Top positive review
Great book, horrible edition and proof reading work.
on 3 December 2017
I would have liked to give full five stars to MaxHasting’s Catastrophe. It is a great book. An informative, entertaining, and well documented book that covers the first five months of the Great War in a language accessible for every public. So, why the missing star?
Well, when reading the book you can notice two main issues: 1) the book was finished in rush for reaching the 2014 deadline; and 2) it was either written or proof read by more than one person or a ghost-writer. This, unfortunately, is reflected in a large number of flaws, repetitions and lack-of-coordination-induced mistakes.
First of all, and most offending, is the misspelling of Habsburg, it is not Hapsburg, it is Habsburg (you don’t write place or people names by their phonetics). I can understand (and even forgive) a board game designer for this mistake, not a well informed scholar that, as the text evidences, has gone through hundreds of references before writing his manuscript. I feel keener on blaming this on a proof reader or ghost-writer rather than on the author. But this does not make the mistake it less ugly.
Another annoying issue is the, almost pedantic, habit of quoting individual’s says in the original language (most cases German) without providing a translation. This happens only in certain chapters, which hints -again- the fact that the book was written by different people.
The multiple authorship (or the use of a ghost-writer) is further evidenced by the fact that several fragments or stories appear more than once in the book. I can quote, for example, the story of a German spy with American accent who worked undercover in the UK (mostly Glasgow and Edinburgh) until he was discovered. This story is referred to at least twice in the book.
But the most irritating fact is the horrendous management of the notes and references. It is simply chaotic. First of all, I cannot understand how the author could imagine that including more than 2000 citations without direct referencing was a good practice? This imposes the interested reader the burden of holding three sections of the book open simultaneously: one for the page he is reading, one for the notes, and a third one for the bibliography! If this was not enough nuisance, the notes are not numbered in the text, well, they are not even marked! This means that the reader needs to guess in every single paragraph (or even sentence), whether it is linked to a note or not. In second place, there does not seem to be a common criterion for choosing which sentences must be referred and which ones not. There are irrelevant remarks or says which are given a note, whereas huge amounts of text extracted from people’s diaries or speeches are not given a reference (for example, in Chapter 16 the author refers to the writings of certain Aleksandr Trushnovich without ever referring where did all the quoted comments came from). This can be ignored once, but when it is common place in the book, then it becomes, at least, irritating. Thirdly, the book lacks a common approach to the management of notes and bibliography. Most notes cite books using an author-year style, and the corresponding book appears later in the bibliography (good); some others provide also the title of the book in the note (and in the bibliography, even better), but there are some which provide the reference to a book that does not appear in the bibliography! Also, there are books and articles in the bibliography which are not referred in the notes. This is the kind of mistakes, produce of a rushed finishing of the edition, which take value off the book.
I enjoyed reading the book, even though I must say that most of the time my attention was more focused on finding the notes and guessing if certain sentence was accompanied by a note or not, rather than on the main issue. I hope a second edition of the book will take much more care of these details. In particular, it will be very helpful to the reader if the notes are marked in the text, if not numbered, at least with a “dag”.
This is not a criticism for the use of ghost-writers. But the care for the final product is sole responsibility of the author. In this, Sir. Max Hastings has failed this time.