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Tay Bridge Disaster: The People's Story
Tay Bridge Disaster: The People's Story
by Robin Lumley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.43
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended for all with interest in Dundee or this historic disaster., February 20, 2014
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Like the author, my great-grandfather was also from Dundee. He was not far from the Bridge as he would have most likely been at his Mother's home on nearby Victoria Road when the Tay Bridge came down late in 1879; the author's ancestor was barely spared from being a victim of this calamity but fortunately he stayed in Edinburgh a day longer than planned and the author recounts how he was shown his unused return ticket as a child. Mr. Lumley displays what appears to be a highly detailed knowledge of Victorian railroads and civil engineering. Reading this book is like walking down a High Street in an old Scottish town where one veers off the street to explore various wynds (Scots term for alleys) as these are encountered. Thus, the reader is treated to what some may find distracting but the journeys pay rich rewards as you will learn more about Dundee, Scotland, Victorian railroads and what it was like to use them, and a host of other subjects. Especially rewarding is the recreation of the typical passenger experience on a Victorian train. At times, some of these Wynds are best left unexplored, such as when he touches on the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 in a way that minimizes both the controversy and complexity of that event but that is easily forgiven. What you do gain from all of this is vital context, enough to make me conclude that the Tay Bridge collapse was caused by low quality cast iron being used rather than steel (which now comprises the replacement bridge), with the work being carried out in a way that showed for more concern for cost-savings than safety. The author cites a remarkably similar collapse of the Ashtabula Bridge in Pennsylvania in 1876, preceding the Tay Bridge Disaster by almost three years to the day with a similar number of fatalities in similar weather conditions. The findings of that Court of Inquiry were echoed just a few years later in a similar inquest in the wake of the Tay Bridge disaster. He traces how the use of iron railroad bridges soon faded away as steel became the preferred material.

As you journey through this book you do encounter the people involved as the title implies--especially Sir Thomas Bouch who failed to properly oversee the bridge he designed. You also meet the crew and passengers of the train as well as some of the citizens of Dundee. It was especially appalling to hear the words of those who painted the bridge after it was built as they recalled encountering stray bolts on the girders and weren't sure if they were leftovers from construction or had fallen off since the bridge was completed. Once the disaster happened, they sadly learned that the bridge was slowly falling apart and the terrible storm on the night of December 28, 1879 was the dramatic culmination of its demise. It generally makes for fascinating reading. For those interested in this event, I recommend reading this book as well as John Prebble's 1959 classic, Disaster at Dundee, Its British title is The High Girders. There is far less technical detail in that book and a bit more drama. It lacks that vital ingredient you encounter here though--context in terms of iron vs. steel construction as well as comparing this bridge to others of its time, especially the one in Pennsylvania.


Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832
Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832
by Antonia Fraser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.64
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1832 Comes Alive, January 21, 2014
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Although I well remember encountering the 1832 Reform Bill and its impact in my undergraduate British history course, this books brings it to life, both in the people involved and what was at stake. The author does an excellent job in conveying the sense of tension and the looming spectre of violent revolution that hung over these times. The most violent episode of the early 1830s, the three day Bristol riots, are brought to life and placed in context of their impact on politics. We witness the aging monarch William IV, recently ascended to the throne, as those hoping for reform turn to him for support against the Tory landed gentry unwilling to share power with the growing urban middle class. His popularity declines as he is increasingly seen as part of the problem. The Duke of Wellington, brilliant on the field of battle against Napoleon, showed his political adroitness by favoring Catholic emancipation during his time as Prime Minister in the late 1820s. Where broadening the electorate was concerned though, he is portrayed as terribly piggish and downright ridiculous with his predictions of national doom if outmoded and corrupt parliamentary representation is cleaned up. The most outstanding individual and man of the hour was Prime Minister Grey whose foresight in placing the national interest above that of his class serve as an excellent example for our own time that is plagued by self-serving politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.

This book is a must read for those who, like myself, may have tilted most of their reading in 19th century British history to the better known times and prime ministers of Queen Victoria whose reign began five years after the landmark 1832 Reform Bill. This book provides very good biographical insight into William IV, a monarch virtually neglected compared to Victoria. Also receiving in-depth exploration is Prime Minister Lord Grey, Robert Peel, Lord John Russell and we even briefly encounter the youthful Gladstone and Disraeli. Also worth mentioning are numerous excellent color reproductions of period portraits of William IV, Wellington, Peel, Grey, etc. It's unusual to find color plates in a book of this size and scope. Many highly amusing political cartoons of the era are also included with the these illustrations, grouped in the center of the book. It makes one wish someone would publish an extensive collection of such 19th century cartoons.

Perhaps the book's only failing is not placing the Reform Bill of 1832 in context with those that came along in 1867 and in the 1880s, and then into the 20th century, increasingly broadening the electorate. Such a brief summary would have fitted in nicely in the conclusions but that is a very small fault to find in an otherwise excellent work.


Scottish Covenanter Stories: Tales from the Killing Times
Scottish Covenanter Stories: Tales from the Killing Times
by Dane Love
Edition: Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars A learning experience about the Covenanters, September 13, 2013
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Other reviewers commented on how, as the book progresses through rather short chapters detailing instances of the atrocities committed against the Covenanter, "reader fatigue" sets in and one tires of reliving these sad instances. While quite true, the book does details the largest military engagements associated with the post-restoration 17th century Covenanter period, namely Ruillion Green as part of the Pentland Rising in 1666 and then Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge in 1679. Reading about the defeat of Claverhouse at Drumclog was especially interesting since he is mainly remembered today for his spectacular bittersweet victory at Killiecrankie in 1689, where he lost his life fighting on behalf of the deposed James II. Students of the era are left wondering what might have happened to the Jacobite cause had he lived.

One reviewer on Amazon's UK site claimed this book was full of "lies," perhaps basing that sweeping disparagement on the fact that many of the accounts of one or two individuals put to death are based on the inscriptions that appear on their tombstones rather than printed contemporary sources. While such inscriptions may not be 100% accurate, they do relate stories that might have been otherwise lost and any source, whether a tombstone, contemporary letter or oral history, can always be questioned. I suspect this critic didn't bother to read all of this work and overlooked the general accounts of the large battles named above. Admittedly, the small-scale persecutions are more difficult to document. All readers should bear in mind when reading about the suffering of the Covenanters at the hand of the Stuart monarchs Charles II and James II that the Covenanters themselves were not the embodiment of religious toleration and would have meted out similar fates to those who opposed them, had they possessed the levers of power. Overall, a good book.


Disraeli
Disraeli
Price: $16.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exemplary Biography, May 25, 2013
This review is from: Disraeli (Kindle Edition)
It's hard to imagine anyone doing a biography of Disraeli that can surpass this one. This statement is borne out by the fact that we are approaching the 50th anniversary of its publication and its equal has yet to emerge. Blake is a superb writer, especially gifted at placing Disraeli in the context of his times which is always critical for gaining a full appreciation of the individual who is the focus of a biography. He masters the details of Disraeli's life to astounding degree--his Italian Jewish background, his relationship with his father and other family members, his debut as a novelist, eventual entry into politics and all that follows It's especially fascinating to relive the birth of the Disraeli-Gladstone rivalry when Gladstone savaged his budget in a late night Parliamentary speech.

There is so much to describe and relate regarding this work, that I am a loss as to how best summarize it. Perhaps his even-handed treatment of Disraeli's foreign policy as Prime Minister will suffice. He is critical of him in the basic matter of geographical knowledge where, at times, Dizzy could be shockingly deficient. In Blake's opinion, this lead him to buy into the inordinate fear of Russian aggression in the Middle East which was an ongoing British fear in the 19th century as it was thought it would threaten India. He analyses the 1878 Congress of Berlin that resolved tensions between the UK and Russia over Turkey and Bulgaria, looking at both the short and long term results of the Congress, from both the positive and negative side. Afterwards, we watch at this foreign policy triumph for Dizzy was eroded by both the Afghan and Zulu wars and how such colonial wars were difficult to control from London in the days of slow communication.

His summation of Disreali's life is superb, especially in describing how Dizzy's personality seems less bound to Victorian times and thus he comes across as a contemporary person, which he starkly contrasts with the pontificating Gladstone who is forever firmly anchored to his place and time. This despite the fact that Disraeli's allegiance to aristocratic rule is now totally anachronistic. The only shortcoming the book suffers from results from the author's tendency to wander too far off course as he explores a side issue on either the life of one of Disreaeli's contemporaries or perhaps even a distantly related ancillary event.


Sink the Belgrano
Sink the Belgrano
by Mike Rossiter
Edition: Hardcover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very engaging Book, February 7, 2013
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This review is from: Sink the Belgrano (Hardcover)
This book concentrates on the Falklands War experience of both the British submarine Conqueror and the cruiser it sank, the General Belgrano, which was originally the USS Phoenix. The Phoenix had been at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and emerged unscathed from the Japanese attack. It survived WWWII, was sold to the Argentine Navy and then sank by our close WWII ally, the British, in the context of their successful campaign to retake the Falkland Islands in 1982. The author follows these two ships to the moment of the Conqueror's successful torpedo attack, only the second submarine attack on a surface vessel since WWII, the other being in the early 1970s Indian-Pakistani War. Unique among the few books on this war that I have read, it provides insight into the Argentine side of the story through interviews the author conducted with survivors of the Belgrano.

Beyond that, it gives an excellent overview of much of the naval campaign in the early part of the war, especially the role played by all five British submarines, one of which could have very well sunk the only Argentine aircraft carrier had it been allowed to follow the instincts of its captain rather than being misdirected by unrealistic orders from London. This instance as well as others in recent wars yet again demonstrate the importance of commanders in the field or on the sea having a great degree of latitude in conducting operations. These submarines operated under a doctrine centered around war in the North Atlantic against the Soviet Navy and they rapidly had to come to terms with going to war in the South Atlantic on very little notice with a paucity of information on their foe.

The author does a good job exploring the controversy surrounding the sinking of the Belgrano and makes an excellent case that the end result of the loss of this ship, the pride of the Argentine Navy, resulted in their Navy hugging the coastal waters of Argentina for the remainder of the war and therefore not threatening the British fleet which was stretched to the breaking point due to repeated attacks from the Argentine air force. The loss of this ship thus paid huge strategic dividends, in a way that was similar to the psychological fallout the German Navy underwent in WWII following the sinking of the Bismarck in which they became far less willing to risk their capital ships.

Beyond that, I can't help but read this book with sadness, both over the loss of a fine ship that had survived Pearl Harbor and the deaths of nearly 300 Argentine crew members who were simply doing their duty and perished as a result of the attack, with the survivors having to endure the nightmare of the frigid waters of the South Atlantic until rescued. Also, one will read of the British ships, such as the HMS Sheffield, that fell victim to Argentine air attacks, again with the loss of many good men. I recall that my wife and I were enjoying our honeymoon when this hell unfolded, having no knowledge of the degree of human suffering that was taking place thousands of miles away as we were away from the the news. It reminds me that as a reader I am deeply affected when encountering the details of wars that have taken place in my lifetime; reading about war in the 19th century provides one with a great deal of comparative emotional detachment. The author, Mike Rossiter, has done a good job at unearthing such emotions and I highly recommend his book for all students 20th century naval warfare, especially those interested in Britain's victory in the Falklands War.


BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS
BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS
by Robert J. Parker
Edition: Paperback
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible for Students of British History, both young and old, October 19, 2012
Having been a "student" of British history for nearly forty years and earned my graduate degree from a university in the "Mother Country" on as aspect of that history. I found this to be an invaluable summary source of both personal and political facts regarding those who have served as Prime Ministers, starting with Walpole. Mr. Parker has a pronounced talent for conveying a tremendous amount of information, combined with insight, in a very succinct fashion. Such an ability is an absolute necessity for a book such as this.

The catalyst for the American author's conceptualization and writing of this book came from his being unable to find anything like the numerous summary biography books that exist in this country for our presidents. Just like Disraeli who said "When I wish to read a novel, I write one," Mr. Parker could have well said "I would like to have brief biographies of all the UK prime ministers in one book, I guess I will have to write one. The results are here for all to read.


Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917
Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917
by Laura M. Mac Donald
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will depress you, thus the author has done her job., April 22, 2012
In 2009, a friend of mine visited Halifax and came back with stories about this event he had learned at the local museum. Like him and I am sure many others in America, I had no knowledge of this great tragedy but wanted to learn more Being thus virtually ignorant of the details of this horrible event, the book left me with vastly increased knowledge. The first part describing the unfolding of the disaster is terribly gripping and represents writing of the first order. The second part that goes into the gruesome and tedious details of medical issues like the treatment of eye injuries, how bodies were identified (or not) and untiring efforts of doctors and nurses becomes very difficult to read. The author describes how those who helped with the relief efforts eventually became numb to stories of entire families wiped out, Mothers who lost babies and soon this reader realized that this was happening to him as well! One longs for that portion of the book to end

Curse of the Narrows will give you a new appreciation of the horror of World War I, that moments of large scale and tragic bloodshed weren't confined to the other side of the Atlantic but were here in North America as well. As the author points out, the Halifax explosion was the largest explosion in the entire duration of World War I. We plan to visit Nova Scotia within the next few years and this book will give me a much deeper appreciation of what its citizens endured nearly one hundred years ago.


Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot
Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot
by Ken McGoogan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.00
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orkney's Hero Well Remembered in This Worthy Book, November 5, 2009
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There isn't much that I can add to the fine reviews here, other than to say that the author may be unduly harsh on Franklin's widow for not accepeting Rae's account that the fate of her husband's expedition ended with some resorting to canabalism. After all, who wouldn't resist accepting the news that the last days of their spouse might have included this unspeakable horror?

Despite that, this is an excellent biography. I purchased my copy during a recent trip to Scotland which, fortunately, included a visit to Orkney, the birthplace of Rae. I was immediately intrigued when our driver explained some of the background of Rae as I knew about Franklin but not Rae. I purchased the book at a local bookshop in Stromness. Those who read this book will be gratified to know that efforts are underway in Orkney to restore and preserve Rae's birthplace, an empty home that is easily seen when coming into Stromness. Additioanally, he is well remembered at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall with a beautiful memorial. This book serves as a worthy monument in print.


The '45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising
The '45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising
by Christopher Duffy
Edition: Paperback
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and all-encompassing history of the last Jacobite Uprising, November 4, 2009
Most books dealing with the 1745-46 rebellion maintain a steady focus on Prince Charles Edward Stuart while others deal strictly with Culloden, the penultimate engagement of that campaign. Christopher Duffy's book is EVENT focussed rather than personality driven and as such places the famed Bonnie Prince in context of the events that swirled around his ill-fated attempt to recapture the British throne for the House of Stuart. Eschewing romanticism, the reader is treated to a highly datailed, map laden treasure trove of knowledge conveyed by this master of 18th century warfare. Weapons and tactics, the weather and landscape, civilians,the common soldiers on both sides, Generals Cope, Wade, Murray, Hawley, Lord Loudon, and, of course, the Duke of Cumberland are all pictured amidst the rise and fall of the fortunes of war. The comprehensive treatment yields a full picture of the rebellions impact across the landscape of Scotland in areas where the Stuart Prince never went. For example, we learn of Jacobites in Orkney, naval engagements that were key in depriving the Jacobite forces of much needed supplies and gold, and even read that the remote islands of St. Kilda were briefly and non-violently touched by what transpired. The bibliograpy and accompanying footnotes could prove invaluable to those wishing to learn more about the 1745-46 campaign.

The aborted Jacobite march on London is fully covered and I think the author correctly concludes that the decision to turn back at Derby doomed the Stuart cause and represented a major loss of momentum that could never be regained, no matter what future victories loomed. If there is one criticism of this book, I think the placement of the account of the Battle of Prestonpans at the start of the work detracted from the chronological flow of events since that happened after the gathering at Glenfinnan. Placing it early in the narrative works as a literary device to draw the reader in but one feels its abscence in the ensuring text. That is a miniscule fault though compared to all that this book achieves and all I learned from it. Thank you Christopher Duffy.


Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street
Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street
by Janet M. Tavakoli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.46
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like a Structured Investment Product itself, this book is hard to rate!, May 10, 2009
My interest in this book was sparked by Janet Tavokoli's appearance on CSPAN and a fascinating interview conducted by Brian Lamb. Written by an insider who knows and works in the arcane world of derivatives and structured investment products, this book provides useful insight into the chronology of this decade leading up to and including the collapse of the investment banks/AIG in the 2008. The author was clearly "in the know" as one who knew that the financial world had devised a ticking time bomb that was set to go off and leave value destruction in its wake.

Like CDOs and SIVs, it is very difficult to bring the book into focus as it touches a number of bases (the middle east, various personalities, etc.) and rambles off course at varous junctures, detracting from the narrative flow. Thus, like SIVs and CDOs, this book is composed of various "tranches" (forgive me for using these financial terms but they do help describe this book) that intermingle and are hard to separate. Plus, the constant refrain of "Warren and I" becomes quite tiresome. Yes, she knows him and the two discussed their mutual interest in finance but this oft-repeated reference seems to place her in the realm of close friend and colleague, which she isn't. Still, when the definitive history of the financial crisis that began in 2007 is written, this book will be referenced and cited. Until then, we must wait on that history.


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