Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: “Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East” by Rodger Ford

Book Review:Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East” by Rodger Ford

First off, currently I am about 3/4th of the way through this book, but I feel comfortable enough from what I have read to make a good review of the book. Next, just bear with me as I have never done a book review since middle school, many, many, many years ago.

Eden to Armageddon” by Rodger Ford, was published by Pegasus Books in 2010. It is a concise history of the war against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. The book is 419 pages long with another 56 pages of notes, plus another 12 pages of B&W photographs. There is a bibliography and index as well. This is first book that I have read on WWI dealing with the Ottoman Turks, with the exception of reading some small sections from the Osprey Campaign’s book, “Gallipoli” and a couple of magazine articles many years ago on the Siege of Kut in the Mesopotamia . Because of my lack of previous knowledge of the subject, I found this book interesting, but also that was part of my distraction from really enjoying it, which I will explain later in this review.

The book is broken down into the four main theatres of operations; 1) Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq); 2) the Caucasus, Armenia, Anatolia, and Persia (modern day Iran); 3) the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, and; 4) Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. There is also an opening chapter on the history of the Ottoman Empire up to WWI and a concluding chapter on the post-war effects on the Ottoman Empire and the countries created from it.
One of the good points is that fact that each theatre is its own separate section of chapters, instead of doing all four theatres together chronologically. Each of the section on the different theatres has four chapters, except the one on the Dardanelles & Gallipoli, which is only three chapters long. At the beginning of each chapter is a map of the region that the chapter covers which I found useful. Some chapters have additional maps to show detailed information for key battles, but this is mainly located in the chapters on Gallipoli.
Overall, I felt that the book was very concise with names, units, dates, and locations. However, I actually felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and started to get confused on whether a unit/person were Turkish or one of the Allies. Generally, I did not have that problem with UK/Indian/ANZAC names, but really got mixed up when discussing the Russians and the various ethic forces. One of the things that I would have liked to have seen then would have been have one side done in italic printing (either the Turks or the Allies) for names, units, etc. for ease of quick identification.

The other problem I had was with the regional maps at the beginning of each chapter. While it was very nice to have them for looking at the locations of rivers and towns, I personally would have benefited more if they had troop movement arrows so I could easily follow the path of the action described in the chapter. As it is, I had to hunt down the name of the towns/locations on the map (if even shown – some I couldn’t find) and then try to look for the next one a little bit later.

The third issue I had, which probably was at no fault of the author, was the amount of detail of the various units. For the UK/Indian/ANZAC forces, details were described down to the Battalion level, even Company level a couple of times. The Turkish units, however, were only described in very generic terms and at best, the Divisional information given. I realize that the UK/Indian/ANZAC WWI unit’s histories were probably more available to the author, both in English and just general availability. But I really would like to have had more information on the different Turkish forces, like Battalion numbers, the names of their commanders, etc. At times, I felt that I had no information about the Turkish forces.

In conclusion, I am happy to have bought the book and have read so far to date. I feel that it has given me a decent overall picture of World War I in the Middle East to be used as my primer for future books on the subject. I am now more interested in reading up on the Mesopotamia and Gallipoli campaigns. But I really would like to find a book that is more about the Turkish soldiers’ experience and more detailed accounts about their side of the war.
The next book that I will read will be Kermit Roosevelt’s, “Armoured Cars in Eden: An American President’s Son Serving in Rolls Royce Armoured Cars with the British in the Mesopotamia & with the American Artillery in France During the First World War.” It was originally published as, “War in the Garden of Eden”. I am looking forward to reading that book for a couple of reasons: 1) it is written by Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Kermit. I have always been a fan of Teddy Roosevelt and have found his family to be very interesting. Kermit volunteered to join the British Army before the US entered the war; 2) it is a personal account of the Great War in the Mesopotamia, which is something that I am interested in currently. Hopefully, I will have some free time to time up a review about it later.

Book Review: “Razor’s Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War” by Hugh Bicheno

Book Review: “Razor’s Edge: The Unofficial History of the Falklands War” by Hugh Bicheno

As several people told, “Run, don’t walk to get this book.” I think that sums it up rather nicely on my opinion about this book. This is by far the best book I have read on the Falklands war. The book is published by Phoenix Paperback and was published in 2006. The page count is 344 pages, with another 14 pages of appendix material, 16 pages of both B&W and color photographs, and 12 pages of listings for bibliographies. There are also 41 excellent maps and diagrams located throughout the book.

A bit about the author first, Hugh Bicheno is a former British intelligence officer that was station at the Buenos Aires embassy in 1974. His mission was to report on the Argentine regime which allowed him to gain many good Argentine connects and have serious insight in the Argentine philosophy about how they viewed the British up to and during the Falklands War. Hugh Bicheno is also a successful historical author, so he also understands how to write to keep things interesting. The author is also not afraid to give his opinions throughout the book, with might turn some off. But even when I found that I didn’t agree with him, I found his opinion very informative. The other thing I liked about the author’s style is that he is not also afraid to place blame where blame should be put, but also gives praise to both sides where it is deserved.

The book has 17 chapters, in addition to a Foreword, Introduction, and Conclusion chapters. The chapters roughly break down into four chapters of the events leading up to the Argentine invasion, one chapter on the men & equipment, one chapter on the Argentine invasion, one chapter on the Falkland Islanders civilians, and the remaining covering the period of time of the British operations to retake the Falklands.

The author is very detailed on the battles at all levels, from the British Task Force Commander to the lowly Argentine conscript. He is one of the first that I have seen that goes into the level of detail to explain which Argentine platoons had their company’s night visions and where they were located in a battle, or the continuous failure of the British 84mm Recoilless Rifles in the army units. Also, the author finally gives the Argentine conscripts the better recognition of their role in the battles and refuses to accept the myth of their great losses and total poor performance by them against the British forces, but at the same time he is willing showing their failure of leadership, logistics, and training. Likewise, he shows the heroics and professionalism of the various British forces, but also writes of some of the pettiness by the various British commanders, the poor conditions of some British troops, and even barbaric acts like severing ears from Argentine soldiers by at least one British soldier.

This book, I think should be an absolute read for anyone interested in the Falklands war. I am extremely happy that I have read it.