This is a beautifully produced and profusely illustrated book, although it's a pity that the cover is not that depicted in the image on this site.
As the dust jacket states, cargo liners were "some of the most handsome and elegant ships ever built" and this book is indeed a "feast for ship enthusiasts and for all those who mourn the passing of the golden age of the steamship".
Well over 2,000 different ships are listed in the index and over 300 excellent photographs cover the century of the classic cargo liner - "the backbone of empire" - until it was eclipsed by the container ship in the 1970s.
As a teenager in the 1960s I watched some of these cargo liners sail past Tilbury. I was privileged to see the classic lines of these majestic vessels close up and, later, when at sea in HM Ships, I saw some of the last of these fine ships at sea. This book is a lovely trip down memory lane and many other readers who lived near a major port, or went to sea themselves, or who just love ships, will feel so, too. For who cannot look at the photograph of the Ellerman liner "City of Coventry", in Singapore, and see something of beauty, the smell of the sea, the mystery of the Orient and the tale of an ancient mariner? Who cannot look at the silhouette of the unnamed ship on the back cover and wonder who she is and where she goes, and what does she carry - a cargo of ivory or diamonds, of cedarwood or cinnamon, or just iron-ware and cheap tin trays? Who will not feel a wanderlust on seeing the photographs of the Port Line's "Port Huon" at Cape Town, the Brocklebank Line's "Mangla" at Aden, the Blue Star liner "New York Star" passing under the Golden Gate, the New Zealand Shipping Company's "Otaio" passing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or even the Danish East Asiatic Company's curious early diesel ship "Tongking" at buoys off Fowey in the years between the wars? And remember, even today, 90% of international trade goes by sea, albeit much of it in containers on ships that often are more reminiscent of floating buildings than the handsome cargo liners in this volume.
But, for all this eulogy, author Lord Greenway, I wanted more! I wanted to see some photographs like that on the cover that was not used on the published edition, cargo ships at sea in rough weather, aerial photos of cargo liners so that one might better get an idea of their deck layout, which you describe in words in the introduction (and, perhaps, a large photograph of one ship, with a key for the layman to the visible superstructure and a glossary of the terms used). I wanted to see some photographs of ships in wartime guise and of cargo liners in distress; there is nothing here of the famous story of the American Export-Isbrandtsen Liner "Flying Enterprise" following her SOS in the last days of 1951. One could get the impression from these, admittedly, excellent photographs that the sea is always calm and the cargo liners always ship-shape and Bristol fashion. These ships were working ships although many of the shipping lines did indeed look after them very well; and it is mostly in their "Sunday best" that Ambrose Greenway has photographed these fine ships.
I also wanted to see a few - at least one! - representative deck plan drawings and at least one page of scale line drawings would have been helpful. Something more about the ship's complement (noting that the "City of Brisbane" was 97 officers and ratings), the passenger accommodation (for generally ten or a dozen lucky voyagers) and an example of a year in the life of a cargo liner would have been interesting, too. A full register of cargo ships would, perhaps, be too much?
Also, I'd have liked to have learned more about the cargo trade. A few illustrative examples of the shipping lines' advertisements for their cargo services, and literature used to attract passengers, would have added value to the book. A map of the main cargo routes would have been good as would a list of the shipping lines, their scheduled routes and their main cargoes. It's a pity that the index lists only ship names as it would be useful to have the shipping lines and main ports indexed too.
Had the book run to a few colour plates, then of course the house flags, funnels, hull and boot topping of the shipping lines and cargo liners would have been the icing on the cake.
These quibbles seek completeness, and merit perhaps a sister volume? But let them not detract from this excellent book. It is a treat for anyone interested in ships and the golden age of the steamship.