75 of 95 people found the following review helpful
Too many serious mistakes,
By A Customer
This review is from: Zulu (Hardcover)
Given the author's admission in his Acknowledgements that he spent only a year researching and writing the book, it's hard not to feel that it is hurried. His prose is engaging and whisks the reader through the rather sad tale easily enough, but there are errors and omissions aplenty, and anyone with an interest in the war will easily spot the influence of recent specialist books on the subject (Lock and Quantrill's controversial study of Isandlwana, for example, Adrian Greaves' Rorke's Drift and The Curling Letters, my own National Army Museum and Prince Imperial books). There is no mention, for example, of the war of raid and counter-raid that took place along the Anglo-Zulu borders throughout the war, and several major characters - such as King Cetshwayo's adviser, the extraordinary 'White Zulu' John Dunn - are introduced only in footnotes. There are, moreover, a surprising number of factual mistakes. The Hales rocket was not fired from its trough by 'a hand-lit fuse' (p. 76), but by tugging on a lanyard attached to a friction detonator. The Imperial Mounted Infantry - a scratch cavalry force raised from volunteers from infantry battalions who could ride - were not 'armed with unwieldy Martini-Henry rifles' (p. 68) but with Swinburne-Henry carbines. James Rorke, the Irish border-trader who gave his name to Rorke's Drift, did not die 'childless' (p. 159); his sons, like many second-generation frontier farmers, crossed the colour divide and married Zulu wives, a choice which placed them outside the rigid confines of white colonial society, and has left their history largely unwritten. Frances Colenso, the daughter of the Bishop of Natal and defender of Durnford's reputation, was not 'Fanny' to her family (p. 64) but 'Nel'. The Natal Carbineers - one of the most important of the locally raised white volunteer units - are referred to as the Royal Natal Carbineers - a title they only enjoyed between 1935 and 1961. Indeed, there is a good deal of confusion in evidence here about the distinction between Volunteer troops - who were part-time soldiers raised under the Natal Volunteer Acts, did not enlist under Queen's Regulations, and who required a special dispensation to fight outside Natal territory - and the Irregulars, who were raised directly by the Crown for full-time service for a specified period.
Nit-picking? Perhaps, but these are all points which could have been resolved with a greater familiarity with even recent literature on the war. There are questionable judgements, too. Was Lord Chelmsford really 'offhand to the point of rudeness when dealing with Colonial officers' (p. 38)? Certainly, Chelmsford's experiences in the earlier Cape Frontier War had left him sceptical of colonial officers' judgement, but his manners were generally impeccable, and Commandant Hamilton Browne - himself a Colonial - noted that his personal behaviour was 'kind and courteous.. a manner that endeared him to all of us. No General that I ever served under in South Africa, was so respected and liked as he was, and certainly, no Colonial officer ever said a word against him'. In dealing with the events surrounding Isandlwana, the author is quick to point out that Lord Chelmsford, splitting his force on the eve of battle, failed to take a reserve supply of ammunition with him; later, at the height of the fighting, Quartermaster Bloomfield of the 2/24th is blamed for being 'pedantic' (p. 135) in the distribution of ammunition. The crucial point, however - that Bloomfield was husbanding the very reserve supplies, which Chelmsford had ordered to be made ready in case he needed them, is missed. And, in assessing the behaviour of an officer who had abandoned his men at the battle of Ntombe, Dr David remarks that 'there were marked similarities between Harward's conduct and that of Major Spalding at Rorke's Drift, the only difference being that Spalding did not abandon his men while an enemy attack was actually in progress' (p. 248). More could not, surely, hang on such a difference as that?
In his account of the crucial battle of Isandlwana, the author has followed a recent revisionist interpretation, which is by no means generally accepted; nothing necessarily wrong with that, but he makes no effort to evaluate contradictory evidence, to the extent that several statements given here simply cannot be supported. At the height of the battle, says the author, Second Lieutenant 'Dyson's small party never received the order [to withdraw] and were speared to a man' (p. 132). In fact, while Dyson's ultimate fate remains hotly debated, the only direct evidence - from either side - comes from the survivor, Captain Essex, who went out of his way to describe how he delivered that order to Dyson, and how Dyson obeyed. The conventional version of the start of the battle of Isandlwana - in which a British patrol stumbles upon the resting Zulu army, and provokes a spontaneous attack - is described as 'great cinema; but not the truth' (p. 123) - despite the fact that plenty of those who were there recalled the incident in exactly those terms.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2008 17:33:29 BDT
Legatus Hedlius says:
Mr Knight makes many valid points here but should own up to being a "competing" author in this rather small field rather than hiding under anonymity. Unless someone posted his review without his permission..
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2009 13:12:29 GMT
A. Deacon says:
He may not mention his name, but he mentions his books. He is not hiding.
And I doubt the review is from someone other than Ian Knight - it is too knowledgeable.
I have no time for authors sniping at each other but Knight's points seem to be valid.
The absence of any rejoinder from Saul David is telling.
Posted on 28 Nov 2009 22:40:53 GMT
B. J. Paulson says:
The above review, or near disection, of Saul David's work should be taken into the historiology of the subject in question, but will not detract from my own feeling of enrichment of the subject by having read Mr David's product. Should the details of the respective accounts of the Zulu conflict prove to represent more than errata, the likes of Adrian Greaves, Ian Knight and Saul David may do well by a mutual study of the historiology of the whole affair?
In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 16:21:24 BDT
Historical Fiction Fan says:
Or the Author Saul David is the bigger man and feels sniping is beneath him and does not feel he has to answer this!
Absence of response is not telling in the slightest!
Posted on 20 Sep 2010 17:29:56 BDT
P. Brooks says:
It is unfair to accuse this reviewer of 'sniping'. That might have been legitimate if the review was an ad hominem attack. It is not. The reviewer raises enough examples to suggest that his point about the work being rushed may be valid. It is the almost certain fate of any published 'expert', who treats a subject in depth, to get some of his facts wrong. There is no shame in that, but he must expect other experts to pounce if he has allowed rush or carelessness to damage his work beyond a reasonable measure. The author may be commended for good prose, however, it is useful to know that his accuracy may bear scrutiny. No doubt if there are later editions the accuracy will improve and he will have folk like the aforementioned reviewer to thank for it.
Posted on 17 Jan 2012 14:07:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 17 Jan 2012 14:15:59 GMT
Mr. Guy Hodge says:
I totally agree with the book review. I have no time for authors who do not do enough research on their chosen subject. Saul David then went on to write a "fiction" book called "Zulu Hart." That just about says it all really!!
Posted on 25 Nov 2013 21:37:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Nov 2013 21:50:36 GMT
K. Sweeting says:
This is not an impartial critique.
This reviewer has an axe to grind and boy does he grind it.
His points are so mean spirited he seems like a rival author determined to prove his effort is superior.
If you want to read true reviews from members of the book buying public then look at the 18 five star reviewers.
After writing the above I then discover the review IS by a rival author. Mr Knight really has shown his true colours. He should have congratulated Saul David on his book and kept his snipes to himself. Every word of the review is just screaming 'I am more knowledgeable'
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