BookPick: Summer Selection 2022
With the warmer months underway in the Northern Hemisphere one of the great pleasures for me at this time of year is relaxing outdoors with a good book – and perhaps a chilled beverage. I have to say that much of my reading time is taken up with specific research for the current Kydd manuscript I’m working on but during breaks from that I enjoy an eclectic variety of titles over a broad range of historical periods and topics. This BookPick is a selection of five titles I’ve enjoyed recently including two naval biographies, a fascinating study of the connections between people and birds, a primer on natural navigation and the slave trade in Africa.
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Royal Navy Versus the Slave Traders by Bernard Edwards
This book was of particular interest to me because it touches on a topic that I will cover in a future Kydd title. On 16 March 1807, the British Parliament passed The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. In the following year the Royal Navy’s African Squadron was formed, its mission to stop and search ships at sea suspected of carrying slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Middle East. The Royal Navy went further, and took the fight to the enemy, sailing boldly up uncharted rivers and creeks to attack the barracoons where the slaves were assembled ready for shipment. For much of its long campaign against the evil of slavery Britain’s Navy fought alone and unrecognised. Ranged against it were the African chiefs, who sold their own people into slavery, the Arabs, who rode shotgun on the slave caravans to the coast, and the slave ships of the rest of the world, heavily armed, and prepared to do battle to protect their right to traffic in the forbidden black ivory. The war was long and bitter and the cost to the Royal Navy in ships and men grievously heavy.
When There Were Birds by Roy and Lesley Adkins
I have always made time to read books by husband-and-wife writing team Roy and Lesley Adkins. In the past they have written various tomes on maritime topics, history and archaeology. This latest book is somewhat of a departure, but fascinating nevertheless. ‘When There Were Birds’ is a social history of Britain that charts the complex connections between people and birds, set against a background of changes in the landscape and evolving tastes, beliefs and behaviour. Birds were once key elements of the nation’s history, traditions and sports, and this gave rise to a rich legacy of literature, language and myths. I particularly enjoyed the various references to birds at sea.
How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley
Gooley is a writer, navigator and explorer. Through his journeys, teaching and writing, he has pioneered a renaissance in the rare art of natural navigation. This book includes over 700 clues, signs and patterns. From wild swimming in Sussex to wayfinding in Oman, via the icy mysteries of the Arctic, Gooley draws on his own pioneering journeys to reveal the secrets of ponds, puddles, rivers, oceans and more to share skills to read the water around us. I guarantee you will never see water in exactly the same way again after reading this little volume! I commend any other books by this talented author, especially ‘The Secret World of Weather’ which I found most insightful.
More Lives than a Ship’s Cat by Jeremy Stoke
Mick Stoke’s experiences in the Royal Navy during the Second World War were remarkable. Aged nineteen, he was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his courage during incessant bombing during the Siege of Tobruk. He survived multiple torpedo attacks, firstly serving in the cruiser Glasgow, which was hit twice; in the battleship Queen Elizabeth at sea and blown up by human torpedoes at Alexandria; and in HMS Hardy, struck in January 1944, while escorting Russian Arctic Convoy JW56B. In 1942, he was serving in HMS Carlisle during the fiercely fought Malta convoys and took part in the Battle of Sirte. Later that year he was awarded the MBE ‘for outstanding bravery, resource and devotion to duty during very heavy bombing’ at the port of Bone during Operation TORCH. He went on to serve at D-Day and later in the Pacific in HMS Rajah. Written by his son, this is an eminently readable biography of the most highly decorated midshipman in the second world war.
Alistair MacLean’s War by Mark Simmons
I’m always intrigued to learn how other authors first got published. Alistair MacLean won a short story contest and his entry moved the wife of publisher Ian Chapman so much that he persuaded Maclean to try his hand at a novel. The rest, as they say, is history. Many of MacLean’s most successful novels were sea stories. In 1941, he was called up after volunteering for the Royal Navy and served as Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, and Leading Torpedo Operator. For the majority of his service, he was in HMS Royalist, a modified Dido-class light cruiser, seeing action in the Arctic, and operations against the German battleship Tirpitz. The ship then deployed to the Mediterranean taking part in Operation Dragoon the invasion of the South of France and later in operations against German occupied Greek Islands in the Aegean. After this MacLean and Royalist were deployed to the Indian Ocean and operations against the Japanese in Malaya, Burma, and Sumatra. A fascinating insight into how the Royal Navy shaped his bestsellers.