Book Giveaway.



THIS PROMOTION IS NOW ENDED. If you would like to buy the book, check out my review where you will find a link.

Bloomsbury has given me the opportunity to give away two copies of this great new book to lucky readers. If you’d like the get in the running, just leave a comment either here, on YouTube or Twitter and I’ll announce winners on or around the 5th of May when the book is released.

“Acclaimed by the Daily Mail as ‘definitive and harrowing’ , this is the final volume of ‘The People’s Trilogy’, begun by the Samuel Johnson prize-winning Mao’s Great Famine.

After the economic disaster of the Great Leap Forward that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1958 and 1962, an ageing Mao launched an ambitious scheme to shore up his reputation and eliminate those he viewed as a threat to his legacy. The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to purge the country of bourgeois, capitalist elements he claimed were threatening genuine communist ideology. But the Chairman also used the Cultural Revolution to turn on his colleagues, some of them longstanding comrades-in-arms, subjecting them to public humiliation, imprisonment and torture.
Young students formed Red Guards, vowing to defend the Chairman to the death, but soon rival factions started fighting each other in the streets with semi-automatic weapons in the name of revolutionary purity. As the country descended into chaos, the military intervened, turning China into a garrison state marked by bloody purges that crushed as many as one in fifty people.
When the army itself fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, ordinary people used the political chaos to resurrect the marked and hollow out the party’s ideology. In short, they buried Maoism. In-depth interviews and archival research at last give voice to the people and the complex choices they faced, undermining the picture of conformity that is often understood to have characterised the last years of Mao’s regime. By demonstrating that decollectivisation from below was an unintended consequence of a decade of violent purges and entrenched fear, Frank Dikotter casts China’s most tumultuous era in a wholly new light.
Written with unprecedented access to previously classified party documents from secret police reports to unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches, this third chapter in Frank Dikotter’s extraordinarily lucid and ground-breaking ‘People’s Trilogy’ is a devastating reassessment of the history of the People’s Republic of China.”

So if you have a UK or Ireland address My review of the book will be going up on the 5th, good luck and happy reading.


Book Review: Camden 1780 by David Smith.

Author: David Smith
Illustrator: Graham Turner
Short code: CAM 292
Publication Date: 21 Apr 2016
ISBN: 9781472812858
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 96

The Battle of Camden occupies an odd place in the history of the American Revolution. It lies in a spot that is not difficult to scratch, but rather it lies in between places that draw more attention. After the drama of 1777 the intervening years between Valley Forge and Guilford Courthouse are never ignored but are understandably not something that many authors prioritise.

And why should they? Monmouth Courthouse was an instructive battle, but it achieved very little and was a stalemate. The low level fighting is difficult to incorporate into a narrative about big events. And the beginning of the Southern campaign was astonishingly successful for the British, which given their later total failure makes it a subject that is best covered as a prelude to the successes of General Greene, Morgan and Washington.

This book covers in pleasing Osprey detail the most successful British campaign of the war. The totality of the victory at Charleston and Waxhaws secured South Carolina at a stroke, and General Gate’s riposte ended in an equally telling defeat at Camden which left the entire south dangling by a thread. Yet there was hope, as the author shows us, while the British were effective at beating or destroying whatever field army they came across, and reducing whatever fort they besieged. They proved woefully ineffective at pacifying and securing their new conquest, this instability would lead to some unforeseen and costly choices that would effect the course of the war in America.

Because the battle of Camden was a simple affair deployment wise, and small by European standards, the 3D map seems almost like overkill, the one on the siege of Charleston is good, but I think putting the entrenchments and fortifications for both sides in red is a little confusing. 1D maps accompany to show geographic and campaign movements and in this book the art is supplied by Graham Turner.

Turner is best known for his work in the late medieval period, yet he has illustrated quite a few horse and musket books. Of late the American Wars have been a subject he has been able to return to a good few times, and in all of them he brings his trademark realism and skill. Here we have 3 full page spreads (some Don Troiani’s litter the rest of the pages) a simple composition showing an artillery officer viewing the bombardment of Charleston from the top of a gabion. A scene full of action, noise and movement depicting Banastre Tarleton’s horse going down during the decisive charge at Waxhaws. And a nice tight shot of the culminating action at Camden as De Kalb’s right flank Continentals become cut off and surrounded.

Topographical details of the battle are well covered by the author who seems to know his subject intimately. As is proper he treats Waxhaws as what it was, instead of the view presented by the one dimensional testimony of patriot propaganda, and is open minded about whether Tarleton could actually have done anything to control the battle after the order charge was given. By that token he does not outright condemn the almost pitiable General Gates, but sensitively shows us things from a contemporary perspective. Nevertheless while we can try to understand Gates’ motives, for the supposed victor of Saratoga, there is no real defence.

There is a very good further reading section which I have recently made use of and to sum up I was very satisfied with it and would definitely recommend it for those wishing to get some more detail on this grey area of the American Revolution. I can already say it compliments by ARW Osprey collection nicely and will serve as a good preface to their anticipated volume on the Battle of Cowpens.


Book Review: Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury.


Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus (9 April 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1408845245
Princes at war tells the story of the British monarchy from the abdication of Edward VIII to the death of George VI. More specifically it looks at the internal problems that the royal family had to deal with during this time. As the name suggests it focuses on the four sons of George V during World War Two. Principally it is driven by two of them. The two Kings. George VI or “Bertie” and the ex King, Edward VIII or the Duke of Windsor.
Deborah Cadbury merges together much of the recent scholarship, and deep research on the wartime royal family into one cohesive narrative, taking what is essentially the full cast of Edward and Mrs Simpson and The King’s speech and then tied that in together with all those documentary story lines that we are familiar with from ITV, Channel 4 and BBC, every time the Queen has a birthday. What emerges is the story that comes after the Abdication and after the Speech, which are the two stories that of course dominate the story to the royal family at this time.
A recurring theme is the rift caused in the monarchy by the abdication crisis. How Windsor distanced himself from the family by marrying Wallace Simpson. Then how the war irrevocably widened the gap, and ultimately how the Monarchy survived the conflict.

This is a cohesive and lively narrative of the Royal Family at war. A period of great significance to the monarchy and the nation itself, which has a great bearing on the longevity of the institution. It is dramatically written and flows well. Though it is true that I could not help but notice something of an over fondness for the use of hindsight now and again, one can’t help but be impressed at the great care and detail the author has put into it. Nor can one miss that a main thrust is the pros of having a constitutional monarchy.

In all three great emphasis’ emerge from the book. He first (very common nowadays I must admit) focuses upon the speech impediment George VI and how he felt this alone disqualified him from kingship and how he and Lionel Logue worked throughout his reign to correct it. It is surprising nonetheless how much this storyline is given space by the author here, not least how supposedly unfit his impediment made George VI feel.
The second is examining, or certainly giving a good stir-up of the evidence against the Duke of Windsor that implicates him of treason. There is no doubt that the case built up against the Duke of Windsor is a damning one here and precious little in his defence. Most people only know of him as far as the abdication but the continuing story paints a rather more troubling picture. Here we find not the noble prince but the weak willed lead man, a petty, gullible, vain and callouss man. Wallace Simpson a sort is nothing short of a black widow, much hinting at gold-digging are not far away, a selfish and self absorbed prima Donna interested in nothing but attaining rank and position at the cost of the greater good, and having bewitched her prince continued to lead him around by the nose, while both courted the protection of the Germans.
She almost comes off worse. As a schemer a intriguer bent on the throne. The book raises a highly arched eyebrow at them. And indeed the case presented leaves at best the fact that the Duke of Windsor was a dopey defeatist and at worst a weak willed sellout.
As a consequence the third emphasis emerges as something of the family drama, a royal Dallas one might say, the love to hate role is given to the playboy prince. The Duke of Windsor remains almost a central antagonist to the hero figure of the King. Meanwhile the two other brothers do their bit, but play very much second fiddle to the others. As of course does their wives, Queen Elizabeth is there in the background as the smiling encouraging cypher, in fact we emerge with a much fuller picture of the Duke of Kent’s Wife than the Queen Mother. It is with this I dare to add that perhaps due to constraints of space I found the main characters drawn as fairly one dimensional, which sadly due to my relative inexperience with the sources here I cannot properly explain. What I will say is that the Duke of Windsor was flawed, but I find the casting of him as an almost pantomime villain, troubling.

I must admit my almost total ignorance of the “Was Windsor a traitor” debate, which fuels much of the book that is not taken up with King George’s stolid performance, and his interaction with Winston Churchill. This therefore has made me tread warily with how much I took to heart. It is said that ignorance is bliss but I might add that a little knowledge, as well as going a long way, is also sheer torture when you are confronted with a wealth of possibly controversial information, in a narrative form, that you have no way of putting in perspective alongside the other arguments.
There is no smoke without fire, and given the whacking great clouds this book sends up there must have been something fishy going on in the Windsor Camp, most people agree to this. Certainly Windsor was not exactly the popular romantic figure he was imagined as. Properly speaking it clarifies that the Germans weren’t so much interested in George to broker a peace, but Windsor, yet I am still not entirely convinced.
However the door is left propped open. And I personally am left with giving him the benefit of the doubt as there is no conclusive proof of treachery. It is probable that Windsor’s instinct was for peace at all costs and that peace would have required him to treat the Nazis with an open mind and a friendly demeanour, which in itself would have been disastrous for Churchill. In fact it may well still be the same noble sacrificing prince of the abdication that shines through here. The act of abdication was after all an act of self interest of national interest. Certainly for the rest of his life he pandered to every whim his wife wished, and fought for her to be raised to an HRH even in the most insensitive moments. That much of what he did was probably then to do with love would seem to support the very cold fairly one dimensional view of Wallace Simpson, and others, that is presented here.

This then is the story of the Royal Family at War, it is perhaps a touch too polarising and not as wide ranging as one first expects, yet it does provide an insight into the collective effort of the male members of the royal family, their struggles, failures, losses and successes, personal and public during the most trying time in British History and in large shows us why Britain’s monarchy survived into the modern age.

Distinguished Conduct.

Dedicated to the Officers and Men of the British West India Regiment and their descendants.

There is a resonance in some of what follows, as the action about to be described was caused by an outside war prompting a migration of refugees into a territory. This broadly mirrors a current issue today, the lessons of the caste war of Yucatan however are not properly studied outside of Central America. What is certain is that the influx of new inhabitants brought both instability and growth to the colony of British Honduras.
However there would not have been such trouble had not the logging industry been strongly entrenched. If we look today at South America, especially the central sweep between Brazil and Peru, we find that the harvesting of natural resources from the rain forests brings conflict. Today small tribal groups are finding themselves pushed into contact with small rural communities by loggers, provoking violence from and against both loggers and villagers. Very often troops and Police are needed to stabilise the situation, sometimes with fatal results.

Northern Frontier British Honduras, 8am Sunday 1st September 1872 Continue reading “Distinguished Conduct.”

Book Review: The Forgotten Monarch by Matthieu Santerre.


File Size: 593 KB
Publisher: Sainte-Ursule Books; 1 edition (March 15, 2016)
Publication Date: March 15, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Language: English

Not a day ago I was asked to explain some of the reasons why Europeans went to war between 1745 and 1882. One of the common reasons I sighted was Dynastic interest. It was with some kismet perhaps that only a few hours had gone by before I was asked to review this book.

The most arguably devastating weapon ever made was a fairly commonplace pistol wielded by an obscure assassin in a street in Sarajevo in June 1914. This gun through a chain of events would trigger the machine guns a’rattling and the field guns a’roaring. Yet in the gap between that shot and then first battle was filled with letters and talking, it did not so much directly start the war, as it caused the crisis that prompted the decisions that started it all. It set the train in motion and although this belligerent locomotive, with death as the engineer, seemed to ride smoothly from station peace to station war, there were not a few stops in between that could have rerouted it or indeed derailed it.

In this book Matthieu Santerre forcibly argues, aided by a no nonsense bullet point style that suits the perimeters of the work well, that one of the key decision makers of the crisis was the Austro Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph. It is commonly understood that WW1 was fought against Germany, but Austro-Hungary was actually the catalyst that brought the world crashing down in 1914. Largely ignored by history Franz Joseph was actually at he heart of the fateful decision after the attack at Sarajevo.

Readers today will understand better than other generations how an act of political or religious violence directed in one direction can expand to engulf events with alarming speed. The author is at pains to explain that the Emperor here had warded off several descents into war in years previous, as the final arbiter of his country when it came to war, Franz Joseph was central to the outcome of the crisis, yet war was not a foregone conclusion, nor was it a snap decision.

Santerre begins by explaining the former and current academic views regarding the start of the war, this is ably done, he also wisely asserts that no historical work can be entirely devoid of bias, yet he makes his case clear when he says that he is not there to lay blame on Franz Joseph in any way, any kind of moral judgement is out of the question here as his aim is to replace the Emperor to the spotlight that he does seem to deserve.

I will admit that I am so out of the loop in terms of the debate of who did what in 1914, that I would be completely unable to give any sort of opinion on whether Franz Joseph deserves to be central to the play. Yet the author here lays out a convincing argument that to me echoes other instances of central players getting lost in the footlights.

The author ably constructs and then defends a course of events that begin with the infamous attack, to the search for options, to the agreed course to demand redress and the follow through. Franz Joseph’s motivation is clearly outlined and also how he kept his options open until the last, as he was very soon fully aware that military action might well endanger the peace of all Europe. Yet as we discover to a man like the emperor the Sarajevo incident was personal, and as the fateful events of that Summer took their course, it can reasonably be said that the great powers were watching Austria for their queue.

Yet although this would seem to condemn him at that point World War was not foreseen. The author demonstrates that until 3 days before the fatal ultimatum expired he had only decided to risk war, rather than being decided to embark upon it. Yet in the end having I think made his point, Santerre sensitively leaves the decision about whether or not to condemn Franz Joseph to the reader. Presenting a clear, concise but readable case for the emperor to be considered the principle decision maker in the road towards Serbian intervention. Therefore giving us a firm basis of fact with which to view the subject.

Although the tone throughout is terse and businesslike, I found the final chapter (there are 7) very touching. I think this is a useful work, that will be invaluable to anyone wishing to understand the roadmap of how Europe went to war in 1914. As it sheds light on a shadowy corner of the story, and in plain terms shows us why the days of monarchical control, based upon often very personal motives, that were connected to the good of the nation by the given monarch’s ancestral house, were numbered. And hammers home loud and clear that the awesome responsibility of guiding a nation, very often lay not upon the concept of divine rule in which rested the intertwined relationship between national identity, a ruling dynasty and the monarch, but very often on the shoulders of a very human man.


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