Acquisitions

Bryn Hammond. Cambrai 1917: The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle. London: Phoenix, 2009. I was telling my students about Cambrai only yesterday... well, I mentioned it to them, anyway. Hammond argues that it was the improved British artillery doctrine that was the key breakthrough at Cambrai, rather than the massed tank assault it is usually remembered for.

Liz Millward. Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008. A pioneering gender history of aviatrices in the British Empire, including Lady Heath, Amy Johnson, and above all the New Zealander Jean Batten. Not only is this potentially relevant to my aerial spectacle project, but Millward has more recently been looking at flying displays. So I need to pay attention.

H. G. Wells. The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr Bert Smallways Fared while it Lasted. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1941. 3rd edition. I already own a copy of The War in the Air, but it's a modern edition. Yes, I'm one of those people.

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Kristen Alexander. Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain. Sydney: NewSouth, 2014. As an Australian, every time I watch Battle of Britain I notice the mention of the 21 Australian pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, and the 14 who were killed (these numbers are actually undercounts). This is the story of eight of them before, during, and after; only one of whom survived.

Carolyn Holbrook. Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography. Sydney: NewSouth, 2014. How and why did Anzac become as important to Australians as it undoubtedly is today? It wasn't always so, as Carolyn's book shows. The PhD on which this is based won the Serle Award for best Australian thesis at the AHA last month, which is as auspicious an omen as you could hope for.

Bruce Scates. On Dangerous Ground: A Gallipoli Story. Crawley: UWA Press, 2012. Bruce gave the Russel Ward Lecture at UNE last night, on ways of telling the postwar stories of returned soldiers, using still-to-be-digitised repatriation records and moving pictures (in both senses of the phrase). But more importantly I got a free copy of his first novel, just for sitting in the first couple of rows of the audience! Winning.

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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.

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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.

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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!