BOOKS: AVAILABILITY...AND REVIEWS
Like many authors, I take an interest in how my books are received. We all hope not only that we’ve done the work to the best of our ability, but also that it meets the needs of our readership. Of course, not all reviews are ‘five-star praise’, but, if I’m honest, more is sometimes learned from critical remarks than mere reproductions of the publisher’s blurb... However, there are the Smart Alecs whose primary goal is to show how much more they know than the author (though rarely having written anything worthwhile themselves); and too many who draw attention to the absence of something specific...even though the author has not only omitted it deliberately, but also said so in a Foreword or Preface.
I have often been asked to name personal favourites among my books. This isn’t easy, as I have affection for virtually all of them. Some have stood the test of time better than others, but this is not necessarily a barrier; some were ground-breaking, and, as a result, stimulated research that has undermined (if not entirely invalidated) the original approach. In some cases, I’m actually pleased that this happened as I know my tentative steps inspired others to move our knowledge forward. I’m particularly delighted that the critical review of the German version of Luger by Joachim Görtz, employed by Motor Buch to oversee the 1981 translation, inspired him to begin the research in German archives that was to re-write much of the history of this particular handgun. And I’m still hopeful that the as-yet unpublished study of the Éolienne Bollée will ultimately stimulate the work in France that is required to complete the project.
So which of my books would I select?
The German Rifle. Published by Arms & Armour Press in 1979, this was produced in the time-honoured fashion: paste-up of reproduction pulls of Linotype matter, with red-film masks for the illustrations and bromide prints of the line drawings in situ. Those were the days! At the time, it was the only affordable one-volume study of all the bolt-action rifles from the Dreyse needle guns to the Kar 98k available in English. It was a shame that the companion volume devoted to the autoloading and automatic rifles was never published, but even now, nearly forty years old, The German Rifle gets an occasional good review. ISBN 0-85368-312-3
The Kaiser's Pirates. Published by Arms & Armour Press/Cassells in 1994, this was a real challenge: well outside my comfort zone, inspired by the work I had done to promote Emden. The Last Cruise of the Chivalrous Raider (which had appeared in 1989). The work was enjoyable, and the book was well received by the nautical press. My explanations of pre-1914 ship design and maritime trade were generally welcomed, but I remember how one reviewer harped on about inaccuracies in the tonnage of shipping that had been sunk. I’d explained in the preamble to the relevant Appendix that my figures had been taken from Lloyd’s Register of Shipping for the year of loss, but the reviewer didn’t seem to realise that tonnages assessed by other classification societies (Bureau Veritas, for example) often differed from Lloyd’s! Most of these errors therefore, did not exist. The one drawback of the project was the reliance I had to place on English-language sources; when the German version, Piraten des Kaisers appeared two years later, translators Helma and Wolfgang Schürer added a substantial number of new footnotes to explain details and correct errors. I would have liked the chance to have seen these notes before the book was published, a discourteous omission, but the changes were undoubtedly improvements. ISBN 1-85409-136-0
The Rifle Story. Published by Greenhill Books in 2006, this was one of a pair, accompanied by The Handgun Story (2008). The goal was to weave particularly complex stories into a straightforward narrative, limited, to some extent, by restrictions on the number of words that I could use. Though the handgun book is better illustrated, with a section of colour images, my choice is largely due to being a ‘rifle man’ at heart: I was always a better shot with a rifle, and the idea of striking accurately at long range held an appeal that shooting with essentially short-range handguns did not (despite their fascinating history and my work on the Luger!). ISBN 978-1-85367-690-1
Guns of the Empire. This was one of four similar directory-style books written for Arms & Armour Press/Cassells under the pseudonym George Markham. The first of the series, Guns of the Elite (1987), was a tremendous success; but the book devoted to the weapons of Britain and the British Empire, the third to be released (1990), was not only the most original of the quartet but also the most interesting to compile. Yet it failed to sell as well as ‘Elite’, ‘Wild West’ and ‘Reich’, each of which outsold ‘Empire' by factors of ten or more. A case, I think, of prophets being without honour in their own country, reflected in the lack of enthusiasm for a narrative successor to compare with the changes made to the other three books! ISBN 1-85409-072-0
Currently, only these books are available:
Guns of the Elite Forces was published as a hardback in 2005 and updated in 2015 by adding a new introduction. It is effectively a ‘broad brush’ historically-orientated narrative.
Reviews have usually been favourable, Classic Arms & Militaria (October/November 2016) noting that in the new version “...the author provides an overview of the weapons the elite forces carry into action, as well as the guns their enemies wield. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in the arming of the elite forces of the military and civil powers around the world...”
ISBN 978-1-84832-823-5, 280 pages, 16 pages of plates. Available as a paperback (soon to be discontinued) and an e-book through Pen & Sword
The Heraldry of War,
the result of a study begun in 2001, has origins in
work I undertook for Arms & Armour Press in the early 1970s. It is probably the only accessible book of its type.
Classic Arms & Militaria (October/November issue, 2016) said of it: “...This is a phenomenally useful book that every student of military history ought to have on his or her bookshelves. Hitherto, heraldry has been presented as a branch of genealogy. This book changes all of that and shows that if the viewer can be bothered to look, even the most unprepossessing military items have heraldry hard-wired within them. Highly recommended”. Oddly, this is the only review that I've seen to date.
ISBN 978-0-9960731-1-0, 25x19cm, 192 pages; 110 plates, mostly in colour. Published in the USA by Tharston Press, and still available. I have a few copies for sale in Britain: e-mail me for details, if you are interested.
Luger: the story of the world's
most famous handgun has a lengthy pedigree, dating in its original guise to 1995 and drawing on the highly successful Luger (1977) and The Luger Book (1986) for inspiration. Reviews of the original publications were generally favourable, though the A–Z approach of 1986 wasn’t universally approved—notably in the USA, where several commentators couldn’t see the value of individual entries as a ready-reference. Consequently, the 1995 book reverted to a chronological narrative. The current version has taken the slightly altered 2005 update as the basis for a story that has been extensively revised in accordance with the intervening decade of research: most notably by Joachim Görtz and Geoffrey Sturgess, whose impeccably researched three-volume study of the Parabellum pistol was published five years ago.
Britain at War (December 2016) said that I “…had produced the most comprehensive one-volume guide to this, the world’s most famous pistol. It is an engaging history, and not one that is overly complicated by technical details and this newly updated…version is one that will appeal greatly to both collectors and readers of military history”. The Armourer (September 2017 issue) said that the book “…is unlike so many others on the Luger, which are little more than catalogues… It's very different as it reads like a novel, covering not only the worldwide adoption of the Parabellum but examining the lives of the men who developed it. It is a book that makes the reader want to read it from cover to cover rather than just dipping into it from time to time. It is different from most gun books as it is a social rather than technological history. Therein lies its strength…”
ISBN 978-0-7509-6627-6, 24x16cm, 300 pages including 32 pages of plates, with additional line drawings throughout the text. Available as a paperback and an e-book from The History Press, and to be published in the USA by Skyhorse in 2018. But it should be noted that the US edition will probably duplicate the 2005 British version, not the 2016 update.
The Iron Horse, based on the storyboard for an abortive museum exhibition I created in the 1990s, tries to relate the complex development of the locomotive in an easily-readable form. It is divided into two sections: a development history, including biography panels devoted to some of the lesser known engineers, and then a directory based on wheel notation.
The Amazon website has now published the first review: “…This book is ideal for those who want a general overview of the development of the steam engine. The history starts at the beginning and works its way through to 1955. Each chapter has useful insets giving potted histories of the engineers of the time covered by that chapter, not those about whom separate books have already been written, but those who never made the big time…whose contribution to the development of the steam engine is just as important.
The more technical details are explained by the use of photographs and diagrams which gives much understanding to those who do not grasp technical terms. Successes and failures are dealt with, some of the failures providing much amusement.
The last section of the book deals with wheel arrangements and includes details of every known arrangement with details of who used them with photographs. It is amazing how many there were and how outlandish some of them were.
All in all a very interesting, well researched book, and a very good read. At 144 pages, hardback, a good buy…”
ISBN 978-0-7509-6716-7, 26x23cm; more than a hundred photographs and drawings. Available only in hardback from The History Press, but apparently to be published in the USA in 2018.
Snipers at War. A specially-written history of snipers and sniping, this traces a fascinating story from the first projectile weapons, such as the bow, by way of the technological advances of the nineteenth century to the specially-developed rifles of two world wars and today’s high-tech weapons with their computer-controlled micro-electronic sights.
The book is newly published, so, to date, there have only been a couple of reviews. There are now two five-star mentions on Amazon, but I particularly liked the one that has appeared on historicbattlefieldtours.com
“...Snipers at War is a detailed history of snipers on the battlefield. it deals with many aspects of sniping such as equipment and tactics used. Snipers at War describes the start of snipers on the battlefield until the present day.
In this book you may find the stories of many famous snipers, such as Simo Häyhä, who is accredited with 505 kills in just hundred days during the Winter War between the Finnish and the Russian army between 1939-1940.
If you have seen the movie ‘Enemy at the Gates’ you know Vasiliy Zaytsev, who was accredited with 242 kills during the Battle of Stalingrad. The Russian army employed approximately 2000 women as a sniper during the Second World War.
Snipers were feared on the battlefield. Often they would strike against officers, in order to brake up the enemy command structure. One sniper would always shoot the number two soldier in the column, so there would be fear to fill this position, even leading to small mutinies.
You may also find information about Carlos Hathcock, known as the ‘White Feather’, who is known for killing an enemy sniper by shooting him through his own scope during the Vietnam War, which inspired a sniper scene in Saving Private Ryan.
If you are looking for a general, well written book about sniping history to present day and the development of sniping weapons look no further. The amount of details are impressive, but for the unseasoned reader they may be overwhelming at times. Given the extent of the subject you would expect few details of the snipers involved. This book includes many personal experiences which makes it an interesting book to read, I would however have loved to read more of these stories though.
If you are interested in the subject in detail (including calibre used), manufacturers, you’ve got the right book. Also, if you are interested in ‘story telling’ you may like the book as well. John Walter must have done massive research in order to be able to write this book. For this reason a five star rating would have been well deserved. Often, I read a personal story and wanted to read more about the person but then the story stopped. Since I would have liked to read more of these stories, I’ll rate the book with four stars only, but other readers may believe five stars would be fair.
The final verdict: A four stars plus!...”
This is just the kind of review I appreciate. No book is perfect, and I'd rather read something that actually tells me about content. The 'Greatest Thing since a Can of Beans!!!' review has the potential to offend readers who discover only after purchase that the book doesn't mention what they were seeking!
ISBN 978-1-78438-184-4, 24x16cm, 320 pages; illustrated throughout in monochrome, with sixteen pages of colour images. Newly available from Greenhill Books as a hardback, and in the USA through Naval Institute Press.
Additional details can be obtained by e-mailing me: