Philipp von Hillgers. War Games: A History of War on Paper. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2012. Really only traces one strand of the history of wargaming, the abstract 'German' one which passes through 19th-century Kriegspiel and not the boardgame-style 'American' one or the 'British' miniatures one (not that these aren't abstract, or purely American or British for that matter). But it's the oldest one: von Hillgers starts with medieval rithmomachia and continues through various proto-wargames from early modern Europe. He finally pitches up at German general staff wargames in the interwar period. The phrase 'Hilbert space' seems to occur more frequently than I would have expected (von Hillgers is a historian of mathematics). Has a curiously strokable dust jacket.

Richard North. The Many not the Few: The Stolen History of the Battle of Britain. London and New York: Continuum, 2012. I picked up this book with high hopes, but a few pages in my heart is starting to sink. It's looking like a polemic masquerading as history. It has its origins in a Battle of Britain post-blog, and although more research has been done it retains a chronological format, from 10 July to 31 October 1940. Nothing wrong with that; my own (far less extensive!) effort made me look at the received narrative of the Battle in a new way too. And I like the shift in focus from the aerial battles to the effects and perceptions on the ground: I have argued before that we need to consider the Battle and the Blitz as an integrated whole, not artificially divide them as has been done for the last seventy years. The July raids are particularly neglected, as is everywhere outside of London, so I look forward to North's treatment here. But so far most of the breathless claims of a radical new interpretation appear to be, well, nothing new. The working-class 'occupation' of the Savoy Hotel's shelter. The RAF's overestimates of combat kills. The struggle over opening tube stations as shelters. Four of sixteen plates are devoted to air-sea rescue -- apparently the idea that the Germans were much better at this than the British is a new one, even though I seem to recall coming across it in just about every book on the Battle I've ever read. The bibliography is patchy at best; it's okay on recently-published work, but there are many books I'd expect to see which are missing (no Calder's The Myth of the Blitz? no Titmuss or O'Brien) and some I'm surprised to see (three by David Irving, for example, though only one is about a Nazi so maybe it's alright). Lots and lots of URLs (including Airminded, it must be noted) but no peer-reviewed articles. The prewar context is given in about one page ('the bomber will always get through', Things To Come, Guernica). As for the central thesis, that the bravery and suffering of the millions of Britons under bombardment which was the real key to victory has been forgotten and even 'stolen' -- really? I know North has heard of the 'Blitz spirit' because he has an entry for it in his index, so I'll be curious to see what he can mean by this. Seems to me the idea is quite thoroughly entrenched in British culture by now. Anyway. I don't know much about North, who has a PhD in (I think) political science, but all his previous books appear to be as polemical as this so this, usually with an anti-government theme, so appears to be more of the same. But we'll see.

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32 thoughts on “Acquisitions

  1. "The Many not the Few: The Stolen History of the Battle of Britain", thanks! I was hoping for your review on this since I noticed it added to your library thing account :)

  2. Post author

    Well, it's not a review since I haven't read it yet, just my first impressions. But having read up to 23 July, I'm afraid those impressions have largely been confirmed. It's good on some things, such as the 'Silent Column' campaign and criminal sentences for people making defeatist statements. Some problems, such as poor copy-editing, are the fault of the publisher (and Continuum are usually pretty good). And you know, when he calls the radar network 'Chain High' (when it should be Chain Home), I think, there but for the grace of god... But bizarrely, when referring to the commander of the Kriegsmarine North writes Räder instead of Raeder throughout. I've never seen this spelling before. Yes, umlauts are often anglicised in this way -- Goering instead of Göring, for example -- but in this case, Raeder is how it is written in German sources (for example, in his obituary in Der Spiegel). More seriously, he uses newspaper sources indiscriminately, particularly non-British ones -- he appears, for example, to take reports of peace feelers and the like at face value, making no attempt to check the veracity of these rumours against the secondary literature on diplomacy during the war. The discussion of aircraft and aircrew losses is simplistic; there's been no consideration of the question of reserves and replacements so far, all he does is tally up the number of losses on a particular day and declares whichever side has the fewest to be the 'winner'. (On the other hand, I do like that he includes Bomber Command and Coastal Command losses in his figures.) He correctly picks up on the fact that Bomber Command's activities are at least as prominent in the press as Fighter Command's (even this early, in July) but because his book almost completely lacks any consideration of the interwar RAF (or indeed, anything at all before 10 July 1940) he appears to not understand the faith placed in the bomber and in Bomber Command and is at a loss to explain this beyond inter-command rivalry.

    Yeah, I don't think I'll be giving this one many stars on LibraryThing!

  3. Errolwi

    Did you see the punch-up about the marketing approach for the book on forums such as Key Publishing? I am unsurprised by your evaluation so far.

  4. Bret, you tell us that you "have argued before that we need to consider the Battle and the Blitz as an integrated whole, not artificially divide them as has been done for the last seventy years".

    You also tell us that you have not read my book, and your piece simply represents your first impressions.

    Well, when you have read the book, you will find that this is the theme of the book, only it goes further - much further. It argues that there were three elements, what I end up calling the "blockade", the invasion and the attack on morale, all three with a single strategic objective, to take Britain out of the war.

    Thus I argue for the integration of all three parts, to be considered together, not as separate elements.

    I then go further. The Nazi way of making war was to integrate propaganda and diplomacy with military might, seeking to achieve a moral effect, leading to the collapse of the opposing nation. I thus concluded that the most important element of the battle was not the daylight war, but the attack on morale, of which the Blitz was part, and the element which was moist likely to be successful, and which very nearly succeeded.

    With that, then address the central question, which other authors (many of them), who won the battle of Britain? This is usually argued in terms of the RAF or the Navy ... or some such. I argue that the people won the battle, in frustrating the most realisable objective of the Nazis, and did it largely without the aid of their own government ... ins spite of, not because of.

    To come to these conclusions, I must revisit the period, but I do so in my own terms. This is not a conventional rehash - you will find, within the space limitations, each day offers a "potted history" of the air, sea, "home front" battles, the German dimension, plus the diplomatic and political highlights.

    Very little of that is strictly new - some is, as I use a lot of primary sources - but I have not seen the narrative done in this way. Superficially, it may look similar to other treatments, but it is different.

    Further, I then find Churchill was making tactical and strategic decisions both for domestic political reasons, and to achieve his own primary strategic objective - to bring the US into the war. In pursuit of both, it suited him to talk up the daylight air war, and the invasion threat, and downplay the idea of the People's War, and the role of the people.

    Overall, then, this is a very different book ... more subtle than most treatments, even if the format is superficially similar to other treatments. It recognises that politics were an inherent part of the battle, that Churchill, as well as being a war leader, was also a politician, seeking political advantage over his own domestic opposition, as well as the external enemy.

    Without reading the book, you may want to call it a polemic. You also call yourself a historian. I hope you do not write history that way - making your mind up before you have seen the evidence.

  5. Bret, and by the way ...

    All these sources use the form Räder ... I took advice from a native German speaker. He advised me that if I was to use the umlaut, then I should be consistent.

    In any event, this is a very small point, so I am intrigued that you found it important enough to make it an issue.

  6. Gopher

    Unlike Brett, I have read the book, and found it to add a new dimension to my understanding of WW2.

    Look at any modern history post-war and it centres around political persons and events. You could be forgiven for thinking that during WW2, politics had taken a back seat and that we were all united as one to defeat a common foe. North demonstrates this was clearly not the case with class politics running as strong as ever.

    And in the final analysis, looking at the culture that has followed, based on essentially a media hyped extrapolation of events; that of the battle being won by a few brave men and their spitfires, was one very much manufactured by the political elites to present it as a victory BY the elites, when in fact, the more significant elements of the war in this period were much more pressing and much more strategically significant to the wars outcome.

    I wouldn't call it a stolen history as such, but certainly an ignored one. I wouldn't go as far as calling it a polemic either, more a correction to popularly held perceptions of a largely misunderstood element of WW2.

    As to the tone of Bretts comments, to be so pompous suggest to me that he doesn't like people treading on *his* turf. Another academic seeking to own the issue. And for someone to preach on editing values who hasn't mastered the concept paragraphs... well, I have to assume he is not entirely serious.

  7. Gopher

    Where I disagree with the book, is the title premise that it is a stolen history. It isn't. It is one simply willfully ignored.

    No man grows up dreaming of what it's like to be in the hold of a cargo ship freezing his ass off. We all wanted to be train drivers and fighter pilots, and the imagery of the Battle of Britain is easily romanticised ...and that's why the legend has outgrown its historical significance.

    We are attracted to romantic struggles, real or not, and we are all suckers for shiny machines fighting the good fight. The Avro Anson was probably a more significant aircraft of the era but it doesn't have the sex appeal of a Merlin powered steed. And thus the myth grows among men.

    It is in our nature to romanticise war. Come to think of it, it is in our nature to to edit the bad things from our memories. Why else do we hark back to golden ages that never existed?

    Is it surprising (or beyond possibility) that the Battle of Britain took on a life of its own when every boy born past 1945 was brought up with an array of comics and boys books covering the exploits of brave men and their flying machines?

    The dirty, gruesome reality of WW2 is not nearly as strongly referenced in literature as the trenches of WW1. The man on the ground, and the men down the mines and the men on the cargo ships, sitting wating in fear for their lives for days on end... that's always in the "not forgetting the brave others" part of the politicians speech on any remembrance day.

    We all know the rest went on and it was bloody and gruesome, but our reference to it as a society is a throat clearing exercise. Norths book is an attempt to put the Battle of Britian back into its proper context, and to give the war a much more grown up perspective.

    Go to any airshow today and the sons of the war babies show their own sons what a Spitfire is. But to them, an Avro Anson is just a twin engined "transport plane". And that I believe is what drives Norths thinking. Our understanding of the battle is incomplete, overstated, and when you super-impose popular understanding of its significance over its ACTUAL significance, everything that followed is based on a misunderstanding at best, at worst, a myth.

    Consequently, our taken-for-granted understading of the battle should be re-evaluated and questioned as a matter of urgency, since those events still shape the politics of today. That, I believe is the point of the book, not pedantic, hair-splitting of factoids that other writers engage in.

  8. Thanks for the link to your blog / website, Richard. It's certainly saved me some time. Whenever I feel I'm missing Britain, I'll remember it.

    I've re-read Brett's comments, and it seems again to me that he's been careful to state these are initial impressions, not a final review. It is certainly frustrating to feel that one's work is being misread or treated poorly - however that fate is the author's lot, and there are ways of responding to the issue - but ultimately it's crucial to win the reader over.

    I'd say you've posed some interesting questions and concepts here, and in your blog. (I'm thinking of your statement seeing the German war machine as "seeking to achieve a moral effect, leading to the collapse of the opposing nation" and the view of Churchill as a politician foremost and trying to inveigle the US into a war they wanted no part of.) But they hardly as radical as you'd like us to agree with you they are; and what I've read beyond doesn't encourage me to follow your take on them, though, sorry. I'd hope for more evaluation and critical rather than condemnatory examination of varying points of view.

    Brett is qualified to can himself an historian. I'm not (but I do spend a good deal of time subbing). That begs a question.

    It is indeed a small point, but your editor should have advised on the umlaut, and it is interesting that the sources I've quickly checked (in English and German, not a selection including an internally inconsistent Spanish one, Dutch and Danish) usually present Raeder (without the umlaut) next to Dönitz (with - I hope the software manages that!), an interesting initial clue. Native speakers are a useful source of advice, but not a final, decisive, one. It's perhaps not important, and Brett pointed out we all have such things in our works.

    One other word stands out in your explanation of your book - 'subtle'. It certainly a good word to let reviewers and others use. I'm afraid it's not a word that comes to my mind as much as forthright.

  9. The reason I called it a "stolen history" is because, in 1942, what was to become "Battle of Britain Day" was originally called "Civil Defence Day", and celebrated as such in 1942. Then, there was a march past of all the groups involved, from fireman to nurses and Air Raid Wardens.

    Quite deliberately, in 1943, it was hijacked and turned into a celebration of The Few. By 1945, it was completely an RAF event, and no-one else got a look in.

  10. Gopher

    Yes, but when hasn't the RAF stamped all over everything ceremonial (and political) with all its pompous might?

    The point I'm making, is that you could have put the whole story right in front of people at the time, but grown men to this day would still be making plastic models of spitfires while humming the dam busters theme tune. People are largely ignorant of their own history because they prefer to be, and much prefer to trade trump card factoids about aeroplanes than look at what actually happened. And most historians are no different.

  11. JDK - Thanks for your observations.

    "Radical" is what the blurb says - publishers indulge in hyperbole because that is what they feel sells books. I don't argue with them ... they are supposed to be the marketing professionals who know what they are doing.

    I used the word "subtle" because it reflects not so much my book as the battle. It was far more subtle and nuanced than the conventional "shoot 'em up" narrative would have you believe, where Churchill was having to balance many competing demands and fight a propaganda battle on the home front as well as in the USA.

    Thus, events, per se, were at times less important than how they were perceived, and there was an enormous effort to shape the battle in such a way that it conveyed the desired message - not least because the powers that be feared a collapse of morale more than anything else.

    An eye opener for me was the treatment of the attack on Dover Harbour, which was applauded as a"victory" for the RAF, with no ships damaged, despite the major damage to HMS Sandhurst. Such was the degree of news manipulation that the three firemen getting George Medals that day was not linked to the events of that day, and the Gazette was heavily censored.

    What is further of great interest is how many of the myths and quite deliberate deceits of the time survive to shape the modern perception of the battle.

    To get to the bottom of this, as I remark in the foreword, will take more than one book, but I found myself looking at the battle anew, and found it far more interesting than I had been led to believe. One hopes that others will attempt to do the same.

  12. Christopher

    It seems to me that Richard is saying that his book starts with an agenda - always a dangerous thing I would think in a work of history. Still not an unusual approach and often employed in the historical and semi-historical world though sometimes in disguise. Brett's initial comments seemed to me to be very fair and also gave me the basis on which to evaluate whether I would explore the book further. Personally I have very little time for the 'it was the people who won it not the leaders' approach that seems to be the thrust of the book. This is just as sloppy as those histories which focus on the leaders and stars as it were. I am also always suspicious of a historian who has to explain the theme of his book - this should be clear from the introduction. I await further comments with interest.

  13. Christopher - I do not think, by any stretch of the imagination, that I have said that the book starts with an agenda. My stock in trade is research, more so that writing. That is how I make my living.

    What I have said is that the writing initially started with an "agenda" - simply to applaud The Few. When I found the conventional narrative didn't stand up, then I started doing some background research, from which a different narrative emerged. I thus let the facts speak for themselves.

    Why the book needs explaining - here at least - is because the book is being misrepresented. This would not be the first time that has happened - especially by people who have not read (or understood) the book, and it is by no means the first time an author has had to defend his own work.

    As to the "people won it", theme - the evidence speaks for itself. Ample evidence exists that the aim of the so-called "blitz" was an attack on the morale of the people. Technology (in the bomber) had allowed the aggressor to by-pass the armies and attack the civilian population directly.

    Thus, a crucial element of the "battle of Britain" - or the battle for Britain, as it was sometimes called - was the Luftwaffe versus the people. The people stood firm, while the leadership prevaricated about shelter policy, seeking to exclude people from the Tubes. In that sense, the people did win the battle. It is not an artefact, and the event had significant political implications.

    As to whether Bret has been "fair", that is not for me to judge. However, in his own words, he has developed an a priori hypothesis. If he is the historian he claims to be, he will now give it a fair test.

  14. Christopher

    Richard - a look at your website indicates that a lot of your research is very much agenda driven and your associates further reinforce this impression. I would say it could be thought to be disingenuous to deny such an agenda in your latest work. I took a look at the pages on Amazon as well and find it disturbing that you reference David Irving - a proven liar. However, the main thought that comes to mind is that non of the material is really new and that the insights presented whilst interesting do not represent anything that has not already been discussed in other works. This is not in itself a crime as a synthesis of previous work can always be a useful thing to have around but to claim it is something new is probably going a bit too far. What you view as a victory for the people more fits your agenda than the actuallity. You also commit the cardinal sin of supposing that the fighter pilots are not part of the people. I may be doing you a diservice but I think on balance I am not. In short Brett's review has been very fair and reasonable. A final note - I note that most of the reivews of your book on Amazon seem to be favourable but I am left with the feeling that these are from your accolytes and that you are not entirely unaware of this fact. To misquote Shakespeare 'Methinks you protest too much'

  15. Muddling the popular myths of the Battle of Britain with the greater depth understanding, writing and insights of historians seems to be the fundamental problem with the presentation of Richard's book.

    ....more subtle and nuanced than the conventional "shoot 'em up" narrative would have you believe...
    I can't think of any historian's work on the Battle or 1940 that fits this description.

    All the credible historians and writers on the Battle of Britain period recognise the multiple facets of the story and what happened and the mythologising on it. To tell us that historians are working off some simplistic version (actually Richard's own starting point) and then present us with well known facts and narratives and then tell us we don't know them and, further, don't properly appreciate them is hardly 'selling' the book to the unbiassed (but informed) potential reader. The more I see the more I'm awaiting Brett's full review, because I'm not being encouraged to read it by the author's approach or statements - most odd, as that's hardly serving the author's or publisher's interests.

    "Radical" is what the blurb says - publishers indulge in hyperbole because that is what they feel sells books. I don't argue with them ... they are supposed to be the marketing professionals who know what they are doing.
    Perhaps you should have the conversation about marketing with them; clearly you aren't on the same agenda, which isn't a good idea. Better than telling people who are reasonably well informed that they aren't and they need to see it your way.

    I make no claims to be an historian, but I do have a quarter century in the book trade. Patronising your publisher and complaining in public about the quality of the proofreading (as you've done on Amazon) isn't a good look either. We all err, but it remains a fact that it is with the author's work where the proofreading (and marketing) starts, and final responsibility also rests with the author. Yes, for the marketing of the book too.

    It is a pity, because there are clearly some interesting ideas that perhaps deserve greater exposure. But they aren't new, and more crucially still, there seems to be some less well known related material - such as where and when morale did collapse that have evidently been missed.

    Oh, by the way, 'Gopher' - you'll note here that all the other posters have their real names, and most link to further details. You'll understand, I hope, that your anonymity and arrival shortly after Richard's post does raise a number of questions.

  16. JDK - it seems to me that the only muddling going on is in your own comments, and in the assumptions you are making. And I don't know quite why you are getting so worked up about peripheral issues, or why you feel it necessary to instruct me as to what I should or should not do on these matters.

    As to the myth I am addressing, you might care to refer to the IWM website, which is still current. For your reference and education, it tells us that:

    The Battle of Britain was the aerial conflict between British and German air forces in the skies over the United Kingdom in the summer and autumn of 1940. It was one of the most important moments in Britain’s twentieth century history and a decisive turning point of the Second World War. Royal Air Force Fighter Command defeated the Luftwaffe’s attempt to gain air supremacy over southern England and saved Britain from German invasion and conquest".*

    I address the 1940 Air Ministry narrative, the Dowding narrative, and, of course, the Churchill narrative - which you would also have known if you had read the book - as well as the version the Battle of Britain film .

    Nowhere, however, will you find actual criticism of any named historian, and in fact recall praising Mason, upon whom I rely for some of the air narrative.

    Nevertheless, I am sure that all "credible" historians will appreciate you, as their self-appointed representative, rushing to their defence, but since I have not actually attacked any (credible of not), one wonders why you judge them to be in such dire need of your services.


  17. Gopher

    "Oh, by the way, 'Gopher' - you'll note here that all the other posters have their real names, and most link to further details. You'll understand, I hope, that your anonymity and arrival shortly after Richard's post does raise a number of questions."

    Does it make any difference for you to know that my name is Dave Hobson or Jeff Sinclair or Lisa Simpson? Should I upload a copy of my passport? Or is it that you suspect that in real life I am not really a gopher? Where is your evidence? On what grounds do you suspect this of me?

    Does it in any way invalidate my opinion that I choose not to post my name on the internet? Does it change the fact that it is an opinion?

    For the record, I am a reader of North's blog and have read the book (unlike some round here). Is it beyond the realm of possibility that I might have happend upon this post? Or would it matter if North had personally directed me to this post? Does North hold a gun to my head and force me to write these things?

    Why I might of said something does not change the fact that I said it, it is MY opinion, and if you would like to take me up on any part of it I might gladly debate with you.

    But since you believe there are sinister motives for me having the opinion I hold, then I guess there's not much chance of either and enlightening or grown up debate. So without resorting to profanity, have a middle finger and enjoy the rest of your day ...and be sure to check under your bed for monsters at bed time.

  18. That's certainly cleared that up then! As Alan Allport said earlier, DNFTT.

    "Nowhere, however, will you find actual criticism of any named historian."
    Apart from right here...

    Ah, well. Onto books and authors worth the time.

  19. Christopher

    "But since you believe there are sinister motives for me having the opinion I hold, then I guess there's not much chance of either and enlightening or grown up debate. So without resorting to profanity, have a middle finger and enjoy the rest of your day"

    I would say 'Gopher' that this comment indicates that the ability to have a grown up debate would need further practice on your part. I too had tagged you as an acolyte of Richard and was interested in the Freudian implications of the choice of your handle - 'Gopher'. A word of caution, here, to Richard. The Second World War in history is a very 'hot' issue despite the time since it's termination. A thin skin is not necessarily a good thing to have if you wish to enter the arena.

  20. JDK - Anyone familiar with "troll" behaviour on forums and comment threads will be hard put to it to claim that the responses here have any such characteristics. Rather, your responses are more akin to that seen on the Key Publishing forum, where the most voluble critics ran away and hid the moment they were challenged.

    Not anywhere have you actually engaged with the issues raised in the book - and you even play with words, pretending I have said things I have not, in order to avoid addressing arguments.

    Thus do you seem intent on dancing round the edges, evading anything that approaches honest or reasoned criticism. And if that is your normal style, you are probably best off running away, leaving the field to the grown-ups. You don't actually have anything to offer that is worth considering.

  21. Christopher - how kind of you to offer me advice. However, I would look elsewhere on this thread for the thin skins. And when you are prepared to drag yourself away from the myths and look at some history, please let me know. It would then be interesting to have an adult discussion, instead of having to deal with ranks of defensive babies.

  22. Post author


    First off, what is Gopher's relationship to you? Please note, I'm not asking because I don't know the answer.

    It gives me no pleasure to say this, but after having read The Many not the Few in its entirety I find that my initial impressions are confirmed. It's not a terrible book, but it's not a very good one either. You've dug up a lot of interesting material (the bit you mention above about Civil Defence Day was new to me and I'm curious to know more) and asked some interesting questions. There are things I agree with you on -- as I mentioned, I too think it would be helpful to look at the Blitz and the Battle (e.g. see here and here) and sure, throw in the blockade too; and I'm pleased to see that you've picked up on the fact that when Churchill made his speech about 'the Few' he was mostly talking about Bomber Command -- lots of people (including historians) don't. But the book shows clear signs of being rushed into print, your research (both primary and secondary) is shallow, and you routinely make claims and judgements which are unsupported by the evidence you present or are simply poorly thought out.

    Unlike JDK, I'm inclined to blame the publisher for the typos, grammar lapses, and other errors (some of which I haven't seen before -- in a couple of places there are what are obviously quotes from primary sources, but are not in any way marked as such -- eg 125). Sure, they may have been there in the submitted manuscript but it's the editor's job to find those and correct them. Having said that, I am yet to go through the publishing process myself so I could be wrong about where the blame lies...

    The shallowness of the research is the biggest problem. This was my point about 'Räder' vs 'Raeder'. It's a rookie mistake. If you had done any serious reading in German military history you would know that it is never spelled 'Räder', even when the writer is fluent in German and consistently writes, e.g., Göring instead of the common English form Goering (e.g. Ian Kershaw's Hitler biography, or Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms). The reason it is never spelled that way is because he himself spelled it 'Raeder'. (Same with Goebbels -- he spelled it that way, not Göbbels as you have it.) You can cite Spanish Wikipedia all you like but looking at German Wikipedia would have served you better (compare here with here). Even so, it might not matter so much, except that you are making claims about German military history, about German strategy, about Hitler's intentions, about the Luftwaffe. I don't feel confident that you have done the depth of reading required to understand this field. The same goes for British history. As I noted above you don't cite very many works of British history either -- often just a website (sometimes simply a Wikipedia link -- you have a PhD, I shouldn't need to tell you this is not good enough for serious scholarship) -- and when you do it is often inappropriate (as a source on the use of tube stations as air raid shelters in WWI you cite a biography of the architect Ove Arup). This unfamiliarity with the work that has already been done leads you to overestimate the novelty of what you are saying -- for example when you claim that J. B. Priestley's BBC 'Postscripts' have been 'Largely written out of contemporary histories' (348). To the contrary, their popularity and significance have been widely recognised. If you'd read Angus Calder's The Myth of the Blitz, a key text on the Blitz, you'd know that. It's precisely because you claim that history has been 'stolen' that it is incumbent upon you to understand the historiography, to critique it and show where it falls short, not just claim that it does. By the way, you say that you 'Nowhere' criticise any historian, but you do -- where you say that Richard Overy 'wants us to see ourselves reliant on the elite' (5) in his The Battle. There's nothing wrong with that, though; you needed to do it much more. For example, since it is your ultimate conclusion that the botched government response to sheltering the people (and rescuing the pilots -- now I see why you place such heavy emphasis on this) means that we (or rather you -- I'm not British) should not trust the government so much, you really should have dealt with Richard Titmuss's influential thesis, in his official history Social Policy, that it is effectively the experience of the Blitz which led to the welfare state. Why, for example, did the people who lived through the Blitz and experienced all those failures of government then turn around and vote for Attlee and the NHS etc in 1945? You don't attempt to explain this.

    As for my third general criticism, I'll give two examples (in addition to the ones already noted, which remain valid after reading the whole book -- like the simplistic treatment of aircraft losses: for some reason you think it significant if you can work out that the RAF lost more aircraft than the Luftwaffe on any given day, but never discuss the issues of production, reinforcements and replacements). You repeatedly refer to Fighter Command as 'the airborne equivalent of the Maginot Line' (218), the idea being that the Luftwaffe 'went around' the strong daytime defences and attacked at night. This is facile. It might make sense if the Wehrmacht had battered futilely against the Maginot Line before deciding to attack through the Ardennes instead; or if the Blitz had actually worked and knocked Britain out of the war. Or perhaps instead we should start describing any defensive line which is weaker in one spot than in others as a 'Maginot Line' (hint: it's pretty much all of them). Second example: your treatment of Fighter Command's claims of enemy aircraft shot down (yes, greatly inflated as has long been known). Nowhere that I can see do you discuss how these claims were arrived at (apart from mentioning the introduction of gun cameras, and quoting a Mass-Observation diarist with no actual knowledge of the process). But this doesn't stop you from repeatedly insinuating that the inflation was propaganda or otherwise the fantasy of backroom boys. (At one point you sneeringly refer 'the fine-suited gentlemen in RAF Fighter Command' (220) -- did they not wear RAF uniforms?) What was the actual process for filtering and assessing the claims made by pilots? I have no idea from your book.

    Look, this is not about anyone treading on my turf. I don't own history and I don't own this topic. You don't need a PhD in history to be a good historian (though of course I would argue that it helps, otherwise I wouldn't have done one). Stephen Bungay wrote an excellent book on the Battle of Britain which changed my view of it in a number of respects, and he's a management consultant (though he did also do a DPhil in philosophy). I would happily cite Bungay's book in my academic work and I would happily have cited yours, if I thought it was up to scratch. I'm disappointed that I can't. As I say I take no pleasure in saying any of this. But you did rather bring it upon yourself by coming here and reacting with such brittleness to what I and other have said here. If it's any consolation, I'm sure your book will do well; I bought my copy in a well-known quality bookshop here in Melbourne and it wasn't the only one they had in stock either.

    PS it's Brett, not Bret.

  23. Brett - I am sorry that your name is up in lights, misspelt ... unfortunately your system does not allow corrections. Thank you for being so candid, and to return the favour, I will be likewise.

    Firstly, for one who is punctilious to the point of pedantry, you should read your own writing - specifically where you assert that my book is "not a terrible book, but it's not a very good one either". Thus do you assert as fact what is actually opinion. For an academic, that is seriously sloppy.

    I could continue in such a vein, except that this is about my book, not your writing. I note, though, that you also assert that I "routinely make claims and judgements which are unsupported by the evidence". Turning that round, you could also say that I routinely make claims and judgements which are supported by the evidence.

    This is not an academic thesis (I already have my PhD and I don't need another one). I took a judgement that too many references would be intrusive, and therefore I was selective about what I referenced and what I did not. The book was for the popular market - not for the self-referential academic pedants.

    As to being rushed into print - yes it was. The publishers, inefficient at best, excelled themselves this time. They got the m/s in good time, and then sat on it for moths doing absolutely nothing. Then, everything had to be done in a rush, including removing a substantial number of mistakes introduced in the production process.

    Here, we agree on something. It is wholly unrealistic to expect authors to be able to proof their own work to the standard required for publication. It can't be done ... the author is too close to the text and it needs a fresh eye. However, admittedly under pressure themselves, the publishers are cutting more and more corners, dumping more and more on the authors, for very little reward. The point was made on Amazon about proofing - there are not that many mistakes. But those that are are irritating, and should not be there. I do blame the publisher, whatever JDK might think.

    As to the 'Räder' vs 'Raeder', if it is a mistake, I would rather it was not there. To deal with the hyper-pedantry, if I get the opportunity, I will remove it. But I did consult, and the publishers put the book out for copy editing, and no-one complained about it.

    However, while you devote over 200 words in your critique to this issue, in the grander scheme of things, it really is not that important. It does not change the underlying theses, or affect the arguments.

    As to my sources, here I think you are not so much pedantic as missing the point. I was trying to draw up a narrative from contemporary sources, using as much primary material as I could, and therefore used a great deal of material from newspapers published at the time and official records.

    Thus, you make great play about Angus Calder, which I enjoyed hugely. You invoke the spectre of the polemic, but if we want a left wing polemicist, then , then that is Calder. I refer to his "People's War", but took the view that "Myth of the Blitz" was a derivative pot-boiler.

    Yes Calder refers to the popularity of Priestly, and so do I, but that really isn't the point. My point is that there was an unrecognised dialogue going on between Priestley and Churchill, over the issue of "war aims". The extent of this dialogue is is glossed over by most historians, and certainly by Calder. Yet, politically, this was the driving force behind domestic politics , and is central to my thesis that the domestic political battle was about two visions of society, that of the the elites and of the "people".

    By the way, I live in Bradford, home of Priestley, and am in touch with Bradford University and the Priestley society. While you seem to have missed the point completely, people over here agree there is some merit in the idea of there being that dialogue, and its importance.

    A last word in that - you disagree with my assertion that Priestley was "largely written out of contemporary histories", by quoting one ... Calder, who does not do him justice. Are you over-interpreting what I write. I state "largely", not "completely" - there are thousands of books on WW2/Battle of Britain. How many mention Priestley? My point stands.

    Without now dwelling on this too long, and over-length, as you develop your theme, you ask me why "the people who lived through the Blitz and experienced all those failures of government then turn around and vote for Attlee and the NHS etc in 1945?"

    The answer is actually outside the scope of this book. I am dealing with the Battle of Britain myth, not the 1945 election. The making of the answer is there, however, if you turn the question round. The 1940 government was seen largely as Tory ... and the failure of the shelter policy most definitely a Tory failure. The Tories went into the war with a majority in the polls - they emerged in 1942 behind Labour and stayed there until the election.

    There are many other points I could address in similar terms, and my not so doing does not imply agreement with you - simply, this cannot be too long a response.

    I think your problem, Brett, is that you came to this book with pre-conceived notions ... the indications were that your were already biased against it before you read it in detail, and simply conformed your own prejudices.

    At least, in this instance, you have taken the time out to explain your prejudices, in a relatively courteous fashion. For that I thank you.

  24. Sorry ... I haven't closed the italics ... rushing into print! I still have my blog to write and it is late. I've put a closure code here .

    I do hate comments that can't be ediited.

  25. Post author

    Firstly, for one who is punctilious to the point of pedantry, you should read your own writing - specifically where you assert that my book is "not a terrible book, but it's not a very good one either". Thus do you assert as fact what is actually opinion. For an academic, that is seriously sloppy.

    Say what? Of course that's my opinion, what else would it be? What a bizarre criticism.

    I see you did not answer my question about your relationship to Gopher. I will come right out now and say that he is not, as he claimed simply 'a reader of North's blog', he's actually your son, Pete North, who is also one of the editors of your blog. I know this because he kindly provided his email address when commenting; and when I put that address into Facebook, that's who comes up. He's friends with you on Facebook too. (I have screenshots if anyone's interested.) Sure, this could be faked, but Gopher's email address is not publicly available (that is, Google doesn't find it) and why would anyone care enough to bother? And it fits with the suspicions that others have formed (e.g. at the Key Publishing forum) about the previously unknown people who mysteriously turn up whenever anyone dares to criticise your work. Is getting your son to comment in the guise of a disinterested third party sockpuppetry? I don't know but whatever it is I won't be tolerating it. You've had more than a fair chance to have your say; any future comments from you, 'Gopher' or anyone else I find suspicious will be deleted. Goodbye.

  26. There seems to have been some confusion over my remarks regarding publishing and whose responsibility rests where. I said: "... fact that it is with the author's work where the proofreading (and marketing) starts, and final responsibility also rests with the author."

    To be, I hope, crystal clear - firstly, the author is responsible for the quality of the delivered manuscript. The fewer errors it contains, the fewer of those to go through to print. Likewise the thesis and quality of communication at that stage is the author's. The publisher, including proofreaders, editors and so forth, are then responsible for eliminating errors and 'tightening up' the content.

    Sadly it does happen that errors can also be introduced at that stage. That is one reason the author must check the book again, as we will come to, and why some publishers have multiple checks - less so now than formerly, sadly.

    After that, and before publication, the author should get another look at the book-to-be, and it is up to them to query or correct any remaining errors or changes of message or tone at that stage. As a matter of course, most (all quality) publishers require the author to sign off that they've seen, checked and are happy with the work at that stage.

    Let's be clear, again. The author can diligently check it through or not, as they wish, like a software licencing agreement, but the author's signoff at that stage is saying they accept it as it is.

    If a book has numerous introduced errors, or there has been a re-write to the determent of the author's thesis, the author has the option of halting the process and going around again or even, as sometimes happens, canning the project.

    The author's name on the cover is there for a number of reasons, and one of those is that what's behind it is as the author finally chose to have it presented. Certainly there are pressures, time problems and so forth, but it remains the author's view - an editor and publisher can advise, strongly at times, but cannot legally change the author's thesis or force the author to accept substantial errors (such as incorrectly presented quotation - a critical error, against the embarrassing but not vital Raeder one. Again, to be crystal clear, mis-presenting quotations can have the author stripped of their PhD if it is discovered after the fact in a thesis. A book of history should adhere to those standards, otherwise the material is being mis-represented).

    I'm well aware that Richard North blames his publisher (as he's stated above) and that's both symptomatic of the issue and factually his error. I don't know (nor care) whether the errors were in Richard's manuscript or introduced at the editing and publishing stage. We do know that the fact they made it through to publication is because Ricard did not address them as issues at his final check stage. They may or may not have been his mistakes initially - the fact they are in the published work are because he signed them off as OK - and that is his responsibility.

    It's symptomatic because Richard is always laying off blame on others rather than addressing his errors (some of the kind we all make). That's no holier than thou remark - I've never produced a book without an error, despite trying very hard. However I accept I make errors, and try to learn from my mistakes and engage in debate with an acceptance I may change my view on further data being credibly presented. Richard has had the chance to do that, and as Brett and I have said, clearly engages with some interesting ideas and concepts. However his work is, in this specific area on his own admission (but blaming his publisher) shoddy and careless.

    Likewise the publisher has a marketing strategy for each book. (Many of them are 'nothing', it is true, but that is still a choice.) That marketing strategy is developed by the publisher, but has to be with the author's agreement and, often, active involvement. Generally publishers welcome authors keen to be active in their work's marketing. I make no mistake, that sometimes pressures and budget (shortfalls) are brought to bear, but none of the marketing should be without the author's knowledge or, even reluctantly at times, agreement.

    There's also a 'good form' aspect we can choose or ignore. Not all those 'thanks to my editor etc.' notes in the front of books are entirely sincere, but the author and publisher need to work together, and giving an appearance of harmony and keeping any conflict within that relationship, not playing a blame game in public. A publisher disparaging their author would be a bad thing - the reciprocal politeness should be equally expected in public.

    These remarks are made as I hope they may be of general use and interest, and are based on my experience in the book trade for several decades, including currently being an author, proofreader, editor and publisher, among other previous related roles.

    Brett's blog is a great place to debate stuff the contributors are interested in, but the key is debate. Here, as on the Key forum and Amazon, Richard seems to have confused haranguing people until they cease to engage with him as a victory with everyone else 'running away'. That's pretty pyrrhic, as the Key discussion seems to have been quarantined, and here Brett has decided that enough is enough and the North family and followers are no longer welcome to post. Therefore I won't respond further to Richard's comments, as that would be unfair.

  27. Post author

    Thanks for the explanation of the editing and proofreading process, JDK, and the author's formal responsibility for the final product at the end. It's as well for first-time authors to be aware of these things!

  28. Post author

    Richard North has attempted to comment here three times since I banned him. Perhaps there was a communication difficulty, so I will try to be clear: Richard, I will delete each and every comment you post from now until the end of time. There's no point in wasting your time here.

    However, since it's evident that Richard seems to think I've banned him because I'm 'terrified' of his comments, let me repeat: no, it's because 'Gopher' pretended to have no relationship with you, when in fact he is your son and your blog's co-editor. I don't mind people disagreeing with me or even proving me wrong. I do mind being taken for a fool. But, for the record, here's what Richard said about 'Gopher', an excerpt from his first deleted comment dated 10:26am, 26 April 2012, so people can draw their own conclusions:

    My son is an adult ... he lives more than 200 miles away from me. He is his own master, and until he told me that he had commented, I had no idea that he had done so.

    Are you saying that he is not allowed to comment? Are you saying that I have any control over him, or should control him, or in any way instruct him? Are you accusing me of instructing him, and do you really think that, had I done so, he would have obeyed? And do you really think you can necessarily assume that I wanted him to comment?

    Are you saying that he should have declared his identity openly, and therefore that the rules for him are different than for other posters (such as "Christopher") who choose to post anonymously?

    I am saying: my blog, my rules. You have your own blog, evidently much more widely read than mine, where you can say and do whatever you like. You can't here. Sorry.

  29. Christopher Amano-Langtree

    'Christopher' is not a handle but short for Christopher Amano-Langtree, my real name. If I am feeling lazy I use the former as I was in this instance. I noted that Richard's son deliberately concealed his identity even when asked for it. All very disingenous.

  30. Post author

    Yes, and you were already known to me through your previous commenting history here (and we haven't always seen eye to eye, either!) I don't actually have a problem with pseudonymous/anonymous commenters, though, as there are all sorts of legitimate reasons for that. Just so long as they aren't abusing my trust.

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