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Our Book Reviews


In the course of our research, we have found several books useful so we've listed and reviewed them. Select a category to browse the book list, use the form to search for a specific topic, or select from our featured reviews.

If you have read a particularly good book, we would welcome your recommendations too - Send us your book reviews.

Featured reviews :

  • The Japanese Navy in World War II

    Evans, David C (Ed.)
    The subtitle for this substantial book (568 pages) is "In the words of former Japanese Naval Officers", and from their seniority in their brief biographies (in an appendix) there is a risk that this book could become either a description of grand strategy, a justification of and blame for ultimate defeat, or both. And the contributions from these professional naval men, written in some cases not long after the events they describe do indeed carry much of that. But they also contain immediate and personal details from the glinting of the sun from the wings of bombers heading for Perl Harbour, to the difficulty of abandoning a burning carrier during Midway, to the mixed emotions of setting sail upon one of the biggest battleships ever built on a one way trip to Okinawa. All this makes it book well worth reading for both the informed and the inquisitive. I found it hard to put down and had to read a whole chapter at a sitting.
    Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD., (2nd Edn, paperback) 2017, (original) 1986
  • The Battle for the Maginot Line, 1940

    Donnell, Clayton
    If you've ever wondered what the point of the Maginot Line was, this book will tell you. It begins with a decent overview and history of the construction and layout of the forts and other works, along with a brief description of the concepts. It then jumps into an exceptionally detailed account of the battle for each fortified section including the types of casemate, the units and composition of both sides involved, and the date, time and nature of their demise. It also covers the unsung resistance of the southern section of the line which proved very successful against the Italian advance, but to me the most affecting sections are those where the interval troops, infantry support and artillery backup are withdrawn, leaving small handfuls of men to delay panzer regiments. The book concludes with a thought-provoking section on the strengths and weaknesses of the line and whether it's reputation as a military 'white elephant' is undeserved, and caught up in (and often blamed for) the whole debacle of June 1940 which was so psychologically damaging the French nation.

    As with many military history books, this one could do with more and better maps. Most chapters contain tactical diagrams of offensives but they are quite small and difficult to read, so I had an atlas to hand (and google maps!) to get a better impression of the spatial situation. On the whole though, an excellent and very well researched read, though perhaps a little too detailed to keep the casual reader's attention. I for one, however, am already planning my next trip to SF Maubeuge, Haguenau and Ouvrage Sainte-Agnes, and this book will be in my hand-luggage.
    Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, 2017
  • Waterloo. Myth and Reality

    Gareth Glover
    It is an under statement to say there have been many books written about Waterloo. I have over ninety on my bookshelves; the earliest in my collection was printed in 1896 and there is a steady progression up to the present day. Why read another one? My first reason is that I am a Gareth Glover fan. The second reason, which is what drew me to this book, is the intriguing sub title ‘Myth and Reality’.
    Glover sets out to separate the two by referencing hugh amounts of primary source material; much of which the reader can access for themselves in ‘The Waterloo Archives’ [Edited by Glover and reviewed on this site]
    The author really does succeed in his aim to dispel most of the myths which appear in so many books. He presents cogent arguments in favour of ‘reality’ and for every case he has the supporting evidence. Where there is certainty it is stated with conviction, where there is doubt the balance of evidence is presented. The method employed is to give the appropriate weight to any piece of evidence by asking who wrote it, when and why. He goes on to show how some received wisdom is the result of the uncritical acceptance of records of events written by participants, or long after the event by their supporters, wishing to put down on record the version which shows them in the best light.
    Glover also criticises those historians who base their judgements of commander’s decisions made in the heat of battle, when those decisions were based only on information available to them at that time. The fog of war and the difficulty of clear rapid communication do not cloud hindsight but did hamper all levels of command at that time.
    It is not a large book, only 245 pages, but of well written engaging text. The sixteen pages of illustrations are superb. In such an excellent book it is a shame that my usual criticism of many modern books applies here. The maps are not good, without scale, without the conventional military mapping differences between cavalry and infantry, and a fancy type face which does nothing to aid the reader.
    Maps apart I believe that for every person interested in the battle of Waterloo this book is more than a ‘would like’ it is a ‘must have’.

    Pen & Sword Military. Pen & Sword \Books \Ltd., 2014
  • US Military Helicopters (Images of War series)

    Green, Michael
    A treat for anyone who, like me, has a passion for military helicopters, this book is very much what it appears to be, 220 pages full of useful pictures and information on the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps's rotor-based aircraft.

    The book is split into 4 main chapters, covering early piston-engined helicopters, later gas-turbine workhorses (like the iconic UH-1 'Huey'), Gunships, and finally, well, everything else! Each chapter starts with a short, utilitarian description of the models covered in that chapter along with their capabilities, dates of service and developments. Then you're into the photos, at least three per double page along with captions that also contain plenty of useful detail. Some are images that you may recognise if you're familiar with the type or theatre of operations mentioned, but there are a good number I've never seen before and the coverage is good, from the earliest R-4B's, through Huey's, Piasecki's, Chinook's, UH-60's, Cobra's and Apaches, to even the V-22 Osprey (tilt-rotor) and the UH-72A Lakota. Reading cover to cover, or just dipping in, for recognition, modelling or simply interest, a great book to have to hand.
    Pen & Sword Aviation, Barnsley, 2017
  • A Scots Grey at Waterloo

    Gareth Glover
    The sub-title on the cover is ‘The Remarkable Story of Sergeant William Clarke’ and that is just what this book is – a truly remarkable story. Clarke has written of his life from being a farm hand until, with the rank of Troop Sergeant Major, he left the regiment in 1825. The language is typical flowery early 19th prose. In the initial chapters much is in the Scots vernacular. Glover warns that the reader may find this challenging. But thanks in large part to Glover’s translations and annotations, which on occasions correct Clarke on matters of fact, I found the style of writing gave authenticity to the text. The whole book is a good read but some sections deserve special mention. The Gypsy King’s tale of his life as a soldier in the Seven Years war is illuminating. The account of the retreat from Quatre Bras is, in its detail, a clear indication of how well it was commanded and executed. What might have been a rout was anything but. Naturally the charge of the Union Brigade figures large and again shows us how every individual in a battle sees only his fight and never the whole battle. The final highlight, full of raw emotion, is Clarke’s description of the killing field as he was one of the regiment’s burial party on the 19th June. For example he reports seeing, among the heap of amputated limbs as he passed the field hospital, a leg which had belonged to a Highlander because it still wore the long socks which accompany the wearing of the kilt.
    At times the book reads like a novel, other times a journal and at other times like the report of a war correspondent; at no time is it dull. The discovery, recognition and publication of an important manuscript are to be applauded.
    I highly recommend it.

    Frontline Books. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2017