On the Map – Simon Garfield

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On the Map by Simon Garfield gives an overview of the history of maps and mapping and covers a range of related issues. It is aimed at the general reader.

Garfield begins with the size and shape of the world and shows how the Greeks managed to work this out as early as the pre-Christian era. It involves some simple trigonometry, which Garfield explains, before going on to look at what else the ancients knew about the shape and size of the world, and how they recorded and displayed that information.

He moves on to the Mappa Mundi, describing its place in the cathedral at Hereford, and explaining how it was nearly sold to mend the roof. He shows how this map, and others of the time, were oriented not by the magnetic compass, but towards Jerusalem, the centre of the earth.

There is a chapter on how the Vikings sailed to Greenland and to what is now Canada. Then Garfield goes on to look at the increasingly accurate maps developed in the Renaissance, and describes the explorations that took place at that time.

This is a complex period of map history, and Garfield appears knowledgeable and well informed. He considers different claims about the discovery and subsequent naming of America. He points out that it was the prominence of his name on one particular map that popularised the name of the explorer – America Vespucci – and gave rise to the name we use now, but that his claim to have discovered the continent was in fact quite flimsy.

Garfield moves back to mathematics when he describes the development of the Mercator projection, and looks at other, different projections of the world. It’s always a challenge for me to visualise the way three dimensional objects are resolved onto two dimensional spaces, so I enjoyed this section.

As he summarises the history of map making, Garfield includes chapters on mapping a city, and on the craze for atlases in Holland in the 17th century. He traces the growth of the Ordnance Survey. He looks at some of the errors that found their way onto maps, and persisted into the twentieth century. These included the clearly marked but totally fictitious Kong mountains in West Africa.

Later in the book Garfield is more haphazard in his choice of subject matter. The chapter on the map that stopped cholera in London was interesting. It’s a well known story but I had never come across the details. Chapters on treasure maps and journeys to the South Pole are followed by another on the A-Z and one on Hollywood maps of the stars’ homes.

There is a section on a man who gave up his day job to build globes. Garfield visits his studio in London, and watches him at work. Another looks at the modern day value of historic maps and describes some of the map thefts that have taken place. Want to steal a valuable map? There are suggestions here.

In the final chapters Garfield illustrates the development of SatNav, and looks at maps in games. This was interesting, covering simple games like Monopoly, as well as more complex maps such as those used in Dungeons and Dragons and Grand Theft Auto. Finally Garfield writes about mapping the brain. It’s an eclectic list.

As you can see this is a good book for anyone who enjoys non-fiction, and likes finding out more about things! I don’t want to be sexist, but as a boy I loved books like this because they made learning informal and interesting. I’m in a men’s book group and I guess most of the blokes in that would like it too for the same reason. Many of them are not that keen on fiction and bring along biographies or history books, regarding fiction as a bit of an indulgence.

On the Map is especially good for dipping into if you have particular interests – such as maps in games. Especially in the second half the chapters stand alone, and can be read in isolation from the rest of the book.

Garfield tries manfully to be entertaining throughout, choosing interesting and unusual characters, stories and ways in to the different aspects. He always gives us the human angle, and tries to avoid being dry and boring. But it is a long book and at times he was clearly straining a bit to find amusing things to say, and maintain that cheery tone.

I’d certainly recommend this book to the general reader who wants an informal and entertaining account of the history of maps.

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Ten Cities that made an Empire – Tristram Hunt

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Harewood House, Leeds, paid for with money from the slave trade

Ten Cities that made an Empire tells the history of the British Empire from a new perspective. Beginning with Boston, which Hunt claims was the first city of Empire, and finishing with Liverpool, a city bound up with the empire’s rise and fall, it examines the stories of these cities to reveal how the British empire began, grew and finally declined.

Hunt arranges the ten cities chronologically, showing the development of British power and prestige. The empire experimented with new forms of government as the old failed and faded, always seeking an identity and form that would be permanent and lasting. In fact this proved impossible, and implicit in Hunt’s argument is the point that the empire was only ever an extemporisation, a reaction to the political realities of its time, and never a successful or coherently organised institution. It never had a plan.

Hunt begins with Boston. The city grew out of a spirit of religious freedom, and as a consequence of the Reformation. However it was not long before it became a significant business hub, benefitting from the trans Atlantic trade in sugar, tobacco and cotton. Later, in the wars with the French, much of the wealth of its prominent citizens came from supplying the British army.

Boston was a patriotic city, celebrating English festivals and traditions such as GuyFawkes. Its wealth was displayed in the form of luxurious imported goods such as china and cloth from the industrial heartlands of Britain. It was loyal and patriotic.

But the English felt that the colony was not paying its way in the wars with France. The consequences are well known, and the first city of Empire was lost to the revolution.

Bridgetown is the second city on the list. It’s a simple story of the slave trade. Bridgetown was never home to the British elite, who poured the wealth they gained into stately homes in England. These included Harewood House outside Leeds, which even today is an extravagant reminder of the wealth plundered from the plantations.

Dublin comes next on Hunt’s list. After the American revolution a different approach was adopted, and Dublin was allowed more independence during the period called the Protestant Ascendancy. Dublin developed a strong identity. The institutions of government brought income and the city became a vibrant cultural centre. However after the 1798 rising, and with fears that the French may invade, direct rule from Whitehall was imposed in the act of union. The institutions of government left for London, and Dublin once again became a backwater. Resentment over English dominance was to some extent mitigated by the project of Empire which gave a sort of unifying purpose, but it never disappeared.

Cape Town was the next step in empire, and a key stepping stone to India. First occupied by British forces in 1797, it became increasingly anglicised and was a key strategic outpost until 1955.

Calcutta developed from a trading post, and from here came Clive to conquer India. Many British in Calcutta adopted Indian customs, and lost their commercial edge, relying instead on land ownership and taxation, and milking the interior for all it was worth. Bombay was a different proposition, cut off from the interior by a range of mountains and so more dependent on trade. Hunt describes the development of both these cities up to the present day.

There are descriptions of the depravities of empire in the section on Hong Kong, which begins with the establishment and development of the port, and the initial commercial fears that investment there would be wasted. It was the opium that made Hong Kong profitable, and the gun boats that enabled the British to trade opium against the wishes of the Chinese government, and the interests of its people. Hong Kong was linked to England, India and Singapore by the profits from opium.

Melbourne was chosen as the Australian city, rather than Sydney. Melbourne developed largely through the Victorian period and the urbanisation of the area mirrors developments in London. Hunt claims the first ashes victory by the Australians marked the beginning of a new independent attitude, though the links with England remained strong through two world wars.

New Delhi and Liverpool focus on the loss of Empire. The idea at Delhi was to build a capital that would last, but Hunt argues that before it was built, and with Gandhi already set on the path to independence, India was lost. Liverpool grew as a slave port, and became the first multicultural city in Britain. It was already in decline before we joined the EU, but that and the loss of the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery accelerated that decline. Now Liverpool is expanding its container freight terminal and developing links with China, which will expand with the opening of the new Panama Canal. (This is open now, but was not at the time of publishing.) Hunt claims this will allow Chinese goods to reach the heart of the country, turning Liverpool into a different kind of colonial city, and England itself into a colony of China.

In Ten Cities that made an Empire Hunt returns frequently to the question of trade. After all it was an empire built on trade and for trade. There were tariffs and laws that excluded the Dutch and French from trading with Boston, and the intention was to secure sole rights to the Atlantic trade for the British. Cape Town was seized in order to facilitate trade with India. It provided supplies and shelter.

Later the free trade movement, inspired by the Manchester School is mentioned. This led to the repeal of the Corn Laws, reducing food prices. But one perhaps unforeseen consequence of the emphasis on free trade was that British products were undercut by cheaper goods from India.

Indeed empire seemed to work better under protectionist trading arrangements such as the Commonwealth, rather than under extreme free trade policies. Of course the empire and the gunboat were very good at facilitating these kind of exclusive deals.

It was when trade with the Commonwealth diminished in the 60s and 70s, as more colonies gained independence, that Britain joined the EU, swapping one customs union for another, as industry struggled to thrive in an open market.

One of the most interesting aspects of Hunt’s book is the focus on architecture and town planning. Each section contains a map of the city in question and Hunt considers the way the streets developed, including the significance of street names, and the architecture, which of course often reflected aspects of empire.

The classicism of Bath was recreated in Dublin, whilst Melbourne saw the development of suburban housing: we are shown plans of houses at different price brackets. These types of home exist in British suburbs now. In India the debate about architecture struck at the cultural issues underlying British rule. The buildings were magnificent, but often European rather than Indian styles were used. At times there were odd marriages of the two, and the country was subject to the vagaries of European fashions, as classicism gave way to Gothic styles.

In New Delhi Lutyens was employed to design the whole new town. But this carried the seeds of its own destruction, separating the ruling classes into an enclave that left them out of touch with reality and at odds with the local population. The British were left with nothing but grand displays of power, designed to impress and intimidate, and the end of empire was nigh.

 

 

Reality is Not What it Seems – Carlo Rovelli

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Reality is not What it Seems by Carlo Rovelli begins with a brief history of man’s ideas about how the physical world works. It then introduces modern theories about the quantum world, and about the loop theory of gravity.

Rovelli begins in classical Greece with Democritus, who first conceived of the idea of atoms. Rovelli claims that Democritus’ reasoning still holds good today – the world cannot be infinitely divided, but is made up, finally, of small indivisible parts. Rovelli compares Democritus favourably with other Greek philosophers such as Plato, whose idea of reality is is quite absurd in comparison. He mourns the fact that we only know of Democritus through what was written about him by other ancients, as none of his work has survived.

Rovelli writes a history of physical science covering the major figures – Newton, Einstein, Rutherford, Heisenberg. This is brief and interesting. There are various anecdotes to keep the reader going, and the explanations of the science are clear and fairly easy.

He concludes each section with a simple diagram showing how these scientists and their peers conceived of the world at each stage of the process of discovery. Ideas such as space, time, particles and fields have all been used by physicists to describe reality, but the intention has always been to offer the most simplified interpretation. The introduction of quantum mechanics reduced the world to two key ideas – spacetime and quantum fields and Rovelli claims that these two have now been reduced to one. The world is made of covariant quantum fields!!

Reality is Not What it Seems is a convincing and inspiring book. Years ago I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and found there were parts I could not understand. Since then I have read many books on this subject, and they have cast some light into the darkness, but this has perhaps been the best. Here are two others:

From Eternity to Here – Sean Carroll

Why Does e=mc squared?

The issue of Schrödinger’s cat has always puzzled me. How can something exist and not exist at the same time? But Rovelli steers the reader round this issue quite simply. He then goes on to give an elegant explanation of how two particles can be linked whilst being far apart. This had been another stumbling block for me. But Rovelli makes it all very simple, and at the same time introduces the reader to some of the basics of information theory.

Rovelli goes on to explain why there is no such thing as infinity. At the smallest level, even when squashed in a black hole there is a limit to how small something can be. The size of the Planck constant, or some equation involving that, comes in there. At the other end of the scale, whilst vast numbers, beyond our comprehension may appear infinite, there is a finite number of particles.

The universe is an expanding bubble of quantum particles. Within that, like bubbles of soap, it consists of interlinked networks of matter. At the quantum level the world is a cloud of possibilities. Particles gather together in a cloud of uncertainty and become things or people. That’s all there is.

It is no surprise that as an Italian, Rovelli is quite critical of religion. I say that because the organised and politicised forms of religion must have been prominent in Italy, the land of the popes. The imposition of dogma is at the expense of true Christianity. Galileo is an example that would strike a scientist like Rovelli very hard.

For him religion is a myth, it’s just the tales the old men of the tribe tell. Only science can be true. Everything is a mystery. If science has not solved the mystery now, it will one day.

Rovelli seems very confident about this. But I’m not sure whether in the end science will replace religion. It does not look that way to me, in the USA or the Middle East! It seems there is a need for religion. Maybe that is just human weakness, or superstition.

But the environment, indeed the world, is in a parlous state,and science is just a tool. The so called myths of the Old Testament prophets, in the form of the three religions of the book, dominate the world. It is a truth that works. The clouds of particles that believe and have faith have prospered and grown, like the Bible said they would.

At times religion becomes corrupted, but we need it. It embodies the values of love, compassion and stewardship, which science can never have.

Dirty Glory – Pete Greig

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Dirty Glory, or Red Moon Chronicles#2, is a sequel to Red Moon Rising, and brings the reader up to date with the story of the continuing growth of the 24/7 prayer movement.

Pete Greig has an exceptional ability to bring a scene or a situation to life with a few key words or a vivid description, and this makes the stories he tells in this book credible and vivid for the reader.

He had begun as a child to pray in faith, and he describes the experiences which taught him that God was real, and that prayer could be answered.

On holiday as a young man in Portugal, at the most western point in Europe, Greig had a vision in which he saw thousands of ghostly figures rising up in prayer. He did not understand the meaning of this at the time, though it was to become clear to him in later years when he was involved in founding the 24/7 prayer movement.

In this book Greig fills in the details of the growth of 24/7 as it expanded its work into Mexico, Ibiza and the USA. The book is autobiographical, and Greig offers many personal insights. As new characters are introduced he tells the stories of how they came to God, always with the emphasis on prayer, the Bible, and God’s presence and support. There are striking stories here that show God is not concerned with past mistakes or bourgeois conformity, and Greig has a knack of bringing the characters to life with wit and humour. He is not an ordinary writer, and has considerable talent.

Greig describes his arrival in the USA where he went to develop the movement, and shares the problems he and his wife faced with family illness. She developed a brain tumour, which was an incredible challenge, to say the least! Meanwhile his infant son swallowed some of the very powerful tablets prescribed for her condition, yet miraculously avoided death. For Greig, God was always there during the trials.

Dirty Glory gives many examples of people brought to faith, and shows the power and influence of prayer in this respect.

In one university residence, due to the prayers of a single student, every member gave their life to Christ. Elsewhere a young woman set off alone to a Mexican border town to pray for the prostitutes and drug dealers living there in a neglected ghetto. It seemed a hopeless task, but she remained for eighteen months, continued to pray, and slowly became aware of the transforming effect her words were having on the lives of the inhabitants.

For Greig, Europe is the most difficult missionary field of our time. In Ibiza many young people were saved from the dangerous consequences of their own actions. Rather than being left in a vulnerable position when found helpless, ill or drunk on the streets, they were ferried back to hotels, or given other kinds of support. Gospels were distributed, and though not always used appropriately, or fully understood by the recipients, the scheme impacted on a group that is hard to reach.

The tattooed and pierced new Christians in Ibiza were not always welcomed in the local churches and so a new church was established for them. Greig explains how God was present in the decision to go ahead with this project, showing how if we listen, pray, and read the Bible, it becomes easier for God to guide us.

Greig has shown incredible faith in his own life, and explains that faith and prayer have a key role to play in the world today. The answers to prayer in the Bible were not just of their time: God is here now and will act.

This book is called Dirty Glory because Christ was here in the flesh. He had dirt in the creases of his hands, and made tables. At first, Greig claims, he probably did not make them very well!! Christ is there with us in the coal face, or the chalk face of life. Wherever it is you spend your day, that is where you are his representative, where you are his hands. You need to get them dirty for him – get involved.

God is not interested in religious activity for its own sake, but in righteousness and justice – I despise your religious assemblies – your festivals are a stench to me…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream Amos 5: 21-23

 

 

 

 

 

To War with Wellington – Peter Snow (or how the Tories snuffed out democracy again)

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To War with Wellington is a direct and straightforward summary of the war in Spain, France and Belgium beginning with the landing of the British force in Portugal in 1808, and culminating in Waterloo. There are many contemporary accounts of the events of this period, and Snow draws directly on these to produce his version. He presents different viewpoints, though these are mostly British. Even the stories of looting and plunder come from the pens of British writers in diaries, letters and reminiscences, including letters Wellington himself sent back to London condemning the actions of his troops.

Snow relies on some key sources, so we meet the same characters on different battlefields and at different places, and they include a variety of types of people: there are some common soldiers, surprisingly literate and articulate considering the general lack of education in this period, and, unsurprisingly, officers and generals with their own more narrow points of view.

Snow offers clear diagrams of battles, and these are very helpful in communicating the key strategic and tactical decisions Wellington made, and there are a couple of larger scale maps that show his progress through Portugal and Spain. These are also really useful.

To War with Wellington is a lively and interesting account. Snow chooses quotations from his different sources wisely, focusing on dramatic events expressed in colourful language. He links these direct and indirect quotations with his own summaries of events, and moves the narrative along quickly. The narrative structure is pretty straightforward – a chronological account starting with the British troops landing north of Lisbon during a storm when they have to ride the surf to the beach, and finishing with the defeat of the French at Waterloo.

We are given a detailed picture of Wellington, starting with some basic physical attributes, and it’s almost a warts and all portrayal. Snow is honest about Wellington’s appearance, and the rather dreary and cautious approach he took to the war in Spain, especially in the early years. He received criticism for this and it’s possible the war lasted longer than it needed as at key points, such as after taking Madrid in 1812, Wellington retreated to Portugal to safeguard his rear and consolidate his position. Snow is also  honest about Wellington’s failing marriage, and his romantic liaisons with a variety of foreign women firstly in Spain, then later in Brussels, as well as in 1814 during his brief tenure as ambassador in Paris, where apparently he shared a couple of Napoleon’s old flames.

The Peninsular war was not Crimea, or WW1, but there were many casualties and these are covered in great and often horrific detail as might be expected. Exploding shells apparently became prominent at this time, and as in any war, technology played a big part. Wellington was given a great advantage by the deployment of the 1st/95th rifle brigade, whose story is told in a Mark Urban book, Rifles: Six Years With Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters. The range of their guns was perhaps double that of the traditional musket used by the French.

To be honest the bravery of the soldiers in these wars astounded me. They besieged towns and attacked them in what can only be described as shocking conditions and often with little prospect of surviving the battle. The first to attack were named the forlorn hope, as this described their chances of returning alive, and at Badajoz the carnage was appalling. It reminded me unfortunately of the comic poem by Thomas Hood, Faithless Nellie Gray:

At duty’s call I left my legs
In Badajoz’s breaches.

-a wry pun that Hood develops in all kinds of clever but I suppose cruel ways throughout the poem.

It’s hard to explain the bravery of these men and I suppose that’s down to their patriotism, and a sense of camaraderie or esprit de corps that narrowed their world. They were soldiers and would have wanted to be valued as such: often their horizons were limited to that. But in many ways it could be argued that these were men fighting against their own best interests.

 

The war against France, begun in the 1790s, was essentially a rearguard action by the royal families of Europe designed to protect their privileges. The Whigs in parliament were much more supportive of Napoleon’s political philosophy, but the Tories under Liverpool and Castlereagh were quite opposed to those liberal views, and their triumph dictated the development of Europe in the period following the war. It led to another hundred years of servitude for Russian peasants, and of course to the final cruel and violent end to the Tzars in 1918.

In 1815, before Waterloo, with Napoleon defeated and on Elba, the victorious Tory government under Lord Liverpool introduced the Corn Laws to protect the interests of the landed classes, another direct expression of their political philosophy. It lead four years later to the massacre, on the fields of Peterloo in Manchester, of working men dressed in their Sunday best and protesting about the price of bread. Meanwhile, at the battle of Waterloo the Polish were fighting alongside the French, recognising the opportunity Napoleon gave them for independence from the crowned heads of Europe. The French soldiers too were fighting for liberty, equality, fraternity – fighting for the legal rights embodied in the Napoleonic code, and for the opportunities for education and advancement that it offered them – opportunities written in their constitution, and denied their British counterparts at that time.

Of course victory at Waterloo also ensured the triumph of Britain, giving us pre-eminence in a world in which British industrial and scientific power guaranteed a technological advantage over less industrialised countries, and made victory secure. We can all enjoy that history, built on the ironically named thin red line, the blood of the British infantry, but the Empire was a myth for the factory worker and the farm labourer.

The poor did not share in the benefits of Empire, though they may have seen it at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, and again in the Festival of Britain. It was a country that worked for the wealthy but not for those on the Jarrow marches, on means tested benefits in 1930s Britain or in the Preston in 1854 that inspired Dickens’ Hard Times.

In Britain we are disadvantaged, as we do not have a written constitution, unlike the rest of Europe. There are no hard rules to protect our rights, just grace and favour and tradition. The Tories can plan a bonfire of regulations – workers’ rights, environmental protection and so on, and parliament is sovereign, can override any of these rights even though we value them.

In Germany, after their experiences with Hitler, referenda are not allowed under the constitution, but the right to remain in Europe has been stolen by 37% of the electorate, or a slim majority, in a referendum that, because it was only advisory, not binding on parliament, was seen as no threat to the constitution or to our rights. But it was a threat. Sixty plus percent would have been the internationally recognised supermajority, usually required for constitutional change. It might have left a less divided nation, and a country where the young would have felt happier. At the same time we have a Tory PM who is threatening to take away our human rights, as if that were some kind of vote winning proposition. We really did lose, at the Battle of Waterloo.

The Landmark Herodotus – Robert B Straussler

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World Map according to Herodotus
The Landmark Herodotus is a complete edition of the famous histories which tell the story of the conflict between Persia and Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries BC.

At the heart of these histories is a story that has fascinated me since I was a child, when I read and re-read a fictional account of the battle of Thermopylae in which a small force of Greek soldiers, led by the Spartan Leonidas, held up the advance of the Persian army long enough for the Greeks to ready the defence of Athens and the Peloponnese. It’s a story that has been told and retold again, including in a fairly recent film, 300, Rise of an Empire.

My recollection of this fictional account is a bit faint after all these years, but the histories show that the novel was clearly exaggerated with respect to some details of the battle of Thermopylae in which these men’s lives were sacrificed. In my memory the novelist also changed the date of the battle of Marathon to make the whole story more dramatic, ending the novel as the runner arrives at Athens after Marathon, with the news of victory. In Herodotus’ account the battle of Marathon takes place a few years earlier than Thermopylae, not after it.

Herodotus’ The Histories presents a relentlessly detailed account of the classical and pre-classical history of the eastern Mediterranean including some of the myths and legends of Greece, Persia and Egypt, and is divided into 9 books, each looking at a different period of time or geographical location.

The first book examines the way the conflict between Persia and Greece began. There are echoes of the story of Troy in the abductions of women that take place, and the story of the wealthy Croesus seems to be a place where myth meets reality. He is a man of ambition and decides to extend his empire to the east, which brings him into contact with the growing Persian empire under Cyrus. Cyrus responds by moving into Croesus’ Lydia (now partly Turkey) and conquering not only Croesus, but the Ionian Greeks settled along the coast.

Book 2 is a history of Egypt. It is extensively detailed and some of Herodotus’ comments on the culture, history and geography of Egypt are especially interesting. For example Herodotus hypothesises about the source of the Nile, the size and shape of the world and the whole continent of Africa.  He raises the question of whether it is possible to sail round Africa, and whether anybody had, recounting a story of men who found the sun rising on the wrong side of their boat as they journeyed on. Herodotus is sceptical about this, but it rings true to a modern reader.

Books 3 and 4 describe the growth of the Persian empire, including the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, and excursions to the north into Scythia by Darius. Here myth and legend again become inextricably linked as factual knowledge about these northern areas was quite scarce. In books 5 and 6 Herodotus describes Darius’ excursion into Europe. This is in the end a failure. The Persians are expelled, and Darius dies before he can organise another expedition, leaving Xerxes to take over the reigns in books 7 to 9, which detail the events of his campaign.

The Landmark Herodotus is a clear presentation of this history. There is a series of detailed maps and footnotes so that with patience the reader can follow the progress of the armies, and discover the different parts of the world subject to Greek and Persian influence. Following Xerxes progress around the coast of the Aegean, or looking at the different parts of Asia subject to Persian rule was fascinating. I have to say that I’m a sucker for these kind of maps which have no real practical purpose or use – as one of my sons says, they are just cramming my brain with useless information!

There are several appendices to The Landmark Herodotus, and these fill in the gaps in Herodotus’ account, for example describing Spartan life and culture in detail, looking briefly at key dialect issues or considering the accuracy of Herodotus’ portrayal of Egypt. I mostly skimmed through these. There are also illustrations in black and white showing ancient implements or weapons, or presenting diagrams and illustrations of, for example, fortifications. These are all interesting.

For the more casual reader each section is accompanied in the margin by a clear and brief summary of its contents , and many students would benefit from, and even rely on this, as it allows the reader to quickly skim sections and retrieve significant information. The histories are also divided into numbered sections which allow the reader to identify footnotes with ease.

The Landmark Herodotus was a gift, and not a book I would have chosen myself, being rather academic and of quite a daunting length. It’s not without fault – some footnotes are missing and it was quite fun to notice these – what a geek I am!

Nevertheless it’s a great resource for any student of the classics, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend everyone to read The Histories word by word as I did, there are certainly many interesting comments and pieces of information. As a landmark document showing the first recorded attempts to offer both a factual history, and a scientific and sceptical account of the Greek world, Herodotus is certainly worth a look!!

In his book Persian Fire Tom Holland offers his account of the conflict between Greece and Persia which he sees as epitomising the great divide between Asia and Europe embodied in today’s clash of Christian and Muslim civilisations. This is a much more accessible version of events, but not to everyone’s taste.

 

Pep Guardiola – The Evolution – Marti Perarnau

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Pep Guardiola – The Evolution focuses on the three years Guardiola spent at Bayern Munich, and includes the summer of 2016 in which he completed his move to Manchester City.  It is the sequel to Perarnau’s first book, Pep Confidential, which was about Pep’s time in charge of Barcelona.

Pep Guardiola – The Evolution has a distinct approach to Guardiola’s coaching career.  Each part ends with a section looking at one particular Pep game from a tactical point of view, or considering Pep’s response to a specific game, setback or triumph.  So the second chapter ends with an analysis of Munich’s successful 7-1 demolition of Roma on 21st October 2014.  Perarnau makes some interesting points in these sections of the book, looking closely at Pep’s methods, and at specific tactical variations.

In a book 370 pages long, these separate sections take up 67 pages.  They look at a cup game against Dortmund, managed by Klopp, a game against Koln, and analyse the developing role of Thomas Mueller during Pep’s time at Munich.  Amongst other topics, Perarnau also considers Pep’s use of the pyramid, and dedicates one of these sections to a France Spain basketball match.  They are the most interesting parts of the book.

In the contents list the remaining sections are neatly subdivided into chapter headings and subheadings : Why City?, How Germany Changed Pep, What Makes Him the Best, Pep’s Influence on German Football.  When I tell you that the subheadings of just one chapter include phrases like Ideological Eclecticism, Doubt and Decision Making, and Barriers to Innovation you will get some sense of what the rest of the book is like.  European cultures have the benefit of using Romance languages in common parlance, so that what in English is the excessive use of latinate or over educated vocabulary is for them more normal, but it’s clear that Perarnau goes a step beyond, using Greek terminology – Ideological Eclecticism – as well as the more common Latin roots – innovation.  This language epitomises the style of the book which is highly intellectual and because of this extremely un-British.

It’s a moot point for me whether football merits such an intellectual approach.  It is after all a game of passion, and essentially a game of improvisation, whilst tactical play can lead to boring approaches such as parking the bus.  (Note the English approach to tactical vocabulary by the way – rather more down to earth than Perarnau’s approach.  Hoofing it upfield is another phrase we use, though some English coaches have intellectualised this, calling it the long ball game.)

If you are going to write about football in intellectual terms though, I do think you need to show the barest of intellectual rigour when doing so, and in my view Perarnau did not achieve this. For example, the chapter subheadings aren’t really accurate descriptions of what is included; instead they are more often distinct starting points for what turn out to be quite rambling though very enthusiastic musings about Pep and football.  So one particular line of argument goes like this:

Preparation and a Passion for Detail – subheading – an interesting section early on in  the book which details Pep’s training methods approaching a match against Dortmund. It is about five pages long, and immediately followed by the section entitled Ideological Eclecticism, which begins Having explained how important it has been to Guardiola to incorporate new concepts into his football bible… But this sentence was a complete non-sequitur – there was nothing explicit about new concepts in that previous section.  There were many other logical inconsistencies like this, which obscured the thread of the argument, and made it difficult for me to get an overall sense of what Perarnau was saying about Guardiola.  It was very frustrating.

Examples of Perarnau’s over intellectualisation and adoration of Pep abound.  I’m tempted to say his approach is hagiographic, but I’m trying to eliminate the Greek roots from my own writing – anything else would be sheer hypocrisy.  But during the course of Pep Guardiola – the Evolution, Pep’s approach to football is regularly compared to that of a painter, sculptor or musician.  These are fairly cliched ideas.  His achievements are described in glowing terms throughout: Guardiola’s great achievement, his genius for tactical planning, his charisma.  I happen to think he’s a brilliant manager, but in this book these terms were overused.

At other times Perarnau disappears into pure verbiage and even more over intellectualisation, for example when he takes time out to define the exact meaning of a game plan –what does it consist of, what are its constituent parts.  Then there is the list of all the different possible permutations of 11 players on a football field, starting with 4-3-3. It takes up two full pages.

I found this book in The Works, a remaindered bookshop in Torquay – not a renowned centre for Manchester City or Bayern Munich fans.  There must be a lot of unsold copies.  I can see why.  Pep has not read this book, or its predecessor. I think he would be surprised if he did.  Pep is a perfectionist, and this is far from perfect!  The impression I got was that it was rushed to print.

The Works – 275 Shops Nationwide