Quality Books.

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by Nostalgair, Aug 25, 2008.

  1. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi All,

    I thought I'd turn the tables on this one and pose a question.

    In the military history genre, what makes a quality book? Do you prefer technical or narrative? What qualities within these areas makes the book worthwhile for you?

    Additionally, what do you dislike and will lead you towards putting a book down and leaving it there.

    I'm keen to hear all replies.


  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    That's a tough one Owen, especially as the same subject maybe be written in so many ways, and each book may bring something different and/or new to the reader. However, firstly, I suppose we should establish the types of books available. This is just a very rough "guide" of how divide books I've read:

    Autobiographies - I am most forgiving about these. The writer has written what he/she wishes and I will take it at face value. However, most of the writers of these books are not professionals and so the quality and the readability varies considerably. I have books that may not contain the most technical or historical information, on a wider level, but the writer has managed to convey their personal experiences well, and in a way that keeps me interested. A good autobiography is probably one that gives enough information for me to want to go out and read more about the subject/incident(s) etc. Examples would be Life's Too Short to Cry by Vigors, DDay Plus One by Holland and your book (I do consider this an autobiography because the voice that comes across is McGlashan's). I have also read some terrible ones - not because they are necessarily written badly but the content is full of hyperbole. There is a certain group of veterans, for an unnamed country and service, who seem to be the most frequent culprits of this.

    Biographies - I have read some excellent biographies, and so terrible ones. The main differences between the two are the author's objectivity, research/accuracy, detail and readability. If the author shows that he/she has mastered not only the subject but the context and readership, then they will get my attention even if the subject hin/herself aren't somebody I actually like etc

    Memoirs - these tend to be like the autobiographies but contain mainly vignettes of events. Some of the self published ones are quite good, as I accept that they have just jotted down a few experiences that they think others may enjoy reading about. But some memoirs really do make one wonder what it is that they have left out, and why.

    Narrative Histories - just taking one example, the Battle of Britain, there are hundreds of books. I've read a few, and the quality really is evident in those ones that show good research, and not just regurgitating the same old stuff. Originality of research is central for me to pick up a narrative history now.

    Analytical Histories - I really like these, especially ones that are considered "revisionist". Personally, I think the masters of these are people like Max Hastings, Antony Beevor and Gordon Corrigan. People who take a fresh look at a subject, throw out the established, preconceived ideas and bring a fresh look at a subject.

    Official Histories - The antithesis of the above. Established, mainstream ideas, which usually follow the official line. Not always bad though

    Technical Histories - be it about a squadron, a theatre of action, or a weapon, these had better show that they are accurate, full of specific details (for example crews, serial numbers etc) because they are damn expensive and I have been all too often disappointed by some that just haven't made the effort.

    Lastly, the book had better look like it's value for money. Both Pen & Sword, and Grub Street publish some excellent books but at £20-30 for a 200 page book is way too much - I always look around to pick up a much cheaper second hand or bargain basket copy.
  3. Kitty

    Kitty New Member

    In direct opposition to Kyt's long winded approach to breaking down the British Library, I'll go for fairly short and sweet. I obviously don't buy that many books, due to time and financial constraints, but for me, whether it is a memoir, biog, autobiog or just a plain old story then it has to be accurate, well written and fun to read. A book like Vulcan 607 was not only accurate, but also very well written, researched, told from many points of view and expertly crafted together to create a book I didn't want to put down. It was written more as a story, but was about a real event. thee appeal more to me these days.
    In other fields i prefer intelligently written, but understandable approaches. i currently have two on archaeology waiting to be read, one an introduction to the use of stone circles in prehistoric times and another on the landscape of Avebury. I bought them as they were written for non-archaeologists, but assumed the reader is intelligent enough to think and learn.
    A book has to be well written, as if it is a chore to read then I will not remember any of the information.
  4. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Not an avid reader of books but I do have some of the above. Very important that they are accurate. I agree with you that some unfortunately do not cut it.

  5. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Thanks all.

    Great answers and of particular interest to me.

    Keep them coming.


  6. Keith

    Keith New Member

    Book and Films

    Hi Nostalgair,
    Recently read:-
    "Wings Day" interesting account of life behind the wire.
    "Fighter Pilot" by Paul Richie DFC, good read.
    "Not Peace but a Sword" by WinCo Patrick Gibbs DSO,DFC*, a bit glamorised and "gung ho"
    "Reach for the Sky" as good now as when I first read it.
    "First Light" Geoffrey Wellum, absorbing down to earth story of a young fighter pilot.
    "I Flew for the Fuhrer" Contrasting story of a Luftwaffe fighter pilot.
    I am busy reading "Douglas Bader" by John Fray Turner, an accurate account of the life of Douglas Bader in co-operation with "DB" his wife and close friends, proving to be a good account.
  7. Brian S

    Brian S Guest


    I find that a Reference Work is always a good start providing it gives the point of reference.
    It then gives the chance to look at the original documents.

    I have found in a few instances regarding Naval Intelligence that Summaries have been used and not the original source. This has lead to a perpetuation of mistakes made in the summaries,which make it advisable to go back to the original.

    A classic example was used by Alberto Santoni in "Il Vero Traditore" etc. where he used the Intelligence summaries found in ADM223/31 and not the originals in DEFE3.which led to a few mistakes and ommissions.

    Jurgen Rohwer on the other hand indicates that no Reference work in 100% accurate and invites any reader finding a mistake to contact him with the information.

    Then it could be me just being too fussy.
  8. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Everyone has different criteria for deciding what books they like .....

    Some will read any book to the end - slogging through piles of tripe or suffering endless boredom just so they can say they have read it
    Others will give it a couple of chapters before deciding
    Still others will read the reviews - read the blurb - skim the book - and read the ending and then decide whether they are or they’re not interested

    Each method has its merits !

    As for myself ....... I go and sit on the stool provided at the little book store I frequent and sit and inwardly digest the first chapter ...... and /or look at the photographs ... and this sounds silly ... but I like the "feel" of a book ... I appreciate books that are well bound !

    I love second hand books that look good but don't cost a lot ! I've found that older books interest me more than newer books!

    If a writer's style annoys me - I stop reading if it continues to annoy after about 20 pages ...... I will try again however ( ie the next time I go !! ) .... just in case I didn't "get it" the first time !

    I have occasionally bought and finished - badly written books because the story or concept was interesting in spite of the bad writing ...... more often or not - I'll just stop reading !

    If a book is dull but well written - I give it about 100 pages - because some books start slowly .... if it has not picked up by then - I stop reading (unless the book was recommended by a reliable friend in which case I may read another 100 pages). This happens mostly with non-fiction - especially war books.

    Sometimes I come across books that tell a good story and are - for the most part - well written - but there is something missing - some spark that would make an average book into a good one .... but nothing annoys me more than to have a great beginning and an OK middle .... but the end drops off the radar ....... !!

    Sometimes books are spoiled for me by other people ..... those I put aside to read at a later time when I have forgotten that the book was spoiled
    I am always ready to give authors whose books I have not liked in the past a second chance .... even the best of writers sometimes write bad books

    I can never walk out of there with just one book .... I always take an armful up to the counter .... the owner usually knows how to tempt me though .... he sees me with my WW1 books and my POW books and lately I've picked up some WW2 and Chaplain books .... so by the time its time to go again ... ( about once every 2-3 weeks ) he has a whole new array of goodies .... then I'm like a kid in a candy store !!
  9. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    A girl after my own heart!

    Annie, have you found heaven?

    I hope we haven't done anything so heinous.
  10. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    YES !! :clapping:

    I think my dream would be - to have my own book store ... with comfy chairs and a coffee pot that's always full !! :clapping:

    ( Only trouble is ... I wouldn't like to sell my books - !! )
  11. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Kyt and I have said exactly the same thing in the past!
  12. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I meant to say ... I'm a big fan of e-books and also audio books .... though nothing beats the satisfaction of having too many books for the book shelves !! :becky:
  13. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    I thought I was rapidly approaching that scenario but Jodi reminded me I have a built-in cupboard in the study that is under-utilised so all of the non-book crap on the hselves will go there. I should get another few levels out of that.

    I haven't quite got to the stage where my shelves fall down (like Morse - touch wood) or I lose books behind my monitor (like Kyt :>). :becky:

    However, one should not look at the floor of my study at present.
  14. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    My son tells me I'm a weird Mother .... he asked me what I wanted for Christmas ... I told him ......

    Bookshelves and Death certificates !! ( for my Honour Rolls !! ) :clapping:
  15. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Sounds like one of my cunning purchases lately namely a Mossie print signed by lots of aircrew...Christmas present! :lol:
  16. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Shelves? What are they? Just one side (the side I tidied yesterday ;) ) of my living room

    Attached Files:

  17. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

  18. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Some great answers one and all. (Keeps me thinking...)

    There's nothing like a passion for books and it's great to hear we all share it.


  19. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    You know Owen ... thinking about the subject a little more ... I think books tend to be a "generational" thing !

    My Dad loved books and I grew up with them ... but he was very protective of his books ... you could read them by all means ... or he'd read them to us ... but you didn't mess with his books !!!!!!!!!!! ....... and I tend to be the same way !:)

    My own kids grew up with books .... ( surrounded by them in fact .... on every flat surface in every room in the house ... Scousers decorate with books you know !! ) but one loved them - the other ( 8 years younger ) didn't !!

    Most of the people I know .... have loads of DVD's or CD's .... the younger generation are so used to getting their information from the internet - that books don't come into the picture unless they get really interested in a subject first !! ( which is a different from the way I use books !! .... plus of course I didn't have the internet in my formative years !! :noidea: )
  20. Nostalgair

    Nostalgair New Member

    Hi Annie,

    All very good points. There is some interesting reading on DVDs Vs books as part of the learning process. Books tend to trigger the imagination and call for the visual to be created in the mind. DVDs present it and dictate the form. That is to say that when written, the word 'wave' may conjur the picture of a ripple for one and a Tsunami for another.

    As with everything, I believe that it's all about balance. However, my scales tilt towards the old-style book.



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