Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: Sniping in the Great War (Pegler)


Sniping in the Great War.

A helpful little book filled with technical details on the guns, scopes, practices and personalities behind the performance of sniping among various Commonwealth and Regular troops of the BEF. The German side of the story is given generous, if not as thorough, treatment as are the British. An overview of the history of wartime rifle use in other times and places is included.

It’s well enough written, with few grammatical errors, but it’s obviously been padded with a great deal of repetitive, almost literary, verbiage, without which it would have been a much shorter book. There are detailed photographs of the arms, and pictures of proponents of the skill.

My big gripe with the book is that although published in hardcover with a fine, glossy dust jacket, the pages started falling out – and it was purchased new.

Otherwise, not a bad investment for those who want some in-depth, albeit brief, background on this aspect of trench warfare.


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Review: The Somme (Barton & Banning)


The Somme.*

Most of the books I review on this blog I have read twice. I’m working my way through my third trip into this one, and it’s slow going.

Its approach is not out of the ordinary: quotations and commentary interspersed with photographs and maps; however, its composition on the page vastly complicates the job of reading it.

The book is printed in landscape format, the better to accommodate the multi-fold panoramic photos, the perusal of which entail lengthy digressions from the text. Moreover, the text is distributed across three columns that are distractingly broken up by numerous small illustrations, many of which are period monochrome photos that are too dark to provide helpful detail in contact-sheet size; but many of these are popular or iconic images, so researchers likely will have access to much larger copies in other books.

The other interrupting illustrations are excerpts from period campaign maps, and in the main are too small to be enlightening. Large sections of the maps are also provided, but while they have the advantage of color-coding, which is lacking in the line-drawn reproductions found in most books, the original maps still suffer from the same confusing clutter that curse most such diagrams. The accompanying panoramic photo spreads may have been meant to help ameliorate this difficulty, but a reader looking at a photo still lacks the three-dimensional immediacy that would have made the maps meaningful to soldiers at the front. In other words, “You had to be there.”

Diagrams of trench construction features provide helpful insight into the complexity of static warfare. Many period panoramas are accompanied by color photography of the modern landscape, which alleviate some of the monochrome monotony of a work of this magnitude. Quotations from battle participants are typeset in italics, which simplifies their identification, but can become difficult to read in long passages.

The sections and chapters in the table of contents are creatively entitled in theatrical terms as acts and scenes. The appendices include a timeline and a hierarchy chart to explain army structure; further reading is suggested; sources and pictures are credited in separate sections. The index, spread over five pages of five columns each, does its job. The book’s format and weight make almost imperative the use of a table or large lap desk for comfortable reading.

This book is clearly meant for the serious researcher. It may make a good gift for an armchair general who has the leisure to delve deeply, but not for anyone who wants only a quick battlefield stroll.

* The cover of my copy bears the subtitle, The Unseen Panoramas, and neither that nor the pictured subtitle appears on the title page.


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Review: Three Armies on the Somme (Philpott)


Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century.

The size and presentation of this volume, along with the back cover hype and the author’s credentials, promise much more than they deliver.

What this writer tells about the French army has been equally well told elsewhere; what he contributes about the German army is less than substantial, and he has nothing new to say about the role of the BEF, except to wax snarky about other historians’ work; indeed, he often descends to ad hominem attacks against those authors, a distinctly unprofessional behavior.

Most of the nine maps are drawn to a scale that puts them on the too-busy side, with a plethora of lines and arrows superimposed on a background of largely unnecessary topographical features. The separate sections of photographic plates are printed on glossy paper, which improves their visibility, but several photos have been over-used in the genre, and the photos are minimally credited on the plates, when better identification could have been provided in a separate section. In the back matter, the author indulges in a bit of redundant discussion of military organization, and he includes a list of abbreviations (actually acronyms) at the beginning of the extensive end notes section. An additional section includes remarks about sources and reading recommendations. The index seems to be adequate.

Disappointing, despite its heft.

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