S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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Posts Tagged ‘reference

Gladius

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gladius

I love Osprey’s military history books. I have a shelf full, mainly of the ancient world ones, but with some variation. Each book is written and illustrated by different contributors, and consequently they are of varying quality (though only one or two I’ve come across have ever been less than good). On occasion, though, an Osprey book reaches the heights of excellence and becomes a real ‘go-to’ book on the subject.

As well as Osprey books, I like Mike Bishop’s books. I have half a dozen of them, published either by Armatura Press or by Pen and Sword. And I know when I pick up one of Bishop’s books that I will not be able to argue with or have reason to doubt a word therein. Along with Mary Beard and Adrian Goldsworthy, Bishop is one of those folk in whose knowledge I have implicit trust.

So an Osprey book by Mike Bishop? Hell yes! ‘The Gladius’ is one of Osprey’s most recent publications, part of their Weapon series, which covers everything from spears to assault rifles. I cleared my table, for I wanted no distractions, and I read it. Then, because I knew how much I’d learned and how much must have escaped my memory, I read it again. And soon, after reviewing it here, I’ll read it again. And as long as I am writing Roman fiction, I will constantly go back to it for reference, probably more than any other Osprey book.

This book takes you through the evolution of the ‘Spanish Sword’ from its origins, through adoption by the Roman republican army, its gradual changes in form, and to its eventual supplanting by other types of blade more suitable for the changing nature of Roman warfare. It covers the types of Gladius found, in incredible detail. Pompeii, Mainz, Ring-pommel and others, even less well-known to the lay reader. It examines their use and their role in combat, their methods of manufacture, the part they have played in Rome’s history, and even their effects on the world that followed.

The level of knowledge and detail in the book is impressive. I had not previously been aware of the level of variation or the sheer scale of finds that are referenced. I had not considered the possibility that blades were not formed from one forging of steel and not forge welded with separate edges of different types of steel. I had not considered just how clever the grip of the sword is. I was not aware of the discrepancies in the ancient accounts of their use that, to be honest, as a writer I can exploit!

And therein lies an extra level of value for me in this book. I have learned a number of things on a subject that I thought held little new for me. Boy was I wrong. And what I have learned will filter into my own novels, lending them an extra adge of authenticity.

What you have here is one of the very best Osprey books on offer. Knowledgeable, educational, and fascinating, yet put forward in a very accessible way (one of Osprey’s strengths and, helpfully, one of Bishop’s too.) It is also beautifully illustrated throughout, which supports the text beautifully, including some fascinating detailed drawings by the author. There is no filler or padding in this book. It is 100% on course with its subject and no matter how much you think you know your Roman weaponry, you’ll learn something from reeading it.

Pride of place on my shelf. Is it on yours yet?

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Written by SJAT

December 1, 2016 at 10:50 am

Facts about Fritz

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An unusual review of a little gem for you today. As you know I occasionally like to review the odd non-fiction work among the novels I read. Well the other day I came into possession of a copy of Facts about Fritz by Robin Schafer and Tim Hardy. Rob is a German military historian and consultant (and without doubt the most knowledgeable such I have ever come across) and Tim is a talented graphic designer. Together they have combined their skills to release this wonderful item.

If, like me, you have a passing knowledge of the First World War, mostly gained through school, holidays in northern Europe… and Blackadder, of course… then this book might prove as fascinating and informative to you as it does to me. If you are already an expert, it is pitched a little below your level to be honest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. Far from it.

Essentially, this book is 50 pages, with every two pages being an individual fact sheet on one aspect of the German army in 1914-1918. The production is superb. Glossy and beautiful, it’s a thing of beauty. But beyond that, it is chock full of period photographs, fascinating images of artefacts surviving to the present day, anecdotes and accounts from witnesses as well as the facts themselves as provided by the informed mind of Rob. The content varies from short factoids – such as

“Approximately 40,000 Messenger dogs operated with German units during the war.”

to letters written by the men at the front, to lengthy paragraphs detailing for instance the Reich’s Postal Service, to extracts from contemporary tales. All interspersed with appropriate imagery.

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Subjects covered include such wide-ranging matters as the Iron Cross, Flags, Trench Newspapers and the Flying Circus.

The book is an objective and factual work on the army of the Kaiser’s Germany and should be fascinating to anyone who has even a passing interest in the era. The book costs £7.99 and is currently only available through Tim Hardy’s website HERE. I would also urge you to keep an eye on Rob’s site –  as well as being fascinating in general, he has another book on Fritz and Tommy coming out next year through the History Press and that will be worth grabbing.

Back with some more choice fiction for you in the next week. 🙂

Written by SJAT

October 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

The pinnacle of Roman non-fiction

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I usually review fiction books here, and those are usually historical fiction, and quite often Roman. However, as often as I read fiction, I read non-fiction. I will often laud a good work on Twitter or Facebook, but I tend not to do full-blown reviews for them. And there are some excellent writers of Roman non-fiction out there. I could cite John Peddie, or Adrian Goldsworthy, or Mary Beard, or the Adkins’ or a number of others. But a year or two back one name shot up the ranks for me.

I had the opportunity to beta read a walking guide by the excellent Mike (M.C.) Bishop. And amazingly I found it not only fascinating and informative as a non-fiction work, but every bit as entertaining as a good Roman novel. Since then I have acquired and read other Bishop works, and so consider this post a review of three different books (sort of four, actually) by the same author.

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(image courtesy of Andante Travels website)

I will begin with a little bio. Mike Bishop has a superb pedigree in the field of Rome and its military. He has been instrumental in archaeological digs in some of Britain’s most important Roman sites, including on the wall. He has led guided tours to some of the most amazing Roman sites in the world for the unparalleled Andante travels. He has been a guiding light in the Roman Military Equipment Conference. Getting the picture? He has published a number of excellent and informative tomes in the field of Roman military. He also walked Hadrian’s wall more often than I’ve walked to the pub (alright, NO-ONE has done that many trips anywhere, but still) and performed a risk assessment  to the ancient monuments prior to the establishment of the national walking route along it. So when I say he wrote a walking guide to the wall, could you think of anyone more qualified?

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In fact, some time apart, I beta read both of these books. One might be mistaken for thinking that a guide to walking the wall East-West would be little more than a carbon copy of the West-East one, only mirrored. Of course, this is not true. Both of these E-books, available at Amazon (click on the pic above to go there), are stunning guides. I walked much of the length of the wall many years ago and very much wish these had been out then. Should I get the chance to do so again, I will be doing  it with my kindle in hand and this guide loaded ready. Not only is it informative on a level you will not find in any guidebook I have found on the wall, it is also entertaining. In fact, as something of an ‘armchair archaeologist’ I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books with Google Earth open next to me, following the route from the comfort of my sofa with a good scotch. I ooh and ahh each time I read them at the fascinating little titbits they contain, and chuckle at the humour throughout. Have I sold them yet? If you’re ever going to visit the wall, just don’t do it without one of these guides. And at £2.50 you just cannot go wrong. As a last note, these guides actually made it past some of the most notable fiction last year to make it into my top ten reads of the year (check that post here)

On then to part 2 of my 3-part review:

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Ask any writer of Roman fiction to which book they will turn to check any point at all in the matter of military equipment, and I will bet you good money that they cite this tome. It is, quite simply, the bible for Roman military gear. My copy somehow remains pristine despite the fact that ever day that I write more than a paragraph of Roman stuff, I open the book and thumb the pages to check something. Well illustrated and going into surprising detail for its length, this book is perfectly organised for reference, well-categorised and running section by section throughout the history of Rome by period. It revolves mostly around primary and archaeological sources and so is quite clearly a cut above many of its peers. This is one of my most prized literary possessions. If you have any interest in Roma, make it one of yours. And that brings me to part three – my most recent acquisition already up there with my prized works:

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This gem has not long been released by Pen & Sword books. A lovely, glossy hardback packed with information and plans, images and data it is another of those ‘definitive works’ for me, far surpassing the depth of the excellent Osprey book that covers the same subject, but which is restricted by size and cost to more of an overview level. Not only does it go into the background, the planning, the construction and so on of the legionary fortress, but it also contains an excellent gazeteer of the sites, charts, timelines and so much more. This is one of the best Roman military books you will ever own. Check it out.

So there we go. Three books (or more truthfully four) that deserve your attention. If you love your Roman history you can’t afford to delay. Go get them.

Fiction reviews will return next week with Giles Kristian’s excellent new epic: God of Vengeance.

Written by SJAT

April 17, 2014 at 5:03 pm