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Book reviews for - 19th and Early 20th Century

  • Echoes From Dawn Skies - Early Aviators: A Lost Manuscript Rediscovered

    Frederick Warren Merriam
    In the 1950's F. W. Merriam, a key figure in early British aviation before the First World War, wrote a manuscript of reminiscences of his friends and colleagues from those days. People like Hugh Short (of Shorts Brothers), Lord Brabazon, Alliott Verdon-Roe, and many others contributed memories of the trials and tribulations of building, flying and often crashing those very early machines with delightful detail and understatement. However the book remained unpublished at Merriam's death in 1956 and disappeared from view. Then recently, with the help of Merriam's granddaughter Sylvia and Mick Oakey of The Aviation Historian magazine, the manuscript was unearthed, rescued and at last published. This book is a gem, plain and simple. Wittily and engagingly written, each chapter brings some new anecdote from the people who were there at the beginning, with Aviator's Certificates (original pilot's licences) numbers in the low double or even single figures. The book is produced to a very high quality and contains lots of appropriate photos and illustrations, along with an appendix listing all of the people Merriam himself taught to fly from the iconic Brooklands aerodrome. For anyone interested in the early years of pre-war flight, this book is an absolute must.
    Air World Books, 2021
  • The Decline of Empires in South Asia

    Heather A Campbell
    This book covers quite a niche subject in the history of what became known as "The Great Game" between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in South Asia. It focuses on the problems of imperial control over primarily Afghanistan in the years 1919-1923, and how the conflicts between the Indian government, the India Office, and the Foreign Office in London. It uses as a comparison the approaches taken during those same years in Persia, and while it covers a number of viewpoints, it largely revolves around Lord Curzon, his strong personality, and the mistakes it argues that he made because of it.
    I found this book to be fascinating, and extremely thoroughly researched (the notes pages and bibliography are approximately one third of the book) but it is really quite academic and probably not for a casual reader.
    Pen & Sword Military, 2022
  • The Zeppelin

    Michael Belafi (Trans. Cordula Werschkun)
    This is a fascinating study of a fascinating man and his more than life-long obsession with lighter-than-air flight. It primarily covers Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin's life and the early Zeppelins, before the 1st World War. There are copious photographs from the early days covering the main developments and achievements, and I have rarely seen such coverage in a single book. There is a very short chapter on their use as a weapon in WW1, and it is clear that the author thoroughly disapproved of it's militarisation, and gives it very little space, but I think it should be applauded for that. There are plenty of books demonising the Zeppelins, and it's very refreshing to have one that doesn't.
    There is also a decent section on what I would call the glory days of the dirigibles, during the 1920's and early 30's but the main focus is still the early years, since the Count himself died in 1917 and I feel that the book is none the less for that. There is even a final chapter that covers the modern airships that are the Count's direct descendants which is valuable to provide a sense of continuity and re-birth.
    The text in some places can seem a little unusual to English eyes, since it is quite clearly and unashamedly a translation of a German work. But I found that once I had accustomed myself to that, it read smoothly and enthusiastically. It fills an important gap on my early aviation bookshelf, and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to fill the similar gap on yours.
    Pen & Sword Aviation, 2015
  • Voice from the Ranks

    Kenneth Fenwick [Ed.]
    This book is the raw truth of the Crimean War through the eyes of one soldier. Sergeant-Major Timothy Gowing was present at the battles of Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and the siege of Sevasterpol. He was seriously wounded twice, the last time inside the Redan during the final attack on the city. This is not a book about the grand strategy but a personal tale told in, what the author calls, rough soldiers language. Although today many of the sentiments he expresses we would consider jingoism clearly he holds these views with sincerity.
    If you have an interest in the Crimean war or in the lives of British soldiery then this book is well worth reading.
    The Folio Society, 1954
  • Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920

    Bennet, Geoffrey
    An interesting and unexpected book about an often overlooked conflict in the Baltic states during the confusion following the 1918 armistice.
    It ostensibly follows the Baltic activities of British Navy cruisers and destroyers under the command of Admiral Sir Walter Cowan, but it actually provides a much wider picture of the struggle of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for independence from Russia. It gives a good overview of the various nationalist forces fighting both the Bolshevik forces and the White Russians under Yudenitch, as well as the ethnic German 'Balts' and the remaining former Imperial German forces under Gen. von der Goltz who himself was attempting to promote German influence in Latvia and it's neighbours. But the main theme of the book is how the Royal Navy, together with some elements of the French attempted to moderate this and stop Bolshevik and German interference.
    At times it is quite 'high-level', but this is understandable, given the scope of the subject. It redeems itself with some good first-hand accounts and detailed engagement descriptions, particularly of the 40 foot, shallow draft motorboats C.M.B.'s which could each carry one or two torpedoes. These small, fast boats managed to infiltrate, under cover of night, right into Kronstadt harbour which protected Petrograd (St Petersburg) and sheltered the pride of the Bolshevik navy, and sink much of it!
    This is a good update of a work originally published in 1964. It includes well researched appendices and some interesting photos of the people and ships involved but more than that, it highlights that for many people, the fighting definitely did not end on the 11th November 1918.
    Pen & Sword Maritime, 2017
  • Kipling's Soldiers

    Newark, George and Christopher
    Many people are familiar with Kipling's poetry but this compliation, with paintings by Bryan Fosten, and supporting text by the authors is a book for the military historians bedside.
    The Pompadour Gallery, 1993
  • The Warrior Mullah- The Horn Aflame 1892-1920

    Beachey Ray

    Bellew Publishing, 1990
  • The Transvaal War 1880-1881

    Bellairs, Lady
    Facsimile reprint of the 1885 edition - concentrates primarily on the various seiges of British garrisons throughout the Transvaal in which her husband Col. Bellairs was involved but also describes the situation and causes of the war.
    Struik, Cape Town, 1972
  • Victorian Military Campaigns

    Bond, Prof. Brian (Editor)
    A very readable collection of descriptions by various authors of some of the larger of Britains 'Small Wars' during the Victorian period. Includes the Sikh Wars, China 1660, Abyssinia, Ashanti, Egypt and the Sudan as well as an excellent write up on the first Boer War, or the Transvaal Independence of 1881.
    Hutchinson & Co., 1967
  • The Boer War

    Churchill, Winston S
    A collected volume of Churchill's reports from the front for the Morning Post during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Obviously intended for a pro-British,19th Century newspaper readership but still very readable with plenty of first-hand detail, particulary on his daring escape from captivity. His treatement of Sir Redvers Buller is contemporary and generous which although rubbished since, has more recently been re-appraised.
    , 1901
  • The Blue and the Grey - 2 Vols.

    Commager, Henry Steele
    2 volume collection of 1st hand accounts, extracts of memoires etc. from the American Civil War. Covers both Generals and soldiers, politicians and civilians.
    Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1950
  • The Three Years War

    De Wet, Christiaan

    Westminster, 1902
  • Victorian Colonial Warfare - Africa

    Featherstone, Donald

    Blandford, 1992
  • Victorian Colonial Warfare India

    Featherstone, Donald
    Covers from the Sind to the Indian Mutiny in masses of detail. Maps and illustrations support the excellent text.
    Blanford, 1992
  • The Civil War, A Narrative - 3 Vols.

    Foote, Shelby

    Pimlico, 1992
  • The Hall Handbook of the Anglo Boer War

    Hall, Darrell
    An excellent reference text providing background on people, places, events, equipment and organisation in the Anglo Boer War. A particularly interesting section on the Boer Artillery - the Long Toms - from an acknowledged expert on the subject.
    University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, 1999
  • Britain's Forgotten Wars

    Hernon, Ian
    Subtitled 'Colonial Campaigns of the 19th Century' this is a collected work originally published between 1998 abd 2001 as three separate books - 'Massacre and Retribution', 'The Savage Empire', and 'Blood in the Sand'. A mammoth but very readable chronicle of many of Britains lesser known colonial conflicts including the Maori 'Flagstaff War', the first Burma war, the first and second Sikh Wars, the Opium and Arrow China Wars and many others.
    Sutton, 2003
  • The Boer War

    Jackson, Tabitha
    Good overview of the war with plenty of illustrations and photographs. Highlights the important role of the black South Africans and gives the lie to the conflict said to be the 'White man's war'. Accompanied a TV series.
    Channel 4 Books, 1999
  • Mad Mullah of Somaliland

    Jardine, Douglas James
    Herbert jenkins, 1923
  • The Crimean War

    Judd, Denis
    The military incompetence, the personal animosities of the senior officers and the heroics and sufferings of the common soldier are all here. Judd draws on the personal accounts of men who were there and of the writings of the first ever war correspondent to give a clear readable overview of the Crimean War.
    Book Club Associates 1976, 1975
  • To the Bitter End - A Photographic History of the Boer War 1899-1902

    Lee, Emanoel
    An excellent collection of photographs of the Boer War with a good accompanying text fleshing out the photographic subjects. As a consultant surgeon in Britain, and a born and bred South African he approaches the subject from an objective and humanitarian view point. The chapter on battlefield injuries and their treatment is particularly good.
    Guild Publishing, London., 1985
  • Battle Cry of Freedom

    McPherson, James M
    A classic single-volume text on the American Civil War covering all the major engagements, political movements and foreign policy implications necessary to build a rounded picture of the war.
    Penguin, 1990
  • Into the Valley of Death: The British Cavalry Division at Balaclava 1854

    Mollo, John and Boris
    The action of the Heavy Brigade and the more 'news worthy' Light Brigade are covered in the text as well as a great deal of information on uniforms, organization and other matters. Rarely seen contemporary illustrations, and Bryan Fosten's superb illustrations, make it a 'must read' book.
    Windrow & Greene Ltd., 1991
  • The Scramble for Africa

    Pakenham, Thomas
    Covers the European colonial expansion into Africa during the later part of the 19th Century. Well researched, full of colourful detail and lively narrative
    Abacus, 1992
  • The Boer War

    Pakenham, Thomas
    Another excellent and readable book from Pakenham. It covers most aspects of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War drawing heavily from 1st hand accounts, official papers and letters. Plenty of detail in the accounts of the actions as well as the political and diplomatic viewpoints.
    Abacus, 1992
  • Commando. A Boer Journal of the Boer War

    Reitz, Deneys
    Originally published 1929, this is a personal memoir of the 17 year old son of a Transvaal politician from Pretoria who rode with his compatriots into Natal in 1899 and fought the British for the duration. A must for anyone interested in the period from both sides.
    Faber and Faber, 1932
  • Crimea

    Royle Trevor
    The Great Crimean War 1854-1856
    Abacus, 2000
  • Chancellorsville, 1863

    Smith, Carl

    Osprey, 1998
  • The Immortal Warrior: Britain's First and Last Battleship

    Wells, Captain John
    Everything you need to know, and more, about Warrior. Informative detailed text superb illustrations. The book to read before and after a visit to the preserved leviathan.
    Kenneth Mason, 1987