Author Archive

The book I read to research this post was The First World War by John Keegan which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is possibly the definitive text on World War 1 and was hugely popular in Britain upon publication. It sets out the reasons for this war and it compounded to cause World War 2 and also the timeline of World War 1 perfectly. It’s one of the best history books I have ever read. After World War 1 they buried an unknown soldier who couldn’t be identified in Westminster Abbey to commemorate all the unidentified corpses. In many of the capital cities in Europe they did similar. The German fatalities were largely forgotten about and in contrast to the nice cemetries for the allied bodies were often just buried in any graveyard that could take them. To the Germans Hitler who was a soldier hero of World War 1 and had been decorated and been a corporal, was the embodiment of the unknown soldier. At the First World War the Australian troops would be considered the finest troops in the world. If you look at Gallipolli which was largely Australian troops against Turkish troops many on the Allied side thought the Turkish would be as easy to defeat as the armies of Asia & Africa and they were poorly equipped but were tough soldiers and were patriotic. Of course at Gallipolli the Australian soldiers were massacred. They made a mistake about where there boats had to land and the didn’t defend the landing area because they thought nobody would land there. The Aussie’s tried to get to higher ground and once the shooting started had nowhere to retreat to. No one knows why they were landed in the wrong place. In another battle between German and Russian troops the German’s got massacred because the Russian’s fought well and the fleeing German troops were shot by their own rearguard who misstuck them for the enemy. Also in Egypt the British had to keep a certain amount of troops there due to the insurgency by the Arabs for independence, Parliament wouldn’t agree to British troops fighting on the Turkish front because they felt their troops were spread too thinly as it was. I did really enjoy this book, it’s quite compelling and is really well written.

The book I read to research this post was Locomotive Engineers Of The GWR by Denis Griffiths which is a very good book which I bought from a local secondhand bookstore. This book was published in 1987 so might still be in print I suppose although with train books they only tend to print them for a short while. It’s a history of the Great Western Railway in Britain told from the engineering aspect of both building the railway lines and building the steam trains. The first boss of GWR was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who couldn’t see any reason to have a 4ft 81/2ins gauge which was a leftover from the coal wagons and insisted on a 7ft gauge which eventually had to be changed to match the rest of Britain so they could have long distance expresses from other lines. He was by trade a civil engineer and did make some costly mistakes through having a little bit of a lack of knowledge on steam engineering and his belief that everything should be the best rather than the cheapest. He built the railway from Bristol to London and initially was alarmed they were looking for the cheapest contractor but he persuaded them he wasn’t the cheapest but was the best. He was one of the first people to realize if they wanted truly efficient steam trains they must be pressurized but early experiments failed because they used leather pistons and technology had not advanced to that stage. He is famed for building the Clifton Suspension Bridge across a wide gorge of the River Avon. One story told of a later boss who was one of his successors is he was asked to build a streamlined locomotive and merely got a model of a King locomotive and added plasticine to modify it which was much later on but made a lot of sense. I did really enjoy this book and it is an interesting subject.

 

The book I read to research this post was Great British Trains by OS Nock which is an excellent book which I bought from a local secondhand store. This book is probably out of print a long time ago but you never know some of you like me might see it in a secondhand store or a garden fete. It’s about the high speed expresses in the 19th & early 20th century which often had names like The Aberdonian & The Golden Arrow. The first of these expresses was The Flying Dutchman which ran from London to Penzance and as far as Exeter there was competing lines so they decided to have a high speed express service.Beyond Exeter because Great Western had the only line it didn’t matter how slowly the train went.  The train had to stop at Swindon for passengers to get refreshments or use the toilets. The press at the time were excited at this service and named it after a successful racehorse which was like the Red Rum of its day. The name stuck and soon a lot of the long distance expresses were given names. The oldest continual service with a name in the world is the Irish Mail which is also called The Boat Train and runs from London to Holyhead. Somebody did tell me the trains in Britain no longer carry the mail normally as they had problems and Royal Mail get fined if post is late. Originally on this service the train company had to pay a fine of £1.70 per minute if the train was late and in those days that was a lot of money. This train supplied passengers for the boat to Ireland. A lot of these expresses didn’t do much above maybe 60 mph. Even though later trains like The City Of Truro & The Mallard did over a hundred miles an hour it was rare if ever they did anything like this speed as part of a scheduled service. One of the most exclusive of these trains was The Golden Arrow from London to Dover and there was also a high speed train from Calais to Paris at the other end. Initially it was the train from Calais to Paris called this and it was a faster and very posh train with lots of 1st class carriages. Later the English train caught in on the act and at its peak pulled 10 Pullmans or 1st class carriages. OS Nock sadly died some years ago but in his time wrote over 150 books on the railways and I think this is one of his best. He was a great expert on railways with a great range of knowledge on the different.

The book I read to research this post was Leonardo Da Vinci For Dummies by Tracy Barr et al which is an excellent book which I bought from Amazon. The Da Vinci part of his name meant he came from the town of Vinci in Italy and his proper name should be Leonardo. This book is very insightful and tells you all about his life including the many designs he produced during his including even a submarine which show he had a fantastic imagination. Leonardo tried to learn as much as possible during his life and there were many people among the gentry who similarly did this as the Renaissance heralded a time of pooling knowledge. Leonardo was a pacifist although he did design machines of war for money. Many of his designs used intricate gearing which was ahead of its time. He is also possibly the greatest artist of the Renaissance which ran from the 15th to 17th centuries. He had a domineering and doting mother as a child and his father largely rejected him. Sigmund Freud wrote a paper on him based on what he could analyse from his paintings and drawings. The Mona Lisa despite being his most famous work is not one of the most interesting and achieved great notoriety when someone walked out of the Louvre with it under his arm and stole although it was later recovered. His pictures used a 3d perspective unusual at that time and he was one of the first to have a made up background to his portraits. He did over 30 human dissections during his life which enhanced his knowledge of the human body and helped him become better at drawing people. In the novel the Da Vinci Code it was claimed he draw Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper although if that is the case one of the apostles is missing which seems strange. Often artists of that period used female models which is more probable. I really enjoyed reading this book which is very interesting and a fascinating subject.

 

The book I read to research this post was Blood, Iron & Gold by Christian Wolmar which is an excellent book which I bought from a local book store. The first railway being opened between Liverpool and Manchester was done with a lot of fanfare with even the Duke Of Wellington the then prime minister and hero of Waterloo being present and no one realized it heralded a revolution the worlds had never known the likes of before or since. it was the first railway linking 2 major cities. Many people were there with the intention of learning how to do the same in their countries and there was a certain amount of xenophobia. In fact soon afterwards George Stephenson went abroad to help build railways. Many countries copied the 4ft 8 1/2 in gauge Britain had for standardization but equally some countries had different gauges to prevent their engines being used on other railways. For a decade Britain had a monopoly on building trains. In Belgium they confiscated peoples land to build railways and while they didn’t have the problems Britain had it didn’t prove popular. Rather interestingly Lenin made a speech at the opening of a railway that started the Bolshevick Revolution. In Switzerland the government couldn’t raise the capital to build a cross country railway and they had to have help from Prussia & Italy who were helped by the export opportunities it gave them. Before the Panama Canal was built there was a railway built there although short lived although it meant stuff had to be loaded from the ship onto a train then back onto a ship. Many railways like the ones in India & South America had steep inclines and had to be built with switch backs up a mountain because it was cheaper than building tunnels. Engines from America were generally used for these kinds of lines as they were better suited than there British counterparts. The longest non stop route is currently Paris to Marseilles which is done by TGV & there was even a trans European train from Moscow to Hook of Holland at one time. Of course trains now are getting more popular with traffic congestion and things like pollution and smog. I know near me they have built railways like the one to the Jewellery Quarter and West Bromwich near Birmingham UK, & also a new station has been built at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. It does look like railways have come full circle. Finally its worth noting railways would have never taken off at all with huge amounts of coal and capital and resulted in the price of coal and other minerals crashing which further propelled it. I really enjoyed this book.

The book I read to research this post was Last Days Of Steam In Bristol And Somerset by Colin G Maggs which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book doesn’t have a huge amount of information continued in it and is mostly photos with a bit of writing about each one. It does document the steam trains until their demise in Bristol & Somerset which started with the closure of the steam locomotive workshop at Bristol, Bath Road in 1964 and over a period of a couple of years the rest were closed. Diesel trains initially replaced them followed by trains like Deltics & HST’s later on as they gradually got faster and faster. The county of Somerset mostly came under the GWR or Great Western Railway but there was a Southern Railway in the south of the county & a LMS branch line in the north which took in Bristol. At one time Bristol was the second biggest city in the British Empire and a great port. Minehead and other places became great seaside resorts with the popularity of trains and there still is a Butlins Holiday Camp there. Road transport was to be what caused the great demise of the railways in general. I enjoyed this book which is about what was a kind of heyday for Somerset & Bristol after all most people go abroad for their holidays although Bristol is still one of the most important cities in Britain. This book is a pleasant read.

 

The book I read to research this post was The Middle East For Dummies by Craig S Davis which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. The middle east or near east as it is sometimes called extends from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east and from Turkey in the north to as far south as the Sudan. This area is predominantly Muslim but there are considerable numbers of other religions like Coptic Christians and Jews. The Coptic Christians have their own pope called the Alexandrian pope. Although many people think the main issue behind the Arab-Israeli War was the fact that the Jews had a homeland in the middle east other issues just as important were the Americans & Russians trying to get the countries on their respective sides and selling them weapons and giving them aid in the process. Also Israel due to its rapidly expanding population often settled Jews in settlements in areas they had invaded and often forced Arabs off land to make way for these. They also gave the Jews licences to drill for water on their land but not the Arabs. In Algeria a million French people governed 9 million Arabs and this has often been called the French Vietnam. Charles de Gaulle whilst president gave Algeria its independence. There is still a civil war going on here. This book looks at all the different countries in this region on a country by country basis. A lot of the problems were caused by the colonialization by Britain, France & the Turks. I enjoyed reading this book and it is very interesting also with sections on the history of this region. Contrary to popular thought when the Muslim’s conquered huge areas in the 6th Century people weren’t forced to become Muslim. Non-Muslims paid higher taxes and were an important revenue source and becoming a Muslim was considered an honor of which one had to want before it could be conferred. Many became Muslim in order to pay less taxes but there were still large numbers in the region of different religions. There was a case quite recently where a school was on fire and because the girls weren’t wearing headscarfs there were men who blocked the exits and refused to let them escape. I think in any religion there are going to be daft radicals. I mean like if you are of a Christian faith like me just look at groups like the Scientologists & Mormons to name but two. Islam is a very varied religion with even groups like Sufism who believe in being spiritually aware and having a spiritual connection with God.

The book I read to research this post was Made In America by Bill Bryson which is an excellent book which I bought from a car boot sale. This book is an affectionate and quite witty look at the development of the English language and American culture & the history of the United States. Many people regard Eric the Red the viking of first discovering America and he did discover Greenland and Iceland with the former having a colony of 4,000 vikings for many years. One problem was in both places there were few if any trees and so they had no means of building or repairing ships. It’s interesting to note if you island hop from Northern Europe to America there is no more than 250 miles of open sea if done correctly. Also the southern tip of Greenland is further south than Oslo and you could grow a limited amount of crops there. When the Pilgrim Fathers went to America the poem about it was actually written by a Welsh lady many years later from a story that was on the newspaper her chips were wrapped in. They did not land at Plymouth Sound which is way above the high tide mark and are unlikely to have even noticed that piece of rock. In the 18th century so many Brits were going to America the government decided to curb it and from then on for some years it was mostly people from Wales, Scotland & Ireland known as Ulster. In fact most emigration was from places like France & Germany. When the Wright Brothers made the first flight in 1903 they weren’t particularly publicity seeking and many didn’t know about it. They weren’t that wealthy and had literally built the plane which in them days was known as a flying machine in their spare time as a hobby. No museum in America would display the plane because they were quite snobbish about it and for many years it was displayed on loan to the Science Museum in London. If we go back to the Pilgrim Fathers there language was very different to our own with for example them pronoucing the e at the end of words and often using an i with in words instead of an e. The word bit came from the Spanish word for bit. The word gringo came from the word greek as used in the phrase it’s all greek to me meaning a language you can’t understand. I really enjoyed this book especially some of the more outlandish ideas like people dining on the wings of planes and a mail order course in capturing renegade indians, the adverts of which are in the book.

 

The book I read to research this post is Nostradamus For Dummies by Scarlett Ross which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book looks at Nostradamus’s life and also looks at his predictions although it won’t make you an expert an interpreting them. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it is a really interesting subject that is well presented. Nostradamus lived in the Renaissance roughly 500 years ago and it was a time when people’s minds were opening to new possibilities. It was also the time of the black death and the Spanish Inquisition and not many people realize there was also a French Inquisition. Nostradamus lived in France and it is probably not a surprise to learn that most of his prophecies were published after his death when no retribution could be taken against him. He was a doctor of considerable ability, a healer and also dabbled in things like tarot reading. This was dangerous at this time when lots of people were being put to death for being witches. Nostradamus was in high demand with the bubonic plague being around and the people who survived questioned the meaning of life which is a lot of what the Renaissance was about. As a healer people were desperate for a cure but he wasn’t necessarily very good at that. Catherine de Medici who was considered weird because she dabbled in tarot cards and was Queen of France was his benefacter. He published an almanac of predictions each year which proved quite popular and made a lot of money from that. He agreed with the theories of Copernicus that the Earth orbited the Sun and that we weren’t at the centre of the Universe which was very controversial. His prophecies for the 200 years after his death are very accurate but tend to be less accurate after that. He correctly predicted his grave would be looted and it is said was buried standing so people wouldn’t walk on him. He lived in France and was a Christianity although with the Inquisition he had little choice. Many people at the time were distrustful of converts and closely watched them to make sure they lapse back into their old faith. It is thought the Nazis who studied the works of Nostradamus knew there was going to be an assination attempt on Hitler which was predicted and Hitler & Napolean are thought to the first 2 of 3 anti christs predicted by Nostradamus. Often people think there is an end of the world foretold but it probably refers to disaster like flooding in Europe which to the people at that time was the world. There is a passage that tells of a flood. I would definitely recommend this book which is one hell of a read.

The book I read to research this post was To The Edge Of The World by Christian Wolmar which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book is about the Trans-Siberian Railway and its history. Although when we think of the Trans-Siberian Railway we the railway line from Moscow to Vladivostok which is the one that is wholly in Russia & Siberia there are actually several Trans-Siberian Railways including one that was built earlier and linked up with the Chinese Eastern Railway for part of its route. The railway had to be rebuilt wholly within the Soviet Union because there were concerns the Chinese might close the stretch of line they owned stranding Vladivostok. The distance from Moscow to Vladivostok is approximately 5,750 miles although a few miles has been shaved off the original route by installing some straighter curves along with bridges and tunnels in places. When the original line was built it was considered too expensive to build any tunnels and in some cases whole mountains were dynamited and removed to make way for the railway. It’s interesting that the distance from Saint Petersburg to Kamchatka is 9,000 so the railway only stretches for 2/3 of the total stretch of the Soviet Union. Having said that in terms of railway building it’s the biggest achievement ever undertaken and was built in an amazingly short period. The Russians were determined to open up Siberia and try to populate it. Anyway sent to prison in Siberia was allowed to become a resident there after serving their sentence which normally be from 4-20 years. Of course most of these people died in captivity. Before the railway was built there existed a railway from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and then on to Chelyansk. This meant 4,500 miles of track had to be layed to Vladivostok. Vladivostok was little more than a village at that time. 1/7 of the Soviet GDP was spent on building this railway which is a huge amount. In those days Russia had very few universities which meant people like engineers and architects had to be brought in from abroad. These people also had to teach Russian people their skills so they could eventually take over although this didn’t happen until the 1850′s. They used a gauge of 5 feet although not all the railways in Russia shared this gauge which meant when the Japanese invaded in Siberia they couldn’t just travel to Moscow on the train and hampered there attempted invasion no end. A lot of the reason for building this railway was a military one to enable the rapid mobilization of troops and later on there were even train based missile launchers in the Cold War although not that many. The Russian Czar did build a railway to Warsaw before the Crimean War as he thought any war would come from that direction in Britain & France attacked and was caught out a bit when the attack came via Stevatopol in the Crimea. The British built the first military railway to get supplies to the front line. This is a great book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Christian is apparently of Russian descent although he lives in Britain and I have reviewed other books by him all of which were consistently good.