Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Barn

South from Christchurch about 70 or so kilometres or so along State Highway 1, the road traveller arrives at the small settlement of Chertsey.  Population maybe 2000, you hardly notice the place, the State Highway bypassing it close by to the west.  But easily visible from there is the subject of this posting: a bally great tin shed, run down and rusty and with a sign announcing its present occupation: 'Book Barn'.
How to find the book barn

If you check out this link, the barn-sized shed stands in splendid isolation twixt highway and rail line. Check out this map (link below).  If you use the street level option, you will see the shed in question, from before it began to used to house second hand books, games, toys and vinyl...

Well, I've twice visited the place, now.  Some five or six weeks ago Karen and I dropped in upon our return journey from visiting the Sharplin Falls, near Stavely (off map to the west).  We didn't stay long - just time for me to pick up three books and Karen to find what she was looking for.
First haul.  We weren't staying long...

Hitler's Generals I had read before, some twenty or thirty years ago, and as I recalled, found it an interesting read.  The others  were completely new to me.  

White Death is an account of the Winter War of 1939-40 in Finland, of which I had read only one other account before.  This one is a bit less 'seen from the Finnish' side than the earlier book, and deals a lot with the behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling that formed the background to the military operations.  The author is not altogether unsympathetic to the Russian soldiery that bore the brunt of Stalin's ambition, at that.

A zillion years ago I read Charles Fair's book From the Jaws of Victory, which was an entertaining (and occasionally gruesome) read if you like, casting its net widely, and highly critical of U.S. command in Viet Nam.  Dixon's volume one is quite different.  It focuses more exclusively on British generalship, for one thing.  In two parts, the first gives accounts of the shambolic situations created, for any number of psychological reasons, by generals who, by and large, aren't exactly stupid.  You know, I have often thought Maj-Gen Ambrose Burnside has been treated rather harshly by history (and by Pres. Lincoln's deathless remark from which Mr Fair took his book title).  Burnside was a professional, organisationally pretty sound.  It was his idea - a manoeuvre sur les derrieres - that was later adopted by Joe Hooker and led to the Chancellorsville disaster.   Burnside was simply a bad luck magnet I sometimes feel.  At any rate, the second part (which I haven't yet read) goes more into the generals' make-up that leads them into poor and costly decision making.   
Second haul.  Plenty of bedtime reading to he had here!
A second, more prolonged visit last weekend yielded several more volumes for which I have to discover storage space for.  I've almost finished Caporetto 1917, and a rattling good read it is. Unusually for historiography of this type, the author treats both sides with sympathy and respect.  If this or that commander or leader comes in for criticism, it often balanced somewhere or other by more positive observations.  

By contrast, Peter Hofschroer's Waterloo Campaign: The German Victory has a clear thesis: the Duke of Wellington stole most of the glory of Napoleon's final defeat at the expense of the more deserving Prussian Army and Prinz Blucher.  I discovered once I got the thing home, that there is a companion volume that deals with the campaign up to the great battle.  I didn't spot that one.  The one I bought deals with the battle and the remaining campaign through to the fall of Paris.  I dare say that Hofschroer's account will be interesting, but I find overtly partisan historiography sometimes a hard read.

Bonaparte in Egypt was written for a Book Club (apparently) - and not for general publication; Battlegrounds deals with how the topography of terrain affects battles, and, as I don't actually have a volume on the Alamein battle in general, I picked up this one.  The caption of the frontispiece photo alludes to the Duke of Wellington's prognosis of the upcoming Waterloo battle.  Pointing nearby to a rather scruffy specimen of British soldiery, he observed: 'It all depends on that article'.

And, finally, Robert Fisk.  I'll tell you why I respect this guy and his writing.  He knows about what he writes, he writes with authority, and he ain't beholden to mainstream media and the likes of Rupert Murdock.  What's more, where he hasn't lived it himself, he gets it from people who have.  Often such people have no other voice.  Robert Fisk has heart and brain - and the balls, guts and backbone to go with them.  Pretty much dated by now I dare say - a hell of a lot of sand has drifted under the culvert since War for Civilisation (sic) was published in 2006 - yet I feel the need to steep myself in the back history of this desperately unhappy region of the world.

Meanwhile, my apologies for the slow progress of the BB4ST series.  I have in draft a piece on morale, and some promising ideas in my head for fire and close combat... So there is more to come. This coming Sunday, though, Geoff and I will be trying out Age of Eagles once more...


  1. Sounds like you have found a good book store.

    I recall visiting a major chain bookstore in California. They had a "Military History" section . . . and the earliest thing covered was the American Civil War . . . when I complained to the store manager he told me, "Nothing important or interesting happened before the Civil War".

    I was flabbergasted to say the least.

    -- Jeff

  2. Some great purchases here Ion.

    How was the pricing?

  3. 38 bucks the 6. 'Battlegrounds' was the most expensive, at $10. Surprisingly, the Hofschroer book was one of the three $4 ones. Both are in fine condition. It's a pretty dusty old shed, I'll tell you what, and bally cold, too, but the war/military section isn't hard to find through the maze (northeastern end). A good many of the books are novels rather than historiography. For the rest, I haven't explored the rest of the place much.

    1. I forgot to mention the first three I bought: they came altogether to the arm-wrenching sum of $14 - the military incompetence one for just $3. Nine books for less than $6 apiece ain't bad, eh? - nine books that I'll actually read!

    2. Thats a real bargin Ion. Well done!

  4. I think that you will find that Hofschroer's book (and its companion) do more to bring the contributions of all of the Germans (Prussians, Hanoverians, Brunswickers, and Nassauers, especially the latter three) more into the light. While he did have a little bit of Wellington/British bashing, overall they were, in my opinion, balanced and needed volumes.


    1. I rather suspect you are right. Although Anglo-centric historiography acknowledges the part Blucher's army played, it is treated very much as Wellington's victory. In turn the Continentals within Wellington's army, if they aren't part of the King's German Legion, tend - just tend, mind you - to be a bit marginalised.

      Mind you that won't be helped by my own small British Napoleonic 'Army', which lacks any KGL troops at all... I do have Brunswickers, though...