Review: The Fortifications of Malta, 1530-1945, Charles Stephenson

Rating: 3 out of 5

I expect more from an Osprey book. I would definitely expect more from an Osprey book that dealt with the islands of Malta. Not only is Malta a perfect place to study 16th to 18th century fortification theory, but the islands are well-documented and the theory behind the various constructions is also well known. At times, the distinction between various phases of fortifications is also not well noted which is a pity as the pre-1565 siege status as opposed to latter fortifications should have been clearly noted. The drawings are, as always, superb. Continue reading “Review: The Fortifications of Malta, 1530-1945, Charles Stephenson”

Review: ‘Syracuse 415–413 BC’, Nic Fields

Syracuse 415–413 BC: Destruction of the Athenian Imperial FleetSyracuse 415–413 BC: Destruction of the Athenian Imperial Fleet by Nic Fields
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the narrative here though I wish that Osprey standardised their anglicisation of Hellenic names from title to title. This book, however, provided fresh perspective on an angle of the Peloponnesian War and was quite informative throughout with plentiful quotes and commentary from primary sources. Continue reading “Review: ‘Syracuse 415–413 BC’, Nic Fields”

Review: ‘Ancient Greek Warship: 500–322 BC’, Nic Fields

Ancient Greek Warship: 500–322 BC
Ancient Greek Warship: 500–322 BC by Nic Fields
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While I find this a good introduction to Athenian ships, I find the book does a less good work on actually fulfilling its promise on discussing “Greek” ships. Overall, the ships’ military performance is not very well assessed with Corinth and Corcyra not mentioned except in a few short paragraphs. However, speaking historiographically, some other conclusions Mr Fields made sound more like conjecture than actual science, and I feel that quite a few other books are a better look at Athenian triremes (which is invariably the city and ship this book focusses on) and at least do not pretend to deal with other topics. Continue reading “Review: ‘Ancient Greek Warship: 500–322 BC’, Nic Fields”

Review: Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian’s Wall

Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian's Wall
Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian’s Wall by Nic Fields
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A comprehensive review of the Roman fortifications of the first two centuries in the area to the north of Hadrian’s wall. I was impressed by the plentiful tables, totalling not only the benefits and drawbacks of the wall but also it’s construction plan, manhours spent, garrison sizes, etc. Overall, this review stands out as a very brief but strong introduction to Rome in Scotland.

What I found missing was the political context. Though the Severian re-expansion into the north is mentioned, barely half a sentence touches on it. The Antonine and Flavian periods are covered in far greater detail, and I think if the book had restricted itself to the pre-Severian period in what it covered, it would have achieved it’s goals superbly.

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‘Japanese Castles, AD 250-1540’, S. Turnbull

I did very much enjoy this introduction to Japanese fortifications for the time period mentioned by Mr Turnbull. But as with nearly any Osprey book I read, I am also rather glad that at least this time extra information is within reach. Indeed, I have the very same Stephen Turnbull’s longer (and hopefully, thereby, more thorough) ‘Strongholds of the Samurai’ on my bookshelf waiting to be picked up and read.

Now, I said “more thorough” which is actually being a bit harsh towards the author. For the length of this book (at approximately 64 pages), the amount of valuable information that was in it is truly staggering. So, for what it is meant to be, we get a truly worth-the-money introduction as I very much expected this to be. Plus, the drawings! Always been one of the greater aspects of Osprey books, the level of drawings presented to us is quite good now as ever. [The sentence admittedly has a very odd syntax, but I blame that for being awake at the ungodly hour of half one AM.]

Also, it is quite noteworthy that there is a reasonable amount of first hand accounts included, especially considering that while it is something I have noticed in Osprey books, it does still take a bit of skill and thinking if we are to find good and fitting quotes into a book that has to be heavy on the content without wasting space. I guess that this allowed me to appreciate Mr Turnbull more, for he presented us with the fine humorous scene (while still technically describing a progress of a siege) as follows:

“The men in the towers beckoned to Yoriyoshi’s men, calling ‘Are you warriors’, and several dozen servant girls climbed up to the towers to sing songs. Yoriyoshi was much displeased.”

All in all, I am not displeased at all. =)

‘Hannibal’, Nic Fields

I’ve recently come to read two of the Osprey Command series books (first on the Admiral, Yamamoto Isoroku, and now the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca), and I have had to completely reevaluate my opinion of what the series was originally for. Not as much a concise biography that does not really achieve much, they rather provide a story of how the person got into the position of command, and then provide a review of the tactical situations he was presented with. Indeed, I find this a very valid way of assessing a military commander when compared to a massive tome on the person. Of course, there are plenty of things that those tomes mention that these shorter books do not, but I find the amount of information to still be considerable.

The book on Hannibal was indeed quite good — and partly forced me to change my opinion of the man. While a general of admirable qualities, I believed him to be a bit… ‘worse’, all along. And I now think far less of the victory at Cannae compared to the one achieved at Trasimene.

Overall, I enjoyed the flow of this book far more than I expected it would — it is very easy to make a history book read ‘slow’ and thereby make it somewhat cumbersome. Indeed, Osprey, based on my experience, has mostly avoided this, and it was quite nice to see them continue to do so.

Also, two things of note:

  • bârâq, or the origin of the name of Barca, has the meaning ‘thunderbolt’
  • daimónios would translate to ‘marvelously’, or a variation thereof

Not to mention the fact that apparently word of the results at Trasimene were passed to the Roman people with the phrase “We have been beaten in a great battle.”

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