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BOOK REVIEW: Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds

Subtitled: A Chronological Compendium of 667 Battles to 31 BC, from the Historians of the Ancient World

By John Drogo Montagu

What a magnificent compilation of ancient battles from the dawn of recorded history to 31 BC.

Arranged in chronological order from Ithome (724 BC) to Actium (31 BC), each of the 667 battles gets from a paragraph up to a page describing the action, number of troops, generals involved, and outcome. Since they are in chronological order, you can follow a series of battles in a war. And best of all, at the end of each battle is a notation of the ancient source.

A short introduction discusses the Greek and Roman armies, naval warfare, sources, and "reliability of data." The latter subdivides into a general outlook on separating fact from fiction, a look at numbers, and how dates were obtained. It's quick, to the point, and lets you know that the author struggled with accuracy in interpretations. There's also a glossary of terms.

Fifteen maps and 18 battle maps are included as well, although they are somewhat plain and serve as general guides, not intricate battle studies. For example, the battle maps do not include terrain.

Still, what a remarkable compilation. Ancient buffs need this book--a perfect complement to Loebs and Penguin translations.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: The War at Troy: What Homer Didn’t Tell

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The War at Troy: What Homer Didn’t Tell

By Quintus of Smyrna

This reprint of the 1968 book, originally published by University of Oklahoma Press, is a narrative version of an epic poem written by Quintus circa 360 AD or so. It was meant to fill in the gap between Homer’s two poems, Iliad and Odyssey.

The Iliad, which tells the story of the Greek siege of the city of Troy, ends with the death of Hector, but Troy unconquered. The Odyssey begins after the fall of Troy. The War at Troy, then, fills in the gap--including the famous Trojan horse episode, as well as the death of Achilles.

It is not an easy read. I am sure the translation must be pretty close, but when you take the liberty of changing poem into prose, it should be a little cleaner, a little tighter, and with more native verbs. As it stands, it conforms to the necessary tenets of English, but it lacks heroic prose. It’s workmanlike, and, well, that’s about it. Oddly enough, Combellack is primarily translating another text from 1891.

In any case, for those wanting their Quintus in a form other then from a Loeb, this is acceptable.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic

by Fergus Millar

This is a book destined for library shelf space in every academic institution for higher education. And unless you intend post-graduate level research, that's exactly where it should remain.

Millar took what I figured would be an exciting subject and pounded it into unconsciousness. "Dull" would be a gracious remark at a faculty soiree. That he knows his subject is not in question--he' an expert. That he can contort English into sentences is not in question--he's literate. That anyone will still be awake is not in question--The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic is coma inducing.

Ponderous prose liberally interspersed with Latin terms ooze you onward. I ended up reading and re-reading sections to understand inferences, importance, and interpretations. It didn't help. I was no closer to understanding crowd reaction on page 57 as I was at the start...and I struggled to reach page 57...over multiple nights.

I even skipped ahead to the conclusion in the hope I could glimpse his arguments. It was all for nought. Perhaps Millar may be a brilliant lecturer--the book evolved from the Jerome lecture series--but if he muddies his speeches as much as his writing, no doubt a good many future scholars will be snoozing in their seats.

I've often found excellent books in the discount bin. They've opened up a wide range of topics to me. Alas, Crowd is not one of them. The only readable part is the blurb on the dust jacket.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Peloponnesian War

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Peloponnesian War

By Donald Kagen

Purchased off the discount rack for $9.95, this is a superb history of the Peloponnesian War between Athens, Sparta, and the rest of the Greek World. Written as a condensed version of Kagen’s four-volume academic tome, the prose floats you in and out of the 30 years of battles, political intrigues, alliances, operations, and other aspects of war. Better yet, the publisher included 29 maps. When you read about a city state, you can find it on a map. Well done!

If you are in the least bit interested in the Athens-Sparta conflict, buy this book. It’s that good.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Find of a Lifetime

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Find of a Lifetime

By Sylvia L. Horwitz

This 2001 reprint of a 1981 reprint offers a biography of self-educated Victorian archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who among other things, discovered the Palace of Knossos from Minoan times. If you remember your fables about the Minotaur in the labyrinth, Knossos was the place.

It is a favorable bio, though it certainly points out Evans’ quirks and Victorian mannerisms. It is also an impressive work, tracing the near-sighted adventurer who first became enamored of Balkan history and Slavic independence before pursuing his 50-year dig on Crete.

The son of a paper manufacturing magnate, he had little problem with funding his archaeological exploits. His tours in the Balkans, sometimes by himself and sometimes as a reporter for various London newspapers, carried him across Austrian, Turkish, and rebel lines where he was often arrested as a spy until released by British consulate efforts. Along the way he detailed the various wars and archaeological sites.

Later, he became enamored of Greece, following Suhliemann’s excavation of Troy but always wondering what came before the Trojans and Mycenaeans. Eventually, through guesswork and research, he settled on a spot on Crete. Within a week, he struck pay dirt. His meticulous and costly excavations and renovations unearthed treasures and unlocked the secrets of the Minoan civilization.

Horwitz’s prose blazes a trail as colorful as Evans’ personality. An itinerant traveler and amateur archaeologist herself, she brings such experience to the fore in tracing Evans’ meanderings.

The Find of a Lifetime is quite good and Phoenix deserves some credit for bringing this book back from oblivion.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Swords Against the Senate

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

Swords Against the Senate

By Erik Hildinger

Subtitled, The Rise of the Roman Army and the Fall of the Roman Republic, this volume recounts the roughly 100 years from the defeat of Carthage to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon.

This is well-traveled territory, and there wasn’t much that surprised or shocked me. If there’s anything new in the book, it didn’t stand out from the dozens of other books I’ve read on the subject.

What is outstanding is Hildinger’s command of the language. This is a very well-written book, packing considerable information into a relatively few pages. He recounts the various political ploys, army reforms, and various interactions among Rome’s movers and shakers with deft and concise descriptions. Then he adds insight and analysis to bring events into focus.

If you’re an ancients buff and can find this in a discount bin (as I did) for $6-$7, grab it. At $26, you’ll have to pander a purchase of this well-written, but well trod period.

Tags:  Ancient  Roman Empire 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Wars of the Ancient Greeks

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, January 13, 2020

The Wars of the Ancient Greeks

By Victor Davis Hanson

This book, another in the excellent Cassell History of Warfare series, covers Greek Wars from the earliest days (1400 BC) through the end of the Macedonian "era" (roughly when Rome conquered Greece or about 146 BC). In between comes the transition from hero-led skirmishes to the rise of city-state militia to the establishment of professional armies to the Greek conquest of Persia.

All of this is well laid out by Hanson. And for roughly 3/4 of the book, I enjoyed the overviews of fighting styles, strategies, tactics, and so on. However, when it came to Alexander the Great, Hanson has a mighty big axe to grind and leads me to my nit to pick.

The other books in the series present well-balanced portraits of the particular era's personalities. Hanson deviates wildly by serving up invective against Alex, pounding away to color him a bloodthirsty savage. While there certainly is truth to the portrayal, and Hanson can mention it, the aftertaste of unabashed finger pointing leaves me wanting to wash up, and I suppose, brush my teeth. Such analysis would make a wonderful revisionist stand-along work, but in an overview-style book, it quickly becomes annoying.

Other than that caveat, which slightly lowers enthusiasm, this book is another fine example of Cassell at work.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Luftwaffe in Africa 1941-1943

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Luftwaffe in Africa 1941-1943

by Jean-Louis Roba

This volume in the Casemate Illustrated series provides an extensive overview of men, aircraft, and overall Luftwaffe operations and challenges in WWII North Africa. With roughly the same size and price of an Osprey, The Luftwaffe in Africa provides 13 color photos, 197 black and white photos, 15 color aircraft profiles, two color maps, one timeline, and eight OOB/TO&E tables.

Plenty of traditional scenarios inside for you warplane gamers, but of interest were some of the missions flown from Greece against Suez Canal targets, including mining of the waterway, which would make for a non-traditional scenario or two.

One of the more interesting photos: a captured Hurricane pressed into Luftwaffe service that was recaptured by the British (p56). Also included: some photos of Italian aircraft escorting German aircraft.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Air  North Africa  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Wehrmacht in the Mud: Camera On 19

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Wehrmacht in the Mud: Camera On 19

by Alan Ranger

This contains two pages of text and 78 pages of photos, usually two to a page and almost all from unpublished private collections. All told, it holds 148 photos with extended captions divided into sections: Tanks and Self-Propelled Guns, Halftracks, Lorries (trucks -- the majority of photos), Staff Cars, Motorcycles (only four photos), and Other (mostly artillery pieces).

All of them show vehicles in various stages of being stuck in the mud or being towed out of the mud, muck, and yuck. Most photos show conditions in Russia, but a smattering of photos shows mudding in France, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands.

Of note is a SdKfz 7 towing four trucks up a muddy hill that the trucks could not negotiate (p23) and truck-mounted infantry on October 21, 1941 in Russia (just east of Latvian border) trying to push a truck out of the mire with a caption that noted it took the unit three days to drive 16km (p59).

This book could provide inspiration for muddy scenarios. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Eastern Front  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Operation Chariot: The St. Nazaire Raid 1942

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Chariot: The St. Nazaire Raid 1942

by Jean-Charles Stasi

Another volume in the Casemate Illustrated series covers the raid on the docks at St. Nazaire, France. Originally published with French text in 2018, this 2019 translation provides an extensive overview of planning, men, ships, and coastal fortifications involved in the raid.

The book provides 83 black and white photos (including a few original documents and newspaper articles), 15 color photos (modern shots of remaining fortifications), six color ship profiles, two color maps, one timeline, and three OOB/TO&E tables.

At least one naval scenario, albeit lopsided: German torpedo boat Jaguar against British Motor Torpedo Boat 14. In addition, the Germans had dispatched five torpedo boats to look for a 'mine-laying' group (16 British MTBs and the old US 4-stack destroyer renamed HMS Campbeltown) -- might be interesting to see what would happen if the two actually met. I've seen scenarios of the commando raid on the town at conventions, so there's always the ground aspect, too.

The translation is quite good and the prose moves the action along. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Naval  Western Front  WW2  WWII 

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