BookPick: New Year Selection 2022
This first round-up of the year covers a broad range of topics including a sweeping history of the Port of London; stories of fifty important shipwrecks; and an engrossing autobiography of a marine engineer who began his career in the days of steamships and transitioned to diesel engines. There’s also the biography of the controversial admiral Roger Keyes; and an overview of Britain’s rise to superpower in the age of Napoleon. Whether it’s an addition to your library – or just a good leisure read – I hope there’s something for everyone in this eclectic selection.
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The History of the Port of London by Peter Stone
Although my particular interest in the River Thames is its role in the Georgian Age I found this recently reprinted book a fascinating overview of the rise and fall – and revival – of Old Father Thames. The river has been integral to the prosperity of London since Roman times. Explorers sailed away on voyages of discovery to distant lands. Colonies were established and a great empire grew. Funding their ships and cargoes helped make the City of London into the world’s leading financial centre. In the 19th century a vast network of docks was created for ever-larger ships, behind high, prison-like walls that kept them secret from all those who did not toil within. Sail made way for steam as goods were dispatched to every corner of the world. In the 19th century London was the world’s greatest port city. In the Second World War the Port of London became Hitler’s prime target. It paid a heavy price but soon recovered. Yet by the end of the 20th century the docks had been transformed into Docklands, a new financial centre.
In the Treacle Mine by J W Richardson
Ever wondered what happens in the engine room when the captain on the bridge rings ‘Full Ahead’ on the telegraph? The author has written an engaging account of his life at sea, from his beginnings as a lowly cadet to his work as a chief engineer. A selection of personal photographs do much to enhance the book. His story begins in the 1960s when steam power was still the preferred option for larger and more powerful ships but over the following decade, the availability of ever more powerful and more fuel-efficient, diesel engines sounded the death knell for steam propulsion. Sadly today there are only a few preserved steamships left as a reminder of how things used to be down below in the ‘treacle mine’, which was how Geordie marine engineers described the engine-room. However despite the fact that steam power has disappeared from everyday use, there are still a great many enthusiasts who are prepared to give up their spare time to ensure that steam lives on. Hooray, I say!
The 50 Greatest Shipwrecks by Richard M Jones
Tales of tragedy at sea both fascinate and horrify us, and incidents such as the loss of Costa Concordia continue to this day. Historian Richard M. Jones has put together 50 stories of lost ships that are among the most important, infamous and, in some cases, tragic ships in history. When did two liners collide and lead to one of the greatest rescues in history? How did a Scotsman become an American hero against his own country? Which warship sank with gold bullion on board during the Second World War? Jones tells the story of these fascinating cases plus many more. Starting at the tiny island of Alderney in 1592, he takes the reader on a journey through history, including the First and Second World Wars, into the age of the passenger ferry and finally to the modern day migrant issues in the Mediterranean Sea. This book brings home just how many vessels are lost in Neptune’s Realm.
Britain’s Rise to Global Superpower in the Age of Napoleon by William Nester
This title covers the historical time frame of my Thomas Kydd novels. Britain fought a nearly non-stop war against first revolutionary then Napoleonic France from 1793 to 1815. During those twenty-two years, the British government formed, financed, and led seven coalitions against France. The French inflicted humiliating defeats on the first five coalitions. Eventually Britain and its allies prevailed, not once but twice by vanquishing Napoleon temporarily in 1814 and definitively in 1815. French revolutionaries had created a new form of warfare, which Napoleon perfected. Never before had a government mobilized so much of a realm’s manpower, industry, finance, and patriotism, nor, under Napoleon, wielded it more effectively and ruthlessly to pulverize and conquer their enemies. Britain struggled to master this new form of warfare. With time, the British made the most of their natural strategic and economic advantages. Britons were relatively secure and prosperous in their island realm. British merchants, manufacturers, and financiers dominated global markets. The Royal Navy not only ruled the waves that lapped against the nation’s shores but those ploughed by international commerce around the world. Yet even with those assets victory was not inevitable. An important work that will appeal to students of the period.
Churchill’s Admiral in Two World Wars by Jim Crossley
In this naval biography we see many of our all-too-human traits, both good and bad. Roger Keyes was the archetype of the 19th to 20th century Royal Navy officer. A superb seaman, inspiring leader and fearless fighter, he caught the eye of senior figures in the naval establishment as well as Winston Churchill. The relationship between these two brave men survived disappointment, disagreement and eventually disillusion. Unlike some of his contemporaries Keyes was unable to make the transition from sailor to politician and was inclined to embarrass his friends and allies by his intemperate language and total lack of political acumen. Always eager to lead from the front and hurl himself at the enemy his mind set tended to be that of a junior officer trying to prove himself, not that of a senior admiral. Trained in some of the last of Britain’s sailing warships, Keyes served in submarines in the North Sea, destroyers in China and as a senior staff officer in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. As commander of the Dover Patrol he planned and led the highly controversial Zeebrugge Raid and successfully combated U-boats passing along the English Channel. A flawed hero of his time.