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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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BOOK REVIEW: German Fighter Aircraft in World War I: Design, Construction, and Innovation

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: German Fighter Aircraft in World War I: Design, Construction, and Innovation

by Mark C. Wilkins.

Casemate calls this an 'Illustrated Special,' which I gather means hardcover instead of softcover, 192 pages instead of 128, and list price of $37.95 instead of $24.95.

Those extra pages mean more photos and text covering the intricate research and development details of German WWI aircraft construction by companies including Fokker, Junkers, Halberstadt, Aviatik, Roland, Siemens-Schubert, and others.

The book contains few air-to-air combat stories, instead concentrating on spar and rib wing construction, redesigns of various models, and all things fuselage. The 224 black and white photos, 137 color photos, and 81 black and white drawings illustrate the process of building an airplane, not only the historical models, but flyable modern reproductions. Also included: 10 color aircraft profiles, two color posters from the era, and 12 period patent notices (appendices A through L).

I came across one puzzling gremlin factoid concerning Fokker's move to a larger aircraft assembly building in 1912: "The new building measured 45 square feet, had double doors, could accommodate four to five planes, and was inexpensive" (p46). That area is roughly a 9x5-foot ping pong table, so I'm guessing either a zero or two dropped off the number or it was 45 square meters? Admittedly, I'm not an aerospace engineer, nor do I play one on TV, but the rest of the book seemed logical.

Tabletop gamers interested in dice tossing more than construction will likely find little to appreciate. Scratch-build modelers should enjoy the inside look of aircraft structure. But if you're really into WWI aviation, this book is so different from the usual fare that it deserves a second and third look.

Tags:  Air  WWI 

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BOOK REVIEW: Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet: Spotlight On 21

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet: Spotlight On 21

by Krzysztof Wolowski

Oversized at 8.5x12 inches, the 43-page book contains two pages of text outlining the development of the ME-163 and ME-263 and 41 pages of large color profiles (37 side, three top, and one underside). Profiles contain mostly German markings, but also include British, Soviet, and French.

Modelers will appreciate that each profile contains RLM color numbers.

Tags:  Air  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Medium Tank M3 Lee I: TopDrawings 79

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Medium Tank M3 Lee I: TopDrawings 79

by Slawomir Zajaczkowski.

Another nice entry in the series for modelers looking for scale drawings of particular vehicles.

Contains 38 black and white 1/35 scale drawings of various models (each with left, right, top, front, and rear views) along with 9 color profiles of US versions, one color British version, and one color Soviet version.

With a crew of six (originally seven), the Lee served in US and UK armies. A total of 6,258 were built.

In addition, a separate pull-out 8x11.5-inch sheet has two more 1/35 scale black and white drawings and four 1/48 scale side drawings -- all a modeler's delight.

Tags:  North Africa  Tanks  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: France in Centrafrique: From Bokassa and Operation Barracuda to the Days of EUFOR (Africa at War 36 - Revised Edition)

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, December 16, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: France in Centrafrique: From Bokassa and Operation Barracuda to the Days of EUFOR (Africa at War 36 - Revised Edition)

by Peter Baxter.

Covers French Army operations in Central African Republic from the 1950s through the 2000s. If you're cynical, it's the usual story of independence, dictators, coups, and slaughter until outside intervention occurs to crunch a tyrant or two and restore relative calm until the next cycle of violence.

Lots of small-scale actions available for tabletop recreation, including Operation Barracuda and Operation Boali. Contains 91 black and white photos, seven black and white illustrations, nine maps, six color vehicles profiles, six color aircraft profiles, three color uniform illustrations, and seven color photos. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Africa  Modern 

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