Friday, March 11, 2005

Big Kahuna

The shortlist for the 2005 Duke of Westminster's Medal for Military Literature is out:

Jeremy Black - The British Seaborne Empire
John Hughes-Wilson - The Puppet Masters
Janet Morgan - The Secrets of Rue St Roche
N.A.M Roger - Command of the Ocean
David Stevenson - 1914-1918: The History of the First World War
David Reynolds - In Command of History

The medal is a pretty strong seal of quality, having been awarded in the past to, among others, Hew Strachan's The Politics of the British Army, Marrack Goulding's Peacemonger and Norman Friedman's The Fifty-Year War. So if you want to read any of the shortlisted books, chances are you're going to have a good time.

I am eligible to make a nomination for the prize (the shortlist will ultimately be judged by a panel led this year by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones) and had planned to give the nod to either James Gow's Defending the West or Jeremy Black's Rethinking Military History. In the event I... er... forgot. So I hope the absence of my vote has not denied either book a place in the running.
I confess, to my mild chagrin, that I have read none of the shortlisted books this year. However, there may be a silver lining to this cloud, as my favourite contender never wins. At least this year I shall not be in danger of jinxing anyone.

I find the inclusion of David Stevenson's book interesting. One question I often get asked - and dread - is whether I can recommend a good single volume history of the Great War. I can't, at least not unreservedly. Everything on offer is flawed in some way. The best may well be Ian Beckett's The Great War 1914-1918, but arranged thematically as it is, it is not entirely suitable for the neophyte reader seeking a chronological, narrative approach. I generally end up ushering people towards John Terraine's single volume treatment, muttering disclaimers and expressions of qualification all the while. I will be intrigued to see if Stevenson's work will fill the gap.

Of course, The Daddy is set to be Hew Strachan's epic new trilogy. But given that only the first volume is available at the time of writing and given that that alone could provide enough papier mache to construct a lifesize Stegosaurus it's not the sort of thing that a newcomer to the subject is likely to welcome being confronted with.

So who will win? Well as I say, my record on this is not promising, but seeing as I have no emotional stake in the outcome I'll stick my neck out and say the clever money is on Command of the Ocean.


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Bill Adams

3:05 AM  

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