Top critical review
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It's not that bad, but then it's not that good either
on 2 February 2016
This book is not as bad as some reviewers make out. I had seen the book advertised elsewhere, looked on Amazon for the reviews, and then found a copy in our local library (yes, some of us still use those).
Pretty comprehensive coverage really: the author has done lots of work, and the reader is invited to put him right throughout. Some of it is a bit glib and blase, but as he points out, it’s a small book and there isn’t space.
Entries on WW1 are refreshingly free of “mud, blood, and pointlessness”, and highlight some of the things that are ignored in the fixation on the Western Front, eg the British using armoured cars in Romania to help the Russians, or Gen Smuts chasing Major-General Lettow-Vorbeck around East Africa. The entries on Belgium and France remind us that we successfully removed invading Germans from lands that weren’t theirs.
The library copy has evidence of many corners temporarily bent over, so previous borrowers have obviously found things of interest in it.
And now for a few problems. The maps at the back have countries that are not identified, eg Gambia, Western Sahara, Eritrea, Montenegro, to name but a few. Each chapter page has a black and white reproduction of the cover under the text, this makes the text very difficult to read. Some have picked out the humour, here is an example from the entry for the USA, p242: “It turned out the pig belonged to an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company and he wasn’t happy (that is, the employee wasn’t happy, though under the circumstances, I think we can conclude the pig was none too happy about it all either).”. Either you can cope with this, or you can’t. Yes, he calls us “Brits”, and ... ?
In the end, this is one of those books that’s given on Christmas Day, gratefully received, enjoyable read once, and then never really read again, gathers dust, before going to a charity shop when one hopes the giver won’t notice that it’s gone.