Book Review: A British Lion in Zululand by William Wright.

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ISBN: 9781445665481
Format: Hardback 416 pages.
Publisher: Amberley, 15 Jan 2017.
https://www.amberley-books.com/coming-soon/a-british-lion-in-zululand.html

For most people the Zulu war begins and ends with its most famous battles, iSandlwana and Rorkes Drift. For the serious Zulu reader it ends 7 months later, after the battle of Ulundi. And for the deep student of African history it ends with the capture of Cetshwayo in August and the division of the Zulu kingdom. These latter qualifications just happen to coincide with the arrival in South Africa of Sir Garnet Wolseley.

He was the government’s colonial troubleshooter, and quite literally the model of a modern Major General. A straightforward professional whose trademark was well planned and orchestrated advances into tough territory and the reduction of the enemy in open battle. A careful and somewhat pompous soldier, it perhaps should have been no surprise that it would fall to to him to clean up the mess caused by Lord Chelmsford’s disastrous first invasion of Zululand. It was not to be so simple however, for by the time Sir Garnet got to Natal the last battle had been fought and won, and glory would prove an evasive prize for Sir Garnet. As such the majority of us see Wolesley as the eager saviour of British honour, racing to catch up with the army, grumbling about everything that had been done wrong along the way.

William Wright’s, A British Lion in Zululand sets out to flesh out Wolesley’s part in the war, and as an added bonus extends the focus of the book to his entire service in South Africa, including the little known Bapedi War. Although the idea of calling the foxy whiskered gentleman, Sir Garnet, a lion brought a smile to my face, and a fear that this would be a syrupy, admiring ode to Britain’s most proficient imperial General, this turned out to be an engaging, well argued and well written account of end of the Zulu War and its aftermath.

It is undoubtedly pro Sir Garnet. I mention this because his failure to relieve Khartoum (which again was a mess made by others to which he was called late) left an indelible stain on an otherwise gleaming record. Up until know his actions in South Africa have also been viewed with a critical eye, and that is saying something when you consider the man he was superseding. Wright does his best to defend and contextualise Sir Garnet’s actions, giving him the benefit of the doubt where possible. Chelmsford’s petulant race to keep ahead of Sir Garnet and win a decisive battle is condemned for its short sightedness. As well it might. Wolsey is therefore shown as vindicated in his assertions that Chelmsford only wanted to steal the wind from his sails and blot out the stain of iSandlwana. In this he was partially successful, however he would never command again.

Sir Garnet was happiest by the side of a river, much preferring this mode of transport to road travel for his supplies. As he tried to catch up with the main column he complained about everything, and would probably have preferred to pull back once more and invade a third time rather than try and wrestle some sense out of Chelmsford’s slap dash car wreck. As it was, Wolesley was left with the tough task of “settling Zululand”, and capturing or killing the Zulu King, Cetshwayo. In the first he failed utterly, but in the second was successful. The author mounts no defence for his curious decision to split the country into segments, although he does indicate the architect of the scheme was Shepstone, rather than Wolsley.

The book feels like a part of a biography, beginning with Wolesy’s appointment as Governor of Cyprus, which offers a very interesting glimpse of British affairs in the Mediterranean at the time. Throughout the author maintains a biographical focus on its main protagonist, always attempting to explain the actions of Sir Garnet. Diversions occur when it is necessary to explain what is happening in depth, and very vivid accounts of the decisive battles are provided, not to mention the fine descriptions of all operations overseen by Wolesley himself.

Amongst the most interesting things we find along the way is how the British tried to blame the Zulu War on John Dunn, who for his part Wolesly felt would be an excellent ally in the settling of Zululand. Yet many thought he had armed the Zulus with guns and this had lead to war. Rather than the conniving machinations of Sir Bartle Frere. It stresses that the British government did not want a Zulu war. Not yet anyway! For while the invasion was roundly condemned, it was done so (outside of those actually in sympathy with the Zulus) from the standpoint that a Zulu war was inevitable sometime in the future but not then. Wolesley thought so, and in terms of morality was only sorry that Chelmsford had been such a thick-head in underestimating the enemy.

Truthfully the beginning may not offer much new to the seasoned Zulu campaigner, except some insight in the form of Wolesley’s correspondence, which serves as bedrock for this work, and better detail regarding what is usually an afterthought. What makes the book shine is the chapters about the settling of Zululand and the Bapedi War, a conflict which is practically unknown (even on the internet, I checked.) Yet it is highly interesting in terms of a colonial campaign. Here the author is digging into fresh ground, and walking a trail less trod. This small but savage conflict, which exploited tribal rivalries between the Bapedi and the Swazi  and ironically removed a great check to Boer supremacy, is usually completely overshadowed by the Zulu War. Wether or not, as some of the participants claimed, it made it’s more famous predecessor look silly is a matter of debate, but no one reading the chapter on the “Fighting Kopje” will deny that it was an supremely tough campaign and a singularly dirty affair.

Filled with fine word picture studies, and told with a feeling and sympathy for the time and subject, the author has included excerpts from letters and journals with an unnerring eye for atmosphere. Will there ever be a better description of a bagpipe in action than when hailed as the very “breath of battle?”, and the singular nature of fighting in the Lulu mountains will astound readers when they read of magnetised rocks dancing along behind the wagon wheels of the invading force. A British Lion in Zululand is a excellent and welcome addition to our knowledge of, British military and South African history, and a very enjoyable read.

Josh

Book Review: Breaker Morant The Final Roundup by Joe West & Roger Roper.

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ISBN: 9781445659657

Format: Hardback.
Length: 400 Pages.
Published: Amberley 15 Dec 2016.
https://www.amberley-books.com/breaker-morant.html

The execution of Harry “Breaker” Morant and two other officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers is one of those controversy riddled debates that rumbles onwards wether or not the subject is in the public eye. Honestly I am unable to comment as to wether the evidence presented in this latest contribution alters the scale one way or the other. For this reviewer is one of those mentioned in the introduction; a newcomer to the subject, therefore in reading this I was at least blessed with an open mind. Continue reading

Book Review, Exclusive Excerpt and Discount Code. Historic Heston Blumenthal.

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Published: 10-10-2013
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 432
ISBN: 9781408804414
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing
Illustrations: Colour images throughout.

Please note the Giveaway portion of this promotion has  is ended.

Chances are you’ve not seen many cookery books like this. As a unique blend of art, history and practical cooking it covers many bases. The idea behind it is Chef Heston Blumenthal’s predication that the British have lost touch with their culinary heritage. He’s not just talking about meat pies and fish and chips, he’s talking about the stuff continental people might actually consider haute cuisine, while retaining the essence of what we islanders appreciate in food.

To be honest the British can no longer really use the excuse that we don’t eat what up until now would have been considered “Funny Food”. Just look at the crazy mix of restaurants and eateries that populate what used to be called food courts, just see what people are cooking on TV and what fills the isles of even our most budget supermarkets and it will dawn on you, we’ve become a nation of foodies.

To say that this folio, which drips extravagance from its elegant slip cover to every stitch of its binding, is a special edition is to try the limits of British understatement. It’s a gorgeous production, as lavish as a prime time period drama and in a way just as epic. From a historical point of view it’s sweeping as well, covering within its image laden pages a span from the 15th to the 19th century, cherry picking curious and probably unheard of recipies for iconic dishes that capture the flavour and spirit of the age in question for a modern audience. Thus we are treated to a rich blend of culinary as well as General history, which prefaces each dish.

As a work of bookbinding it already qualifies as art, which should please booklovers no end and will undoubtedly not only show off both shelf and coffee table to its best advantage but also truly show your love of fine cooking. Open the cover and you will find that the art doesn’t end at the spine, as a whole gallery of specially commissioned artwork by David McKean is spread across its luxuriant length. These are quirky, almost otherworldly illustrations, they are full of whimsy and sometimes seem a little unsettling. Colourful and eye catching, undeniable in their ability to hold attention, they could have come out of a fantasy story.

Alongside these pieces of artwork are numerous photographs of different food so crisp that they make your eyes ache. Still Life comes to mind, adding contrast to the often highly dynamic paintings, these shots of overflowing tables and ingredients could have come off the easel of a Dutch master, and the pictures of the finished product. The ones that dare you to try and recreate the recipe. Could have come from the menu of a restaurant without a sign over the door. It is art for arts sake, but also for the sake of food. Unapologetically lavish and a tome of ideas and inspiration.

What of the food itself? I hear you cry. The proof is in the pudding as they say. Not being a great cook myself I wouldn’t be able to tell you how well these recipes turn out. I can say though, that I would not turn down a bite of some of the deserts if one of my more culinarily gifted friends offered it. If I were you I’d not stick this on a stand and cook from the book, however. This is a book that will require you to write the recipe down if you want to keep it nice, (but that goes for all Cook books now I think of it). Though the contents are ideally suited to the tastiest room in the house, I can assure you this special edition won’t handle the heat, and as the old adage goes, that means it shouldn’t be in the kitchen.

I’m so grateful to the generous people at Bloomsbury, not only for sending me this book to review and share with you all, but they have also given buyers who are reading this a generous discount code which can be used on the publisher’s website. Historyland Readers can enjoy this generous offer until the 1st of February 2017 by using this code: Heston17 , In conjuction with this link http://bloomsbury.com/uk/historic-heston-9781408804414/

But wait! There’s more. If this review has whetted your appetite and you want to see more, please be my guest and have a perusal of this exclusive extract of the fabulous named and looking Taffety Tart, straight from the pages of Historic Heston Blumenthal, with the compliments of Bloomsbury and Historyland. taffety-tart-extract

For a sneak peek please watch and like my video.

Josh.

Book Review: Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang.

 

 

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Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Vintage (3 July 2014)
ISBN-10: 0099532395
ISBN-13: 978-0099532392
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Empress-Dowager-Cixi-Concubine-Launched/dp/0099532395/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

If I hadn’t suddenly taken an interest in the Last Emperor of China I would probably have never read this book. I had seen it as an imposing hardback as I passed stacked book of the month tables, and had even picked it up, but I didn’t feel curious about late Imperial China at that moment & I had never heard of Empress Dowager Cixi, let alone Jung Chang.
Suffice to say things changed, and a combination of finishing Julia Lovell’s Opium War and stumbling onto the story of Puyi, I saw Chang’s book for half price and quickly decided that if I was to read about the Last Emperor, the story of Cixi would be invaluable to me. How right I was.

The biography is of Empress Dowager Cixi, a concubine who became a regent, who ruled the largest population in the world for much of her life, and also the oldest empire in the world, needless to say, change came hard to China. By a quirk of fate Cixi would take responsibility for setting this ancient kingdom onto the road to becoming a modern state.

If Cixi had been a western monarch she would probably have been remembered as one of the greatest that ever lived. But being Chinese, a woman and being part of the imperial hegemony that ruled China for almost 300 years, she became a victim of communist revisionist historians, who painted her as either a tyrant or hopelessly inept.

Chang seeks to redress the balance. Convincingly showing how Cixi brought Medieval China out of the past and into the future. She herself was a medieval mind trying to find a way in a 19th century world. The author is clearly sympathetic to her subject, fearlessly defending Cixi to critics, yet boldly detailing her flaws, forcing you to look at the Empress Dowager as she was, liking her at first, recoiling from her near the end and finally finishing with a newfound respect for her, this book has an eloquent balance of light and shade and is a beguiling read.

The book offers a complete picture of her. A very detailed look into a lost wold, uneven chapters weave strong images in your mind, sometimes focusing on a small facet of her personality, then diving into one of the sweeping periods of her life, the little details bring her to life. The faint fragrance of greenwood and apples, fresh flowers in a Manchu coiffure and many other little treats make this a literary feast.

In the end I found it very easy to be impressed by Cixi. Despite her detractors she comes off no worse than some Roman Emperor’s or Elizabeth I for that matter, right now, revisionist historians are taking second looks at people like Caligula & Nero, so a fresh look at Cixi is more than overdue. I think she fascinated people when she was alive, and I think that by the end of this book, you will be fascinated by her too.

Happy Reading.

Josh