Tag Archives: battlefields

Review: Battlescapes (Buellesbach & Cowper)

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Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2,000 years of Conflict.

It’s certainly not a fault of this book that it prepares a potential visitor to the battlefields of Europe to see a whole lot of nothing. Except in the locations of memorials and cemeteries, the woods have grown back and the fields have reverted to farming. Life goes on.

That’s the way it ought to be, of course. Despite the sadness we feel when confronted with a massive loss of human life, and the disgust we feel when we consider the value of the human capital wasted and the genetic potential lost forever, it is a far greater honor to the dead for later generations to have encouraged the natural landscape to recover and thrive, and to have reaped abundant harvests from the croplands, both so thoroughly fertilized by the flesh, blood and bones of so many.

For that is essentially why they died, during the First and Second World Wars: to save beauty from the boot heels of imperial tyranny and totalitarian oppression, and to preserve lives and livelihoods assured by agriculture practiced in freedom.

This is a cloth-covered, hardbound book with a dust cover, and hefty enough from its thick, glossy pages to make it hard to handle if not read from a desktop. Concise text summaries accompany stunning color photography dominated by spacious two-page spreads that do a fine job of carrying the reader to each site. Different seasons and weather conditions are portrayed. A brief battlefield visitor’s guide offers helpful tourist information for each location, as well as some website URLs. It has an adequate index.

The First World War sites the volume visits are Ypres, the Dolomites, the Isonzo, Verdun, the Somme, and Vimy Ridge, but the book covers 28 other battlefields, dating from September, 52 BC to April, 1945, so it makes a suitable gift for any armchair general.

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Review: The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields (Middlebrook)

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The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields: A Comprehensive Coverage from Crécy to the World Wars.

The Somme bears 600 years of battle scars, but although the vast majority of those documented date from the First World War, the authors also do justice to the outliers (1346 and the 1940s). Many individual casualties are identified, which contribute an intensely personal feeling to the book.

The intent is to assist the battlefield visitor, but the details are so densely packed, it takes slow, careful study to absorb them. The book is packed with 90 photographs (mostly modern, a few archival) and more than two dozen maps, and the text provides concise summaries of the action in each locale. There is a brief bibliography, and a comprehensive index that’s divided into four parts: a General index, Place Names, Military Units, Soldiers and Airmen, with some further subdivision according to units or nationality.

My copy (Pen & Sword 2007 edition) is sturdily bound in hardcover with a dust jacket, and printed on heavy, semi-gloss stock, contributing a significant heft that makes the book a better desk reference than a traveler’s guidebook, but despite its cumbersome weight, Great War tourists will still find it extremely valuable.

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