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History of the French Navy
History of the French Navy
by Ernest Harold Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile Introduction, 3 Jan. 2015
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The principal merit of this book, published in 1972, is that it is still the only single-volume history of the French Navy in English. It is somewhere between a work of academic research and a popular history: it is apparently well researched but does not detail its sources and frequently expresses its author’s quite strong personal judgments on the personality and conduct of various naval officers it describes.

After a short introductory chapter on the French Navy before Richelieu, the book concentrates on 17th and 18th centuries, with almost 200 pages (over half the book) on the period 1624 to 1789, about 80 pages on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars and only 60 pages on the century and a half 1815 - 1972, including two World Wars. Although it could be argued that the French Navy was a more important instrument of national policy between 1690 and 1780 than at any later time, this focus probably reflects the author’s interest in the earlier period.

The book contains little biographical information but the author, E H Jenkins, was a junior naval officer in the First World War and later a history teacher who wrote it in his retirement. This may explain some of its features. Its writing style is old fashioned, sometimes quaint, not surprising as it was written by someone born in 1897 when in their 70s. Its concentration on famous seamen and major battles rather than technology or political grand strategy seems more like 19th than 21st century historical writing.

However, these issues aside, the book does what it sets out to do well. It contains a readable and detailed (but not excessively so) account of the development of the French Navy in the early 17th century and its use in France’s wars of aggressive expansion, with less emphasis on the post-1815 period when it was not used in this way. It gives this account from the French viewpoint, to balance the vast body of works centred on the British Navy. Although a small number of books have appeared in English since 1972 on aspects of the French Navy in the last 375 years, this is still the only work covering the whole period.

IELTS Writing Questions: IELTS academic and general writing questions for students and educators.
IELTS Writing Questions: IELTS academic and general writing questions for students and educators.
by Mark W. Medley MBA
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.38

3.0 out of 5 stars Moderately Useful, 24 Dec. 2014
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This is a collection of 36 essay topics for the IELTS Academic Writing Part 2 paper and 18 letter and essay topics for the IELTS General Writing paper. Each question is followed by a checklist of things to be checked after each essay or letter is completed, but there is no other guidance on how to attempt to answer the questions set.

The Academic Writing are of IELTS standard and some are very close to past exam questions published by Cambridge and, to this extent, the book is a useful resource of photocopiable examples. However, free IELTS Writing resources with more guidance for teachers and students are available online from Cambridge and other sources, so the utility of this book is limoted.

Fantastic Archaeology: Wild Side of North American History
Fantastic Archaeology: Wild Side of North American History
by Stephen Williams
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Pseudoscience drives out True Science, 24 Dec. 2014
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This book by Stephen Williams, a former Professor of American Archaeology is an often entertaining, sometimes sad but (above all) a necessary exploration into Fantastic Archaeology (also known as Pseudoarchaeology or Alternative Archaeology). Williams defines this as "...those alternative views of the past that use data and interpretations that will not stand close scrutiny". It fails to meet the standards of professional archaeology, which stress testing evidence, establishing context, applying logic and veracity, and many of its practitioners have not carried out field work on past human cultures, being armchair theorists.

Williams' focus is on North America, almost exclusively the United States, concentrating on the 19th and early 20th centuries. After an introduction and Chapter defining Fantastic Archaeology, Chapters 2 and 3 explain how archaeology in North America grew from attempts to explain the origins of Indian cultures and the material remains found in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys.

Chapters 4 to 6 describe artifacts faked as evidence of prehistoric non-Indian races. He relates these to a 19th century American society famous for humbugs all kinds. Chapter 7 deals with the modern myth of Atlantis and popular acceptance of catastrophist geology and history. Chapter 8 considers the early 19th century relationship between archaeology and religion, particularly concerning the Mormons. Chapter 9 deals with alleged Norse antiquities and Chapters 10 and 11 tackle various 20th-century versions of hyper-diffusionism, which explain any superficial similarities between widely-separated cultures by past migrations. Chapter 12, on "psychic archaeology" is followed by an epilogue, a brief sketch of orthodox views in North American prehistory.

Williams' book comprehensively documents the major frauds and fantasies and evaluates the personalities of those associated with them, generally in a fair and reasonable way.

Although the book is long and detailed, it is readable and can be understood by anyone with even a superficial knowledge of archaeology. It gives a sensible guide on how to distinguish fantastic archaeology from serious research.

An interesting aspect is Williams' exploration of the social and intellectual contexts of Fantastic Archaeology. Some 19th-century frauds were motivated by profit, but national and ethnic pride, racism or religious conviction were also important then. In the 20th century, these partly gave way to romanticism, and viewing archaeology as "a game anyone can play" regardless of method or logic. Williams is hard on what he calls "Rogue Professors", academics with backgrounds in marine biology, physics or engineering who claim to know better than trained archaeologists, but more understanding of 19th-century nationalists or religious visionaries.

Finally, Williams disagrees with archaeologists who want to ignore Fantastic Archaeology for fear of giving it credibility. Williams argues that a respect for what we know of the truth requires wild speculations and discredited ideas to be challenged. Some of the 19th-century hoaxes and fantasies are still being recycled, and new variations on old hyper-diffusionism themes keep appearing.

In this flood of Fantastic Archaeology, Williams' book is an important contribution to restoring some balance and sanity to views of the ancient world.

McGraw-Hill's IELTS with Audio CD (McGraw-Hill's IELTS (W/CD))
McGraw-Hill's IELTS with Audio CD (McGraw-Hill's IELTS (W/CD))
by Monica Sorrenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.56

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good General IELTS Guide, 13 Dec. 2014
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This is intended as a self-help guide for students who want to take the IELTS test, although I have used it more as a teaching aid. It is intended for students at all levels, but it is probably of most use for those likely to achieve overall scores below Band 7. At the time of the first edition, many British universities required only an overall Band 6 or even just a Band 5.5 score from their undergraduate entrants. Today, many courses require a minimum overall Band 6.5 score, sometimes Band 6.5 in all papers or even a Band 7 overall. Even though the current edition does give some extra tips on gaining a Band 7 score, it may not be of a high enough standard for those hoping to qualify for the most prestigious courses.

The IELTS guide has a number of good points. Firstly, there is a lot of book for the price, including plenty of practice material. Secondly, the guidance for each of the four IELTS tests is set out in a logical and progressive fashion, so that someone starting IELTS study is not intimidated by the difficulty of the actual tests straight away. Thirdly, it is generally made clear what has to be done to reach different levels, including sections on how to gain Band 7 scores in each area of the tests. Finally, as well as building skills for each of the four IELTS tests, there is general guidance on vocabulary, grammar and spelling.

There are however a few negatives. The level of English used in explanations is fairly high, probably higher than those without good English could cope with by themselves. Further, the answer keys lack explanations, but knowing why an answer is right or wrong can be very important. These are a significant problem for self-study, but less so as part of a lesson.

Overall, this is a useful IELTS study guide, but should be used as part of a wider programme of study.

Namibia under South African Rule: Mobility and Containment, 1915-1946
Namibia under South African Rule: Mobility and Containment, 1915-1946
by Patricia Hayes
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A Reasonable First Step, 12 Sept. 2014
This collection of papers, first presented at a conference held in Windhoek in 1994, examines a poorly-studied period of Namibian history, the first thirty years of South African colonial rule. There is little about politics or government, except as affecting Namibian people. The articles concentrate on two themes of social history: mobility of people and ideas (including resistance to colonialism) and government attempts to control this diverse country, or containment. South Africa used fewer resources to control Namibia than Germany did; it aimed to direct male workers to the farms and mines without disrupting existing settlement patterns and to maintain order in a large colony with a small, dispersed population from several ethnic groups.

This collection, of a lengthy introduction and three sections, is not comprehensive, as the Okavango and Caprivi areas and urban life are not fully covered. The introduction fills some gaps and provides context. It also challenges old approaches, including simplistic accounts of conflict between colonialism and nationalism involving only resistance or collaboration, applying unmodified South African experiences to different circumstances, and minimising the role of women.

Many indigenous communities had suffered major changes under German rule, but others were hardly affected by initially weak South African rule. By 1946 the state controlled and contained the colonised people. It had a greater role in their economy through migrant labour, was involving itself in their social and cultural life and restricting their mobility. Many articles deal with this process.

The first section deals with twenty years of consolidating South African rule. It shows how vagrancy laws and medical examinations of African women were used as controls and how they were challenged, the pressures on black pastoralists when resources were directed away from them to Afrikaner farmers and the 1929-30 famine, when women were employ building dams while men had to seek work elsewhere. The second considers reserves, including the reconstruction of Herero society and identity between the wars, attempts to reverse the deterioration of reserves and a pre-colonial and early colonial history of the Himba and Herero people of northern Kaokoland. The last section moves outside the original zone of colonial control, studying how missions promoted literacy and crafts among young Ovambo men, the generational conflict Christianity caused, labour migration as a means of social mobility and the ambiguous resistance to South African indirect rule of one ruler. A final chapter covers the demarcation of Namibia’s northern border 1926-28.

Some of the papers, including the introduction, suffer from too much sociological jargon and reliance on standard texts with no direct reference to Namibia; some are over-long and others seem unfinished or tentative. Some conclusions rely as much on the standard works they quote as on their own researches, which are often said to be incomplete. Despite these shortcomings, the collection is a move in the right direction in a country and period that has received little attention.

Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth Century South Africa (Rewriting Histories)
Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth Century South Africa (Rewriting Histories)
by Saul Dubow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.12

4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Introduction to a Disturbing Topic, 1 Sept. 2014
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This is a selection of eleven essays published in the 1970s and 1980 covering the ideology and practices of South African segregation and apartheid under white minority rule. It brings together important writing on the history of racial separation and, as the series title “Rewriting Histories” suggests, the introduction attempts to re-assess its place in South African history.
There are five articles on wide ranging topics and six on more local studies set out in roughly chronological order. The introduction discusses the issues they raise, including explanations of segregation, the ideology and rise of apartheid and local experiences of both. One weakness is a lack of comparison with systems outside South Africa. Although both segregation and apartheid had detailed legislative framework and specific laws are referred to, it also lacks a summary of this legislation (its second weakness).

Three of the general papers take a broadly Marxist line that segregation developed from late nineteenth century industrial mining and its migrant labour, not the actions of early settlers. Legassick and Dubow place its origin in the short period, when the former Boer republics were directly controlled by a British government that Legassick claims was influenced by the mining companies. Earlier existence of segregation in the Boer republics and British colonies which later formed South Africa weakens this argument, as does the enactment of most segregationist legislation by Afrikaner-controlled parliaments. Neither he nor Wolpe, who links segregation to cheap labour policies, present much evidence of mining house influence. Concentrating on the links between mining, industrialisation and subsistence farming in the reserves also ignores the importance of black labour on white-owned farms.

Legassick also treats apartheid as a derivation of segregation, not a new philosophy, because he sees both as produced by capitalism and imperialism. This oversimplifies a complex issue; there is evidence that segregation was in decline by 1948, and it was the Nationalist electoral victory then that introduced apartheid against this trend. Apartheid was strongly driven by ideology in its attempts to control all social and political relationships, and it frequently went beyond what was practical in the pursuit of its flawed vision.
Giliomee’s and Posel’s more nuanced articles concentrate on apartheid, both emphasising that it changed in reaction to changed circumstances. They both argue that the Afrikaner-dominated Nationalist party devised apartheid to promote, firstly Afrikaner identity and unity and, after a republic was established, white nationhood based on Nationalist principles. Their leading economic theoreticians realised it would be impossible to achieve this if Africans were fully integrated into the economy, as they could not be denied workers’, and eventually political, rights. They advocated economic segregation by removing urban Africans, who their social theoreticians wished returning to their supposed places of origin, reversing detribalisation. Farmers and other Nationalist supporters viewed complete segregation as a distant aim, wishing to rely on African workers for the foreseeable future, while supporting their removal from urban areas.

Although a number of the views expressed are thirty or more years old and have been challenged since, or are as much political statements as impartial history, this is a good introduction to segregation and apartheid for those with some background knowledge of South African history. Its value lies in the range of research and interpretation on these now discredited institutions. There are some more recent, single author, studies which only cover segregation or apartheid (particularly “Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in South Africa, 1919-36” and” “Apartheid, 1948-1994”, both by Saul Dubow, an editor of this collection), which give a more comprehensive picture than these individual studies do.

Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in South Africa,1919-36 (St Antony&quote;s Series)
Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in South Africa,1919-36 (St Antony"e;s Series)
by Saul Dubow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £95.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Segregation in Theory and Practice, 31 Aug. 2014
Dubow's study of how the theory of segregation developed between 1919 and 1936, what he terms its mature period, consists of four sections (in effect four rather different essays) linked by an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter deals with the origins of its ideology, which followed contemporary anthropologists in promoting cultural differences, rather than a pseudo-Darwinian view that superior cultures would prevail. The second is a critique of the “cheap-labour” theory for its origin, promoted by Harold Wolpe in the 1970s, where Dubow he argues it alone cannot explain segregation, as migrant labour is neither cheap nor efficient.

In chapters 3 and 4 the changing organisation and ideology of the Native Affairs Department between the two wars, particularly when J B M Hertzog was Prime Minister, is analysed. This section is based on research by Dubow, describing a conflict between a humanitarian approach adopted by officials from the Cape and the more authoritarian one by those from the Northern provinces, eventually settle in favour of the latter.

Chapters 5 and 6 give a full account of the parliamentary passage of Hertzog’s Native Bills. This goes into a great deal of detail on the frequently changing drafts of these laws, and also covers the lack of cohesion its opponents, black and white.

The book argues segregation became important in the conditions created by the First World War because it seemed to offer a solution to a wide range of economic problems, political difficulties and social and cultural fears fanned by an upsurge in black political radicalism. Other historians see either the early years of the 20th century or the Botha-Smuts governments up to 1924 as when segrationalist thinking developed and much segrationalist legislation was enacted. It is arguable there was a continuous process from 1905 rather than any innovation by Hertzog, who (the book’s fourth section suggests) did not have a clear policy on racial segregation when he took office in 1924.

The book also claims that segregation developed some characteristics in this period that later formed part of the doctrines of apartheid, and should be regarded as apartheid’s precursor. This theme is not fully developed into a treatment of the relationship between segregation and apartheid. Dubow himself notes that many liberals, who previously accepted segregation in a paternalistic way as preserving African societies and their culture, became disenchanted with the direction it was taking in the 1930s. But for the 1948 election victory of the Nationalists, there was no certainty that full-blown apartheid would have been imposed; their opponents may well have opted for some form of limited assimilation.

Dubow’s style is clear and concise and he is able to summarise the historical background well. He is strongly influenced by the radical, Neo-Marxist perspective that continuing white domination in South Africa must be seen in relation to industrialisation. This is now the predominant school of South African historiography and it strongly condemns both the inconsistency and confusion of liberal politicians in the 1930s and the liberal school of historians, who emphasised the Afrikaner role in introducing segregation and apartheid (the bulk of the legislation on both was in fact enacted by Afrikaner dominated governments). Subject to any distortions related to that ideology, this is an interesting book that is well worth reading.

South Africa: A Modern History (Cambridge Commonwealth Series)
South Africa: A Modern History (Cambridge Commonwealth Series)
by T. R. H. Davenport
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Introduction, 8 Aug. 2014
Writing a general history of modern South Africa is very difficult. It must balance the author’s views with differing opinions while presenting a clear and accessible narrative. It is more difficult if the subject is country of great diversity, particularly if historical writing is politically charged and cannot be morally neutral, as for South Africa. In this book T R H Davenport avoids political bias and presents a detailed and coherent account while summarising matters still being debated. It originated in 1977, and the extensively revised 4th edition wisely stops with the end of apartheid, as the post- apartheid history of the country was then still unresolved. Davenport notes in his prefaces several schools of historical analysis exist, traditional, liberal, Afrikaner nationalist, Marxist and Africanist, each often ignoring the work of others. He puts himself in the liberal Africanist camp, but acknowledges his debt to writers with a different emphasis.

There are two main limitations, this is a modern history and it is mainly political history. The first six chapters deal briskly with the background of South African history from earliest times up to the end of the 19th century while outlining the main areas of debate. However, Davenport’s comments on 19th century African states are very brief and general. He says little of economic, technical or institutional matters before 1910, and even after this matters such as foreign capital investment and the growth of local capitalism are given less coverage than political matters.

Starting with the settlement following the South African war, Davenport begins his detailed analysis of the formation of the Union of South Africa, which involved a series of compromises to satisfy the Afrikaners but which gave the black majority an inferior social status and denied them a significant say in government. His treatment of the first three quarters of the 20th century contains detailed information on both black and white politics, and concentrates on the growth and consolidation of white political power. A number of his reinterpretations are interesting: he regards Cecil Rhodes as relatively unimportant and considers the policy of segregation was as much rooted in British racial attitudes as Afrikaner ones.

Much of the core of Davenport’s book is an examination of the causes and nature of racial conflict within South Africa. This includes a long, in-depth review of the post-1948, Afrikaner-dominated, Nationalist regime. It examines Verwoerd’s theory of apartheid and the idea of a constellation of notionally independent but economically subordinate black states led by a white ruled, if not white majority, South Africa.

There is a great deal of information crammed into a relatively short book, presented in a dry but readable style. It reflects Davenport’s mature judgment on a range of contentious issues but, by presenting other points of view, encourages further study. This is a very good introduction to an immense subject.

Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (New Approaches to African History)
Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present (New Approaches to African History)
by Frederick Cooper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Introduction, 7 Aug. 2014
This book by Fredrick Cooper is designed to challenge conservative treatments of modern African history and politics. It presents a thoughtful summary of the change from colonial to post-colonial times, starting with two major events of 1994: genocide in Rwanda and elections in South Africa. Cooper's aim is to review the historical process that lead to these and other events. He does not accept that this process can be divided into European and African or colonial and post-colonial elements; it was and is a continually changing mixture of all these. He opposes the idea that Africa's current problems are simply a result either of the colonial legacy or to any inherent shortcomings in African political systems, and rejects any idea that the continent can explained in a single way, recognising that its many communities have unique language and culture.

Cooper's historical review is divided into two parts. The first begins with a survey of the pre-1940 period. Pre-1920 colonial attempts to "civilise" Africans by replacing rural subsistence farming with wage labour on white-owned commercial farms or in towns were abandoned in favour promoting indirect rule through genuine or invented traditional rulers and a general neglect of development. Even before the end of World War II, most colonial states attempted to promote development and modernisation; the exception was South Africa where tribalism was promoted as a means of controlling the African majority. On decolonisation, Cooper believes that France generally managed the political transition better than Britain and much better than Belgium, with Portugal completely failing to manage it.

The second part has four themed chapters. First is on economic development between 1945 and 2000, where Cooper believes that colonial structures continue to dominate the political and economic life of the continent. He divides the post-1940s into three periods, rather than just pre-and post-colonial. The first runs up to 1973 and includes the late colonial drive for development, undertaken in parallel with moves towards political independence. Its strategies of urban wage employment and rural agrarian transformation failed and left a legacy of class conflict and vested interests. African economies retained their colonial structures and obsession with development until the 1973 oil crisis, which started a second period of radically changed global trading. Until around 1990, international institutions responded by imposing harsh and often questionable structural adjustment policies on African states. The third (which had only just begun when he wrote) was one of economic reform linked to political pluralism. Next is an account of the late decolonisation of the Portuguese territories, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and then useful summaries of post-colonial events in the "gatekeeper" states, Ghana, Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. The final chapter returns to Rwandan and elections in South Africa. Overall, it is a well-written and highly informative review of a complex subject that does not give trite answers. Perhaps it attempts too much in a short space, but it is a very good introduction to this subject helped by a good range of illustrations and five maps.

The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa 1815-1854: Black and White Migration and the Making of South Africa (Turning Points)
The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa 1815-1854: Black and White Migration and the Making of South Africa (Turning Points)
by Norman Etherington
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

3.0 out of 5 stars An Alternative View, 27 July 2014
For many years, South African history has focussed on the growth of the colonial state from the Cape and dealt with African peoples only when they came in contact with the colonists. Etherington wants to move the historical focal point to a southern Bantu heartland, situated in the centre of modern South Africa, which he regards as a crossroads and meeting point of the various groups that peopled the country. In attempting to re-write a post-colonial history of South Africa from an African perspective, Etherington treats the so-called "Great Trek" of the Boers as just one of many movements of peoples and their leaders of the, and not as a major historical turning point.

In this central heartland, most of the people farmed and kept sheep and cattle herds. He treats white settlers and African peoples equally, and Africans as just as likely to confront other Africans as Europeans or Griqua raiders in this period of violence and forced movement. He mentions several locations from which early 19th century instability spread: the area east of the Kalahari, one north of the Tugela River in Natal, and the Xhosa frontier of the eastern Cape. The "Great Trek" is set alongside migrations of mixed-race settlers from the Cape and the Rolong among others. Etherington avoids terms such as black or white, African or settler, as he believes race will not be a way of classifying people in future. This is a bold new approach, which partly succeeds, but there are some areas where it is unsatisfactory.

Etherington suggests that many tribes were artificial constructions, and more attention should be focused on the chiefs. Chieftainship, rather than tribe or ethnicity, should (in his view) be central to reconstructing a non-colonialist history. The problem here is lack of documentation to make that reconstruction; much of what there is from European missionaries or traders writing after the event. This forces him to rely on possibly manipulated genealogies. His use of genealogies gives rise to a confusing profusion of group names derived from chiefs and ancestors in place of colonial accounts which, however biased, are at least well documented.

The term Mfecane has been used to describe a period of early 19th century disruption affecting much of South Africa, sometimes linked to the growth of the Zulu kingdom. It is a highly contentious issue, as the concept was misused in the apartheid era to blame for the massive devastation it was supposed to have caused on Africans. One extreme reaction has been to deny its existence: more nuanced views are it was a period of significant, often violent, but not only destructive change; another emphasises external European agency. Without fully reviewing the controversy, Etherington argues that ultimate cause was the Portuguese slave trade based on Delagoa Bay, although there is virtually no evidence for any significant slave trade there in the relevant period.

Etherington's attempt to replace the colonial oriented historical accounts by an African centred one is build on shaky foundations because of lack of adequate sources. This is a book for those who already have a reasonable understanding of 19th century South African history, and it is not written in an accessible style. However, if you are interested in this subject, it is worth reading as an alternative view of the history of this period, despite its drawbacks.

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