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Review: Somme (Macdonald)



On this, the 101st anniversary of the ending of the Somme Offensive, we return for one last look at the battleground.

Macdonald’s book is not a new one, and because many other authors quote from it, much that it contains will not seem unique.

The numerous direct quotations are credited in the margins of the book, rather than below block quotes, or in footnotes or end notes. The usual kinds of small maps are scattered throughout, and there are period and modern black-and-white photographs of landscapes, people and monuments, but many of them are quite dark, and thus of limited utility.There’s a bibliography, a lengthy list of acknowledgments, and a brief index.

Macdonald’s lyric, literary writing style makes the harsh facts go down smoothly. The inclusion of a variety of poems, marching songs, and hymns help to create a sense of intimate feeling that is not often found in histories of this period of the war.

A late addition to my Battle of the Somme collection (some 14 strong, now), but I enjoyed the change of tone, which made it worth the wait.


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Review: Dead Wake (Larson)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Thoroughly researched and documented, Larson’s version of the Lusitania’s doomed voyage is a vast improvement on the superficial treatment the maritime crime received in the book by Protasio.  The increase in historical details about the ship, her skipper, and about the U-boat and its commander fill the documentary voids left in the other author’s book.

It retains the unfortunately choppy vignette style of reporting on the experiences of individuals who were involved, and the countdown to disaster becomes tedious, but the text is otherwise engagingly written. There are no photographs, but the reader does not miss them, because Larson describes their content with a writing voice that conveys the “you are there” sensation better than any other author of history: his words really do paint pictures in the mind.

In the end notes, the author eschews numerals and uses brief quotations from the text when identifying sources, which is a cumbersome way to provide documentation, but it does avoid interrupting the flow of the narrative. There is an extensive bibliography and an adequate index.

If you want to know about the Lusitania, this is a hefty, quality paperback that ably takes you where you need to go.  Recommended.

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