Alison Bashford. Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. This was launched at the Australian Historical Association conference this week and looked like fun -- an intellectual history of eugenics, birth control, food supply and, of course, world population, from the 1920s to the 1960s -- so I bought it.

Lara Feigel. The Love-Charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. I heard Feigel speak at Exeter a few years back. Here she has written something of a collective emotional biography of five key writers in Britain during the Second World War (Bowen, Greene, Macaulay, Spiel and Green). Inevitably the Blitz (and the V-weapons) bulk large, but it's not just about that.

Margaret MacMillan. The War that Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War. London: Profile Books, 2014. There's a centenary on...

Sean McMeekin. July 1914: Countdown to War. London: Icon Books, 2013. ... in case you hadn't noticed.

Free books!

The Earl of Avon. The Eden Memoirs: Full Circle. London: Cassell, 1960. I already have the volume of Eden's memoirs covering his life up until 1938, so it's nice to complete the set. This one covers his postwar career; it's interesting to note that it was actually published first, out of chronological order, almost as though he felt he needed to defend his most recent period in office...

The Earl of Avon. The Eden Memoirs: The Reckoning. London: Cassell, 1965. Covers the period 1938-1945, including Eden's time as Churchill's wartime Foreign Secretary.

Winston S. Churchill. Great Contemporaries. London: Fontana, 1959 [1937]. Written during Churchill's wilderness (i.e. broke) years. Everyone from Alfonso XIII to Boris Savinkov is here.

Winston S. Churchill. My Early Life: A Roving Commission. N.p.: Fontana, 1959 [1930]. Churchill's own account of his youth, his time in the Army (including on campaign in the Sudan and on the North-West Frontier) and as a journalist (etc) in the Boer War.

Jack Fishman. My Darling Clementine. London: Pan, 1963. A biography of Clementine Churchill.

Warwick Heywood. Reality in Flames: Modern Australian Art & the Second World War. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 2014. This one I had to pay for -- the catalogue for a travelling AWM exhibition which is currently showing at NERAM in Armidale, and which just happens to include five works by Eric Thake, including Kamiri Searchlight.

Robert Rhodes James. Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939. London and Ringwood: Penguin, 1973. You may be sensing a bit of a Churchillian theme here. This is the pick of the bunch, a classic in its own right and an early (and still rather rare) critical biography.

'Johnnie' Johnson. Wing Leader. Harmondsworth and Mitcham: Penguin, 1959. Yes, '"Johnnie" Johnson is exactly how his name is written -- well, with the gloss 'Group Captain J. E. Johnston, D.S.O., D.F.C.' He was after all the highest scoring RAF ace of the Second World War, so he was a bit famous.

Harold Nicolson. Diaries and Letters: 1930-1939. London: Collins, 1966. I have the more recent, more definitive of his diaries, but that is less comprehensive, so it's nice to have this too.

Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History, Vol. 9: Ancillary Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995. Now I need the other nine volumes.

Kenneth Young. Churchill and Beaverbrook: A Study in Friendship and Politics. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1978. Some more Churcilliana. Given that this is dedicated to Max Aitken (fils, presumably), it's probably not likely to be very critical.


Kenneth R. Sealy. The Geography of Air Transport. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1966. Revised edition. A bit outside my usual timeframe, but I had to rescue it from a secondhand bookshop. Lots of statistics and maps about world aviation in the early jet age, but also going back to the interwar period. If I ever need to know the seasonal variation of BEA traffic types in 1963-64, daily seat/miles for leading western European airlines in 1961, isopleth maps of contact flying hours for the British Isles (day and night), or indeed passenger numbers for the Scottish air ambulance service going back to 1934, I know where to look.


James Brown. Anzac's Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession. Collingwood: Redback, 2014. Brown has garnered a lot of attention recently for his critique of the Anzac myth. What is perhaps most interesting about his position is that he isn't coming at the question from a historical or even political position: his argument is that Australia's veneration of the diggers of 1915 is actually bad for the diggers of 2014. We see the conflicts we send our soldiers to fight in today through our (mis)understanding of wars they fought in decades ago; we spend more money on commemorating the Gallipoli dead, with the ritual invocation of 'never again', than we do on making sure our still-living soldiers are equipped physically and mentally for combat. We honour the armed forces so much that we can no longer criticise them. So not really history, as such; but essential reading as we prepare to embark on four years of centenaries.

David Christian. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2011. As a historian with a background in astrophysics, I'm intrigued by a history book which starts with the Big Bang and has an index entry for 'cosmic background radiation (CBR)'. But I'm also a bit wary. How does it help me as a historian to understand how galaxies evolve? The biological and even geological parts of big history, sure, in an Annales kind of way; but if I'd wanted to do bad physics I would have stayed a bad physicist. Still, there's always value in looking at history from a different perspective.

Richard J. Evans. Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History. London: Little, Brown, 2014. Evans would not appear to be a huge fan of counterfactuals, which makes you wonder why he bothered to write a whole book about them -- I mean, it's not like they're in any danger of taking over the historical world. But it's precisely that it comes from a sceptic, but I think a fair-minded one, that will make this worth reading. For one thing, there are are lot of really bad counterfactuals around: Evans takes a hard look at Dominic Sandbrook's rather silly essays, as well as Niall Ferguson's rather schizophrenic approach of laying out a very sober argument for the utility of counterfactuals in his Virtual History collection, which he then rounds off with an again very silly conclusion linking all the chapters together in one big narrative counterfactual history that makes no sense and undermines his pleas that counterfactuals are a worthwhile historical tool and should be taken seriously.

Tom Lawson. The Last Man: A British Genocide in Tasmania. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014. What makes this so interesting is that Lawson is writing not from the Australian perspective but the British one; and not as a British historian but as a genocide historian. So he's not one of the usual combatants in the history wars. He argues that Britain should be viewed as a post-genocidal state for causing the extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines in the 1820s and 1830s -- not that Australia itself has come to terms with this label (see below).

Richard Ned Lebow. Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! A World without World War I. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Continuing on with the counterfactual theme. I'm not yet sure whether this is sensible or silly. On the one hand, by positing a 'best plausible' and a 'worst plausible' world after Franz Ferdinand's non-assassination, Lebow avoids the trap of simply presenting a single version of what might have been, which Sandbrook, Ferguson and so many others have fallen into. That's pointless; instead we should try to Monte Carlo or more realistically scenario plan the possibilities. Ditto for the equally common practice of writing counterfactuals as simple narratives. This is fun but it is not informative. A good counterfactual history needs to be written from our perspective, not that of our non-existent counterparts. So Lebow gets these things right. But then he goes and repeatedly commits another cardinal error, which is to have individuals after the turning point leading very similar lives or having very similar characteristics to their real counterparts. For example, he suggests that in his 'best plausible' world, Isaac Asimov would have remained in Russia instead of emigrating to the United States. That is plausible: no war, the Russian Empire survives, there is no wave of emigration due to civil war and communism. But he then has 'Isaak Ozimov' leading much the same life as he did in reality, becoming a hugely prolific writer on a wide array of topics but who is best known for his science fiction novels about robots and about a galactic empire. True, these aren't simply the Robots and Foundation novels with the serial numbers filed off; Lebow does change them in interesting ways to make them commentaries on authoritarianism and anti-Semitism in Russia and elsewhere. But so much of life depends on chance that making even small changes can lead to very different outcomes; and that goes many times over for counterfactual history. In Asimov's case, for example, it's well known (at least in his own retelling, which of course may not be trustworthy) that he came up with the idea to write his first Foundation story by randomly picking a page from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe and seeing an illustration of a sentry, which by a chain of association led him to the idea of a galactic empire. It wasn't inherent in Asimov's DNA or his personality; and certainly not his cultural background. Lebow may convince me otherwise, but I'm prepared for disappointment.

Henry Reynolds. Forgotten War. Sydney: NewSouth, 2013. Reynolds makes the case that the white dispossession of the Aborigines who lived in Australia first amounted to a war, and should be recognised as such. This war has been not so much forgotten as denied.

Michele Haapamaki. The Coming of the Aerial War: Culture and the Fear of Airborne Attack in Inter-war Britain. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014. Michele may be better known to some of you as the Idle Historian, at her blog or on Twitter. She's also now a published author, and I've been looking forward to getting my hands on this, having been privileged to read both a late draft and the PhD thesis from which it has been considerably expanded. And also because the topic and, to some extent, the approach is quite similar to my own forthcoming book. But the result is very different to my book, and in some ways better -- or at least more likely to appeal to a wider audience, both academic and general. We both, in broad terms, look at cultural and intellectual responses to the threat of aerial bombardment in Britain in the early twentieth century. But where I try to be comprehensive, Michele goes deep, focusing on one particular response, ARP or civil defence, which takes up only one chapter (and sundry sections) in my book. This might sound like I'm saying The Coming of the Aerial War is narrow, but it's not: quite the opposite, in fact. Michele not only grounds her discussion firmly in the literature and politics of the period, but she also connects it to broader debates about British history and identity going on today, for example in the chapters on civil liberties and on Britishness, which is why I think readers who perhaps aren't quite as obsessed with bombs and bombers as some of us are will get a lot out of it. And it's elegantly written, too. In conclusion, if you find that you have to choose between buying my book or buying Michele's, then your assumptions are invalid: you need to buy them both!


Peter Adey, Mark Whitehead and Alison J. Williams, eds. From Above: War, Violence and Verticality. London: Hurst & Company, 2013. A collection of essays on the aerial view and how it has changed war. While there is a lot of historical detail in here, most of the contributors to this volume are geographers, rather than historians. (Which is fine, depending on how they use the history.) One of the exceptions is Priya Satia's piece on the invention of aerial surveillance by the RAF in the Iraq Mandate (incidentally, illustrated with photographs of air control in action as seen on this blog). Other essays which look particularly interesting include James Robinson on 'airmindedness and camouflaging of Britain's oil installations, 1936-9' (admittedly, any use of the word airmindedness is going to draw me in...), affect theory and morale bombing (Ben Anderson), the invention of aerial photomosaic mapping as applied modernism (Paul Saint-Armour), and 'the balloon prospect' (Caren Kaplan).

Alexander C. T. Geppert, ed. Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Astroculture, which is a term coined by Geppert in this context, 'comprises a heterogeneous array of images and artifacts, media and practices that all aim to ascribe meaning to outer space while stirring both the individual and the collective imagination' (8). It also has obvious parallels, continuities and overlaps with airmindedness. Indeed, while aviation doesn't feature prominently in this book I can see some connections with my own interests: for example, in Geppert's insistence that for astroculture science fiction and science fact are complementary, not contradictory (in my book, I argue the same with respect to the knock-out blow theory); in the interest of the contributors in UFOs, including an essay by Pierre Lagrange on sociology and ghost rockets (a transitional point in the evolution of UFOs from mystery aircraft to extraterrestrial spacecraft), and the participation of Guillaume de Syon, who I know of as the author of Zeppelin! (2002) but here writes on space travel in French-language comic strips. Other topics include the Tunguska event (Claudia Schmölders), Space: 1999 (Henry Keazor), Arthur C. Clarke (Thore Bjørnvig), von Neumann machines and SETI (Gonzalo Munévar), the Pioneer plaques (William Macauley), East Germany and von Braun (Michael Neufeld), changing science fictional uses of Mars (Rainer Eisfeld), and space and imagination (Stephen Dick, author of the brilliant The Biological Universe).

Alastair Gordon. Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. The author is an architectural critic, so the focus is largely on airport terminals and to a lesser extent airport design generally. Most of the book concentrates on the pre-1970 period; in fact there's a gratifyingly chunky chapter on the pre-1930. Lots of great contemporary illustrations, including architectural sketches of never-built airports, but I'm also going to complain here that they are too small and and a bit murky, and also that they tend towards showing off the architecture rather than how they were actually used. But I suppose that goes with this territory.

David Seed, ed. Future Wars: The Anticipations and the Fears. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012. Though it's not described as such, this is almost a posthumous festschrift for I. F. Clarke: it's published by the same press that brought out most of his histories of the wars to come, it opens with his 'Future-war fiction: the first main phase, 1871-1900' and ends with a checklist of his writing. In between there are essays on On the Beach (Brian Baker), John Wyndham (David Ketterer), Iain M. Banks (Patricia Kerslake), (again!) changing science fictional uses of Mars (Robert Crossley), and the uses of future-war fiction in modelling risk after 9/11 (Michael Matin).

Gary Sheffield and Peter Gray, eds. Changing War: The British Army, the Hundred Days Campaign, and the Birth of the Royal Air Force, 1918. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Yet another edited collection. As the title suggests, this has essays on relatively uninteresting things to do with the British Army in 1918, if you like that sort of thing, as well as three on aspects of close air support in the same period (David Jordan, Simon Coningham, Alistair McCluskey), two on the origins of the RAF (Gray, Christopher Luck), and one on the role of aviation logistics (Peter Dye).

Dietmar Süss. Death from the Skies: How the British and Germans Survived Bombing in World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Review copy (not for Airminded). I'm looking forward to reading this comparative study of the experiences of the British and German people under aerial bombardment. It's very much from the ground view, not the aerial one: there are chapters on such thing as shelter life, religion, morale, the postwar memory and debates, and the prewar imagination of bombing; topics covered include children at war, rumour, just war, mourning, and reconstruction. I think there's still room for an analytical history of the Blitz, but this weighs in at nearly 550 pages, excluding endnotes, etc; so half of that amounts to a reasonable-sized book on the bombing of Britain, and in fact the comparative dimension should prove highly illuminating.


Ron Gretton, Geoff Matthews and James Kightly. Bristol Boxkites at Point Cook: Commemorating the Centenary of Australian Military Aviation 1914-2014. Werribee: Project 2014, 2014. In 1995 a group of volunteers decided to build a flying replica of the first Australian military aircraft, a Bristol Boxkite. It first flew late last year, and flew again at the Centenary of Military Aviation 2014 Air Show held at Point Cook just last week -- appropriately, since the centenary being marked is that of the first Australian military Boxkite flight, which took place at Point Cook in 1914. This is a handsome and well-illustrated volume covering the origins and history of the Boxkite, including that historic first flight, as well as the construction and first flight of the replica, now part of the RAAF Museum's collection. You can order a copy from the Boxkite 2014 website; I got one for free because James Kightly AKA JDK was part of the project, and asked me to do some research on how the first flights were reported in the Australian press.

Richard Lamb. The Drift to War: 1922-1939. London: Bloomsbury, 1991. A narrative history, based on some archival research, of British diplomacy with respect to the German problem (there are only two or three chapters on period before Hitler, so don't be misled by the 1922 in the subtitle). Unsurprisingly unfavourable to Chamberlain, from the looks of it. A freeby.