite evident and attractive enthusiasm for his subjects (and deep knowledge) combined with the urge found only in the best writers to convey the excitement of his discoveries to the widest possible audience. Bravo!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2011 1:45 PM BST


Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General
Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General
by Major General Mungo Melvin OBE
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.89

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive, 2 April 2011
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This is an impressive book, primarily because Mungo Melvin has here perfected the art of demonstrating that the principles of successful operational art can be smuggled into a fast-paced, interesting narrative, without the general reader being aware of it. Accordingly, there is as much here for the campaign planner as there is for the man on the Clapham omnibus. Both will walk away with a satisfying surfeit of rich things. The book provides a fascinating reminder that genius in the application of operational art is ultimately futile if the grand strategy is wrong, as it surely was in Hitler's plans for the subjugation of the East. The Soviets feared Manstein as their greatest opponent, but in the end his genius could not build more tanks, recruit more soldiers or replace the battle casualties (both human and mechanical) that constant warfighting in the East was to consume in the face of the long term Soviet superiority in this area.

The clarity of Melvin's explanation of the principles of operational manoeuvre, and of Manstein's mastery of it, is superb, but the author carefully avoids the pitfall of hagiography, presenting the man 'warts and all', not shying away for instance from issues around the systemic abuse of the rules of war by the Wehrmacht.

This book is an impressive achievement and is highly recommended.


Blondie: Founder of the SBS and Modern Single Handed Ocean Racing
Blondie: Founder of the SBS and Modern Single Handed Ocean Racing
by Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.47

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well told, detailed story of an inspirational character, 24 Feb 2011
Blondie Hasler was a consummate man of action which this detailed and deeply sympathetic biography demonstrates perfectly. He liked nothing better than thinking through problems, and coming up with solutions to practical concerns that would have flummoxed other men. As a youngster of 10/11 building his own flat bottomed 'sailing punt', to a Royal Marines officer during WW2, to the leader of the 'Cockleshell Heroes', to founding the modern Special Boat Service to being the inventor more or less of modern single-handed ocean-going yacht racing, Blondie Hasler was never happier than when he was making things happen. Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who knew Blondie throughout his life, captures Hasler very well in this book first published in 1997. It is easy to read, is packed full of original material, and deserves to be widely read.


Cockleshell Heroes (Pan Grand Strategy Series)
Cockleshell Heroes (Pan Grand Strategy Series)
by C.E.Lucas Phillips
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class history, 23 Feb 2011
I had been prompted to write a review as a consequence of the tendentious review submitted in CAPITAL letters by a strange reviewer calling him/herself 'King Arthur' (which now appears to have been deleted, thank goodness). Blondie Hasler regarded CE Lucas Phillips book to be 'the last word' on the subject and his own (i.e., Blondie's) memoirs (I have a copy of a letter from him that says precisely this). Of course Lucas Phillip's did not have access to many of the files that would make a more modern account more accurate (most were not opened in the National Archives until 1972), and there are a couple of minor mistakes in it (such as misspelling Maurice de Milleville, for instance), but this does not detract from the fact that the story is fast-paced and well-told. The review by King Arthur is strange and unbalanced. CE Lucas Phillips was a first class military historian whose works have received widespread acclaim, including best selling accounts of Kohima and the St Nazaire raid. His great skill lay in weaving the details of a story into an exciting, readable narrative, and he achieves this perfectly in this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 27, 2011 1:06 PM GMT


The Cockleshell Raid - Bordeaux 1942
The Cockleshell Raid - Bordeaux 1942
by Ken Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.21

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brave effort, and above average account, 23 Feb 2011
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I was prompted to write a review of this book by the unfair and disparaging remarks made in another review by 'King Arthur'. It needs to be remembered that Ken Ford's book was the first on the subject of the Cockleshell Raiders since the publication of C.E. Lucas Phillip's account in 1956 (a book which Blondie Hasler regarded as his memoirs) and, with one or two exceptions, he makes a very good fist of it. Yes, he gets the dimensions of the Cockle MKII wrong, and mistakenly places the execution site for Sergeant Wallace and Marine Ewart at Chateau Magnol (they ended their lives against a stake in a sand pit in a forest a few miles to the north east of Bordeaux) but these do not in any way justify the extraordinary attack on the book made by King Arthur. The reviewer should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. Mr Ford's book is in fact well written, introduces a few more elements to the story than were known beforehand and benefits from some superb artistry. Osprey and Mr Ford deserve to be congratulated on this publication. I know that they will, when the book is republished, rectify the few minor errors that are contained in this edition.


Leading from the Front: An autobiography
Leading from the Front: An autobiography
by Richard Dannatt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.12

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly honest, and challenging, 16 Oct 2010
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Amidst the uninspiring splurge of self-congratulatory memoirs that have found their way into the bookshops this autumn this book stands out as something very different. Perhaps this is to be expected from the man who made the hallmark of his time in office a resolute defence of the men and women under his command. Where he fought battles - in the press, for public opinion, and against the political classes - it was for his soldiers, their living conditions, pay, equipment, training and morale. He stood up publicly for the men and women who daily place their lives on the line for their country, as well as their families, and reminded us all of the sacrifice they were and are making for the comforts and freedoms we take for granted. His book, therefore, is refreshingly and strikingly honest, the exact opposite in fact of the ego-maniacal tomes we have seen from ex-Labour politicians of late.

Dannatt was attacked by some (especially those on the left of the political spectrum) for being 'too political', but this accusation does not stand scrutiny. It is even a little pathetic. By standing up to an uncomprehending liberal elite (in and out of government) for those who had to fight Blair and Brown's wars but who themselves had no significant political voice, Dannatt reminds us powerfully of the responsibility society has to its Armed Forces when they are sent to fight on our behalf. The other Chiefs appeared parochial, tribal and silent in contrast, except where it was to defend their numbers of fast jets or surface vessels.

As CGS Dannatt quite rightly defended the Army, but this book demonstrates convincingly that he did not do it not do so uncomprehendingly, or blindly. Indeed, in the book he advocates quite radical rethinking about the way in which we think about our defence. For too long we have planned, structured and prepared for wars that never eventuate, whilst struggling with inadequate resources to fight those wars that do. This is refreshing thinking, and challenges all of our thinking about the role of the three services into the future. What Dannatt convinces me of, at least, is that we cannot simply continue on as we have, and that radical rethinking about defence and a slaughter of some sacred cows, be they tanks, aircraft carriers or fast jets, is long overdue.


The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45
The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45
by Frank McLynn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.88

42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 15 Jun 2010
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The only gripe I have about this magnificent book is its boring title: it simply does not do justice to what McLynn has achieved. The title is correct at one level: it certainly is a book about the Burma Campaign, that vast sweep of action ranging from China to India between 1942 and 1945, with Burma sandwiched between the two (and only seeing land warfare for three months in 1942 and eight months in 1945). But the book is actually much, much more than this. Indeed, it is a closely woven, tightly argued and beautifully written account of the clutch of extraordinary (or 'extrawdinary', to use Stilwell's parody of Alexander's refined accent when the two met for the first time in March 1942) men and women (if we include Madame Chiang kai-Shek) who were responsible for the higher direction of the war against the Japanese on land in Asia during this period. The title had led me to expect yet another start-to-finish account of the war. In over twenty years of studying the Burma Campaign I think I have read most of these books, and they range from the superb (Louis Allen and Jon Latimer have provided the best overall accounts to date) to the very bad. To be fair, McLynn does lay out his approach in the first few pages - it is to analyse the war in the Far East through the medium of four of its most extraordinary characters, Slim, Stilwell, Wingate and Mountbatten - but I had to get past the unpalatable outer crust of my own perception, fuelled by the lacklustre title, before I found the juicy delights within.

More importantly, and it is this which holds the book together so well and gives it such satisfying depth, McLynn's marvellous account is the story of the relationships between these four characters, together with an extensive supporting cast of bit-part players. It is a wonder that the Allies managed to prevail at all in 1944 and 1945 when so much of the higher direction of the war was dominated by the absurd excess of strutting ego that this theatre of war seemed to produce in such abundance. McLynn reminds us brilliantly that in war only a proportion of one's battles are against the enemy: the remainder - perhaps the most painful - are with one's friends.

This book delights, page after page. McLynn managed to hold me spellbound with the energy of his account of the rampaging personalities (some of whom were certifiably mad at the same time) that stormed across the battlefields of Asia and made the struggle for the higher command of the campaigns in North Africa, Italy and north-west Europe boring, pathetic even, by comparison. McLynn doesn't shilly-shally over his judgements about people, coming to them quickly and coherently, sharply recording their stories with pace and verve. He is an astute interpreter of the human condition, succeeding brilliantly in finding his way through sometimes competing and tendentious personal accounts to arrive at his own forthright position. I certainly cannot fault any of his judgements about his four principal characters, and indeed with those who played significant but subsidiary roles in the Far Eastern story: Churchill, Alan Brooke, Roosevelt, Chiang kai-Shek, and a raft of supporting British and American battlefield commanders. He follows David Rooney in getting Stilwell right, the frustratingly Anglophobic straight talking American patriot undone in the end by the unprincipled Machiavellianism of both Washington and Chungking, a man whose heart was always in the right place but whose simple prejudices did for him in the end. But he comes to an entirely different conclusion to Rooney with regard to Wingate, and rightly in my view. Wingate was a dangerous madman, whose strategic pretensions did little to advance the Allied cause in the Far East and in fact did much to retard it. It was the hard living, hard fighting Chindits who had to bear the brunt of his unhinged, relentless egomania. McLynn also gets Mountbatten right - 'ABC' (Admiral Cunningham) beautifully described the 'Supremo' at one of the wartime Allied conferences as 'all at sea') - and in his treatment of Bill Slim McLynn is spot on. His description of the Kohima/Imphal battles is good, but it is in his account of Slim's mastery at Mandalay/Meiktila in 1945 that McLynn is at his heart-thumping best. He concludes: 'Montgomery was a military talent; Slim was a military genius.'

This fantastic book is a joy to read and is without doubt the finest book yet published on the higher command of the war in the Far East.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2014 4:22 AM BST


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