Saturday, December 28, 2013

Madcap: The half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius by Tim Willis.

Madcap: The half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius by Tim Willis.  Hardcover book published by Short Books 2002, 175 pages with some colour and black and white photographs as well as a few illustrations.

“Beautiful, charismatic, and talented, in 1966 Syd Barrett invented the British Psychedelic scene—founding Pink Floyd—before collapsing into madness two years later. This book traces the history of rock's lost genius, through exclusive access to those closest to Syd throughout his life.”

“…Syd Barrett invented the British Psychedelic scene.”  Really?  That’s a fairly bold statement and I’m sure that there are those out there who would dispute it… but what would I know about 1960s British Psychedelia, for all I know Syd Barrett did invent it.  Regardless if he did or didn’t, it’s a great story to add to the myth and legend of Syd Barrett.

‘Like a plangent wah-wah guitar chord, this book bends the Syd myth in new and exciting ways’ Will Self

I know a few Pink Floyd fans.  Yes, they are still out there in very large numbers.  I’ve even heard Dark Side of the Moon pumping out of my neighbours back door and I know of someone who excitedly bought the recent multi disc reissue of the same album and then returned it a few days later in complete disgust (… his amazon review seems to have disappeared).  I once worked with an obsessive obsessive for whom Pink Floyd and related musics could do no wrong.  It’s hard trying to sound interested in something that whilst of interest is not really my thing.

Syd Barrett only actively contributed to the first Pink Floyd album and then left after indulging in a little too much Psychedelia.  A couple of solo albums and then really, that was it.  Which is I guess where the story, legend and myth really begin to kick in.  Where was he and what was he doing for all those years whilst his former band mates made more music and money than any rock band should ever realistically do?  Was his brain really that befuddled that he couldn’t somehow reignite that spark he once had?  The answer is possibly in this book.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Modern Chairs by Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell.

Modern Chairs by Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell.  Paperback book published by Taschen 2002, 160 pages with colour and black and white photographs.  Text is in English, German and French.

“That book was my husbands.”
(Me) “Mmmm.  Do you have nice chairs?”
“No. We had children instead.”

Taschen do great books.  They are glossy, colourful, informative, entertaining and very appealing.  They can also be very expensive although the smaller volumes, such as this one, are often more reasonably priced.  The larger volumes can be spectacular (appearance, content and price) and give a whole new meaning to the words “coffee table book”.  I’ve seen Taschen Books that wouldn’t even fit on my coffee table and if they did I don’t know that the coffee table would hold up under the weight. 

This volume is a more reasonably weighted item and should appeal to those that are reference hungry and to those wanting a coffee table design book.  The photographs are of the usual Taschen quality (excellent) and whilst the descriptions are brief, they get to the point… and they get to the point in English, German and French.  Perfect for bilingual homes wanting books (and chairs) that everyone can enjoy.

I like nice chairs and I like looking at nice chairs.  One day, I may even sit in a nice chair.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma by Dr. Peggy Rismiller.

The Echidna: Australia’s Enigma by Dr. Peggy Rismiller.  Hardcover book published by Hugh Lauter Levin Associates 1999, 128 pages with colour photographs as well as a few colour and black and black and white illustrations, there are also a few black and white photographs.

We have some strange animals here in Australia.  Actually, that’s probably a bit of an unfair comment about our wonderful and unique fauna, as it isn’t really that strange unless you start comparing it to other animals elsewhere in the world.  Here in Australia, an egg laying mammal isn’t really that strange… we have one more*.  The Echidna which as much as it is like a Hedgehog and Porcupine, isn’t anything at all like either of them.  Yeah, it’s got spines and is cute and not cuddly… and that’s really about all that is the same.  I’ve just realised I don’t know much about the Hedgehog or Porcupine, but that’s not really an issue here in Australia as they are not walking around our neighbourhood, unlike: 

I took this photo last week a few kilometers away from Huc & Gabet headquarters.  For those who don’t know the Echidna, they tend to roll up as a defence mechanism against anything they consider nasty, in this case me.  I’m a bit of a fan of Australian wildlife and the Echidna whilst not uncommon, is an animal I rarely see in the wild.  I took the photograph to show some of the locals and wondered how they would react to my amateur wildlife spotting (and photography).  Everyone I’ve shown the photo to has reacted positively… which is nice.

This book features photographs of the Echidnas on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia.  They are different to my local Echidnas as you can probably see if you compare my photograph and the image on the dust jacket.  From what I can gather the four species of Echidna are fairly similar and unless you’re a zoologist seeking the minutae on Echidnas, then one book should fit all.** There lots of Echidna text/information as well as the photographs and there’s even some photographs of a Porcupine and a Hedgehog to help clarify the differences for those of us who want to clarify the differences. 

*The Platypus
**Ill informed comment by someone who knows nothing about Echidnas. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get Tough!: How to Win in Hand-To-Hand Fighting: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U. S. Armed Forces by Captain W. E. Fairbairn.

Get Tough!: How to Win in Hand-To-Hand Fighting: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U. S. Armed Forces by Captain W. E. Fairbairn, illustrated by "Hary".  Hardcover book published by Paladin Press 1979, 121 pages with black and white illustrations.

If you’ve ever wondered how to win a fight against a Nazi soldier, then this is the book for you.  Captain W. E. Fairbairn was not a shrinking violet when it came down to instructing the British and US soldiers during WWII in hand to hand combat:

“There will be some who will be shocked by the methods advocated here. To them I say, ‘In war you cannot afford the luxury of squeamishness. Either you kill or capture, or you will be killed or captured. We’ve got to be tough to win, and we’ve got to be ruthless.’”

I’m impressed with this book. The excellent illustrations make it fairly clear that it is only on German soldiers that one should be using these techniques.  I guess this is to make sure that Partisans, Allies, Civilians or Oktoberfest revelers aren’t attacked, one should focus on German soldiers/The Nazis.  You wouldn’t want to


on a Russian, would you?  I’m now wondering if he did a Japanese edition as well.

Today of course there would be no book about all of this.  There probably wouldn’t even be a DVD.  Yep, it would be a phone app so that you could quickly reference it whilst in the thick of it.  So if you’ve got a Nazi problem and no phone, then this book should answer all of your needs. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chemical Warfare in Australia by Geoff Plunkett.

Chemical Warfare in Australia by Geoff Plunkett.  Hardcover book published by Australian Military History Publications 2007, 733 pages with black and white photographs and a few black and white maps.  

“This meticulously researched book unearths a sixty-year secret. As the Japanese swept south towards Australia in late 1941, they carried with them chemical weapons, already used with deadly effect in China. Forced to counter the chemical warfare threat, Australia covertly imported about 1,000,000 chemical weapons — including 16 types of mustard gas — and hid them in tunnels and other sites around the country. This book tells the story of the importation, storage and ‘live trials’ of the deadly weapons. It reveals details of the chemical warfare agents themselves, Australia’s retaliatory plans, the involvement of the USA, the training of the weapon handlers and, finally, the dangerous disposal of the volatile agents.”

I guess we all knew that chemical weapons weren’t invented by the Syrians.  Saddam Hussein used them not that long ago.  Under International Law it has been illegal to use chemical weapons since 1899*… but obviously the memo never reached Syria… or the United States, Russia or North Korea, four countries that we know still have stockpiles of chemical weapons.  They mightn’t be using them at the moment, but given half a chance… and if they aren’t going to use them, then why have them?

1899…mmmm.  This book looks at “Australia’s involvement in Chemical Warfare between 1914 and 1945”.  Obviously the memo didn’t arrive here either… or if it did, it arrived a bit late.  Before anyone starts messaging me with comments about the wars and Australia being “forced”… or as a deterrent against more recent threats… I am more than willing to admit that this is a complicated subject and one that I am not really au fait about.  But…1899?  That’s a long time ago and there has been plenty of time for everyone to put out the trash.

Geoff Plunkett has written a truly detailed book on this subject.  I guess if you’re going to write about it you should do it properly.  Despite the detail and depth, I can’t imagine this book becoming as big a seller as any book on Gallipoli or Kokoda.  Were there any heroes involved in Australia’s chemical warfare projects?  Somehow I think there are no heroes or winners when it comes to chemical warfare, which is probably why Australia’s involvement remained a sixty-year secret.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs.

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs.  Hardcover book published by The University Of Chicago Press 2009, 280 pages with some black and white photographs and a few black and white illustrations.

Just recently I was pondering the lack of cryptozoology titles that have crossed my path as of the last few years.  There was a time when this stuff was something that I sighted a little more often than legitimate sightings of the Himalayan Yeti, yet after a bountiful few years (of 2 or 3 titles), sightings stopped and cryptozoology became a very rare commodity here at Huc & Gabet.

Strangely, it’s a few short months after this ponderance and I find this interesting volume of information looking at many aspects of Bigfoot and his/her relatives across the globe.  It definitely concentrates on the North American phenomenon in all it’s blurry crypto glory and the author has written the book “with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement”.  I think the idea is to engage both believers and non believers in what are undoubtedly bizarre and strange stories.

Not far from here (Clunes) we have our own crypto beast (?) that has been able to elude all credible verification.  I once casually mentioned this cryptic carnivore to a resident of that particular area and they did smile at my smart arse comment, but then quickly claimed to have seen something that they are still a little puzzled about way off in the distance.  People here in Victoria take these and other sightings very seriously, so much so that the Department of Environment and Primary Industries wrote a report on the issue after some prompting by our state government... The conclusion was that “The available evidence is inadequate to establish that a wild population of ‘big cats’ exists in Victoria.” 

Cryptozoology is not just a North American thing, it’s all over the world.  From the Himalayas to just around the corner from my house, there are:

“…known knowns; there are things we know that we know.  There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.”  Donald Rumsfeld

…which has nothing to do with cryptozoology but is such a great speech that I thought it was appropriate to include some of it here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The First Crusade by Steven Runciman.

The First Crusade by Steven Runciman.  Hardcover book published by Book Club Associates 1980, 240 pages with black and white photographs and illustrations as well as some colour photographs and illustrations.

“When Pope Urban II rose to his feet to address the multitudes gathered before him at the Council of Clermont in 1095, his appeal was simple: let Western Christendom march to the aid of their brethren in the East. The enthusiasm with which his call was met was overwhelming and extraordinary.”

A number of years ago I acquired a lovely worn and aged 3 volume set of Runciman’s A History of the Crusades*.  Not surprisingly and not unpredictably, I then read all 3 volumes over a number of months, with a break between each volume.  I seem to remember the break was intended as a bit of a rest in between page after page of bloody confrontations between Europe and the Middle East.  I don’t remember all the gory details and at the time I figured it wasn’t that important to remember everything.  What I felt was important was to get a general idea of the whole thing.  I do remember that there was lots trickery and nastiness and that behind all the religious zeal there was lots of other stuff that had very little or nothing to do with the Holy Land.  Probably the one event that shocked me the most was the Childrens Crusade, of which according to some, Runciman may have got the wrong end of the stick.

“Steven Runciman gives an account of the Children's Crusade in his A History of the Crusades. Raedts notes that "Although he cites Munro's article in his notes, his narrative is so wild that even the unsophisticated reader might wonder if he had really understood it."  Wikipedia

“Unsophisticated reader”… that’s me.  If you look around on the interwebs, people do say nice things about Runciman but there are also questions about how accurate his meisterwerk is.  Whether all or part of Runciman is accurate, there’s enough in his books to give an idea of some wild and crazy times not all of which were as Kosher as some would like to think.

This particular book dealing only with the first crusade is a little more glossy… OK, it’s a lot more glossy… than any of my volumes.  The illustrations do add to the text and it is nice to be able to look at the images relating to the events.  This particular edition is a Book Club edition, which doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of the volume.  Sure, it would be nice to find a lovely vintage three volume set such as the one that sits comfortably on my personal shelves, but until then this Book Club edition of the first volume will do.

The Crusades are without a doubt an important part of world history, which is I guess why I read Runciman in the first place.  Whether others are in interested in the blood and guts of many years ago, I don’t know.  

*Cambridge at the University Press 1954.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pedal Power: In Work Leisure, and Transportation, edited by James C. McCullagh.

Pedal Power: In Work Leisure, and Transportation, edited by James C. McCullagh. Paperback book published by Rodale Press 1977, 133 pages with black and white illustrations and photographs.

“How to produce your own energy from a stationary bicycle—with actual building instructions for a newly designed energy cycle!”

After deciding to write about Pedal Power, I have been unable to find the video that I wanted to insert with this blog entry (youtube has let me down).  Yep, I have been unable to find a video of Edward G. Robinson peddling hard to create electricity in the film Soylent Green (… it’s people).  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Edward wasn’t peddling away when Charlton Heston came home to their small apartment after a hard day doing whatever he was doing.  Maybe it’s a different film.  Can anyone out there confirm any of this?

So I see a book on Pedal Power and all I think about is Edward G. Robinson peddling hard whilst everyone is eating Soylent Green.  The scene was not a positive one and I can’t remember feeling joyous at the end of the movie, so when I associate Soylent Green with Pedal Power it doesn’t necessarily bring back warm friendly memories, it’s more of a grim future where demand of all things exceeds supply. 

This book which has nothing to do with Soylent Green and is a great and positive DIY manual for the environmentally conscious peddle pusher.  It has all sorts of information on harnessing the power of pedals in all forms, which is not a new idea and indeed the book doesn’t claim that it is.  Heaps of interesting and informative examples of older forms of pedal power are shown and the book then goes on to demonstrate modern uses and how to construct the bits and pieces.  With rising electricity prices and global warming terrorising us all, this book could have some of the answers that we need… whether we like it or not.

Maybe peddle power is the answer to the grim future.  Maybe we should “watch TV from electricity produced at home!”… or maybe we should read a book... that is if there are any more books.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pei Mei's Home Style Chinese Cooking by Fu Pei Mei and Angela Cheng.

Pei Mei's Home Style Chinese Cooking by Fu Pei Mei and Angela Cheng.  Hardcover book published by Fu Pei Mei, Taiwan (no date), 135 pages with colour photographs.

“In this book we use the term “Home-Style” cooking. In home-style cooking, one is not as concerned about the appearance of the food and fancy garnishes as we are about the taste and nutritional value of the dishes. Although specific amounts of ingredients are stated in these recipes, you are allowed to vary the measurements according to your individual taste. Flavors of foods in home-style cooking vary depending upon the cooking technique used. If you cook the same food using a different technique, the taste will change. The recipes included in this cookbook are completely different from those found in Pei Mei’s cookbooks Vol. I, II, and III. The 120 recipes included in this book are divided according to the type of ingredients used. Dishes included are simple and economical to prepare. Taste is not too spicy, not too mild.”

Finding this book was one of those moments in this booksellers journey where the discovery of a new title truly excited and invigorated.  When I pulled this book off the shelf and confirmed that it was another title by Pei Mei other than Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book Volume 1, I could barely control my excitement.  I’ve been on the lookout for anything by Pei Mei for a number of years now and have only managed to find many copies of Volume 1… and one other book which from memory was full of Yum Cha recipes… and that’s it.  People that know Pei Mei’s work are always on the look out for Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book Volumes 2 and 3… Good luck.  I’ve been actively looking for years to no avail, which is probably why I got so excited to find this title… or any title other than Volume 1.

So who was Fu Pei Mei?  Besides authoring elusive cook books, she was a celebrity TV chef in Taiwan who managed to clock up 40 years on the telly before retiring and then passing away (2002 and 2004).  I’ve been assured by Chinese speakers and eaters that she was/is a superstar across the Chinese world including it’s diaspora, which is probably why I find so many copies of Volume 1 of the trilogy here is Australia.  Why I don’t find the other volumes is a bit of mystery that I don’t really understand... a bit like most of this youtube clip: 

I’ve attempted a few Pei Mei recipes despite the unappealing photographs that accompany some of the dishes.  This one from Volume 1 was particularly tasty:

I write quite a bit about cookbooks as they are something that I like, particularly anything unusual, appetizing or of interest.  As most of you are probably aware cookbooks can be a can of worms as they often look great whilst being incredibly unpopular with the book buying public.  Finding a new (to me) Pei Mei title is something that does excite me and fulfills my cookbook criteria (unusual, appetizing or of interest)… and it gives me hope in my search for Volumes 2 and 3.  One day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Select Extra-Tropical Plants, Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses by Baron Ferd. Von Mueller, Government Botanist of Victoria.

Select Extra-Tropical Plants, Readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalisation, with Indications of Their Native Countries and Some of Their Uses by Baron Ferd. Von Mueller, Government Botanist of Victoria. (Baron Sir Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller).  Hardcover book (leather binding, gilt edges)(no dust jacket) published by Robt S. Brain Government Printer 1888 Seventh edition revised and enlarged, 517 pages.

Most people here in Victoria know the name Ferdinand von Mueller through his work with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, as he had the distinguished honour of being appointed it’s first director in 1857.  This is what I knew him about him when I saw his shiny gold name on the spine… and what a spine it is.  Leather bindings are a real eye catcher and this one practically jumped into my hands before I had even fully digested what it was that I had.  My next step of course was to look around the same location for any other fine leather bindings of any sort.  Unfortunately Mr Mueller was definitely on his lonesome.

Front Cover

I have seen this sort of binding before, mainly when I worked at the Baillieu library at Melbourne University.  They had rooms full of books bound in this and similar styles.  From what I know these sorts of books from this era were often issued in paperback format (there are copies of this title and edition in paperback, floating around the www), and then bound as per the owners wishes.  I think this was to keep a library including personal libraries, uniform in appearance and I guess that’s why the Baillieu has rooms full of books bound like this.  

Baron Sir Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller was into his plants.  So into them, that he was able to slap together this compendium of useful information about Extra-Tropical Plants, probably with one hand tied behind his back and the other hand busy weeding his own garden, whilst overseeing the Botanical Garden.  You wonder where he got the time, but I guess if someone isn’t updating their facebook profile or watching cat videos on youtube, then there is plenty of time to write a book.

Von Muellers busy, facebook free, schedule also lead him to Clunes where he “aided the establishment of the plantings” in the park (I can see some of his “plantings” from where I now sit).   I don’t know if he made it here personally or just sent some plants, but what I do know is that Clunes is not “Extra Tropical” in climate* which is what the plants in this book are.  

* Global warming may change this.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pizza Modo Mio by John Lanzafame.

Pizza Modo Mio by John Lanzafame.  Paperback book published by Murdoch Books 2008, 192 pages with colour photographs.

“From traditional toppings and extraordinary bases, calzone and foot-longs, kids’ pizzas and even desserts, John Lanzafame has the pizza world covered. With instructions for all the pizza techniques you need to know, plus a variety of bases, sauces and delicious, sometimes unusual, toppings, Pizza modo mio — ‘my style’ — is the perfect cook’s companion for pizza lovers.”

I love Pizza.  This heartfelt and passionate passion of mine is a recent acquisition.  Before I moved to Clunes, Pizza was not something that I felt strongly about.  I liked Pizza.  It was even something that I enjoyed on a casual infrequent basis, but now that I’m living in a town without Pizza* (takeaway or restaurants), I love it.  Is this because I can’t get it that easily, or is it because I’ve started making my own Pizzas on a more regular basis?

I’m not the world’s greatest cook, but I do enjoy eating things that I’ve managed to slap together and when the taste is vaguely the way it should be, I love it even more.  I’ve have been known to cheat when cooking various dishes by using premixed ingredients such as pastes or ready made pastry, but I think most of us do this to varying degrees.  A good example is Indian food.  As nice as home made curry paste is, I find that many of the ready made, Indian made pastes, are more than up to standard.  Pizza on the other hand is something that I make from scratch.  Yes, I’m a dough man and recently I’ve become a reduced Tomato man as apposed to tomato paste, which is something I’ve used for as long as I can remember.  My dough recipe is something I picked up from some well known cookbooks and is something that works well for me… even when it doesn’t work exactly to plan, it still works.  Toppings vary depending on my mood and tastes… and what’s in the fridge.  Because I eat what I make, I think I’m entitled to add that my Pizza making skills have improved over the last year or two.  I love it.

My spiel here has very little to do with Pizza Modo Mio.  I figured that what I want to convey to you, the reader, is how lovely it is to make your own pizza from scratch which is exactly what this book will show any budding Pizza Chef how to do.  I find it extremely satisfying to put down a large tray of gourmet Pizza in front of unsuspecting guests and watch their surprise when they realise that yours truly has made what’s on offer and Pizza Modo Mio will demonstrate how to achieve this.

* Clunes Population = 1656

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.  Hardcover book published by Bloomsbury 1998, 213 pages with black and white photographs.

en·dur·ance - noun : the ability to do something difficult for a long time

I wonder if “The Endurance” was deliberately chosen for Shackleton’s expedition because of it’s name.  You can’t really get a name of a ship to be as apt as this by accident, although I guess any sailing ship was a test of “endurance” back in the early 1900s.

Shackleton was no ice novice when he went to the Antarctic in 1914.  He had visited before, most famously as a member of the Discovery Expedition (1901–03).  Unfortunately he was sent home early due to illness.  This is the sort of thing that could bother you a bit and by all accounts it bothered Shackleton.  So he went back, again and again trying to prove a point (?).  This book looks at what is probably his most famous point seeking adventure, The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–17).  What it is famous for is that the members endured incredible hardship after their ship got stuck in ice and then got crushed leaving Shackleton and his fellow adventurers stranded in what I’m sure you’re aware, is not a very friendly place… unless you’re a penguin… and even then it’s not that friendly.  So there they were, a long way from home, cold and probably hungry.  After quite a bit more cold and hunger, Shackleton was able to get everyone home alive… that is everyone except for the dogs and cat(s?).  

One of the reasons this expedition has endured in our history, is the incredible images that Australian photographer Frank Hurley managed to snap amidst all the enduring difficulties.  To me they are icons of an age gone by, of an adventure that went horribly wrong and then miraculously sort of fixed itself.  I find it amazing that the ship was breaking apart, they were in the middle of a massive ice flow, a long, long, long way from home, cold and probably hungry and Hurley breaks out his camera (a 1914 camera) and takes some photos of the event.  Amazing.

A number of years ago I went and saw an Imax movie about this expedition.  I enjoyed it a lot.  They used original film footage, photographs and contemporary footage to tell the story.  I think I was a bit dubious before hand, but afterwards I was pleasantly impressed.  It did occur to me though that they had quite a bit of information about the dogs that were with the expedition early in the film and then all of a sudden, the dogs were gone.  The film had a G rating.

One of the dogs that didn't make it.

Finally I want to mention the subject matter of this book in relation to bookshops.  Many years ago Arctic/Antarctic books were much sought after.  Even this bookseller went out searching for books on Antarctica… not to sell… to read.  All of the secondhand bookshops I knew of had small sections entitled Polar Exploration or something like that.  There are a few shops that have hung on to this great tradition, but most of the newer wave of booksellers seem to have discarded the Polar section… at least that’s my observation.  I know from personal experience that in the last few years, no one has asked me for Polar books and therefore a separate section seems superfluous to me.  It could be that people are now less interested in the Poles than they once were.  I could be wrong.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Charging Against Napoleon: Diaries and Letters of Three Hussars 1808-1815 by Eric Hunt. Napoleon Bonaparte: England's Prisoner by Frank Giles.

Charging Against Napoleon: Diaries and Letters of Three Hussars 1808-1815 by Eric Hunt.  Hardcover book published by Leo Cooper 2001, 290 pages with a few black and white photographs, illustrations and maps.

Napoleon Bonaparte: England's Prisoner by Frank Giles.  Hardcover book published by Carroll & Graf 2001, 206 pages with some black and white illustrations.  

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Napoleon (click here) and it probably wont be my last.  I’m sitting here wondering how much do I really know about the short bloke with the funny hat (not pictured above)? Not a lot.  At a few points in my life, I have crossed paths with Napoleon… not him personally, but more his legacy and the memory of his achievements and failures.  I’ll start off with a visit to the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, East Germany (now Germany).

My father was from a small village in Germany and on my first visit to Europe I took it upon myself to visit my ancestral homeland.  Leipzig, being the closest big city, was the starting point for my explorations and any visit to Leipzig wasn’t and isn’t complete with a visit to the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal.  It’s a large imposing memorial to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig and commemorates Napoleon's defeat.  In a park nearby there was a small museum (it might still be there) containing a large replica battlefield… sort of like toy soldiers on a large table.  Personally I found the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal and it’s dramatic appearance impressive, the little museum was a little boring although I guess it did serve a purpose.  There is something about standing on a former Napoleonic battle field that is a little strange to someone born in Australia.  I guess it has to do with the lack of large scale warfare on Australian soil.*  Needless to say, I did get the point that Napoleon had been there and it’s obviously something I haven’t forgotten.  (I had lunch at a nearby East German workers cafeteria after the visit… which is also something I haven’t forgotten.)

Now for the absurd.  A few years after this visit and I was working in a disturbingly quiet retail business where things at times got incredibly boring during the disturbing quietness.  One of my co workers decided that we needed to spice up our lives and bring a little bit of history to work.  So, he suggested that we each bring a Napoleonic fact to work once a week and discuss.  Looking back, I can’t believe that I agreed on something as stupid as this, although at the time I thought it was a crazy enough idea to go along with it.  This is the sort of thing that you don’t forget about a job and the people you work with.  What I have forgotten is all the Napoleonic facts that we discussed.  They must have been good.

From experience there are quite a few books about the Little Corsican (… less books about East German workers cafeterias). Of the two books that I’m meant to be writing about here, one is directly about him and his time as a prisoner of the British on St Helena which is not the St Helena prison island off the coast of Queensland but rather the Volcanic island in the South Atlantic (… I’m sure the South Atlantic weather is not as nice as Queensland).  Apparently Boney thought he was going to be living peacefully in the English countryside.  Boy, was he in for a shock.  From the minimal Napoleonic facts that I know (or remember), this time that he spent on St Helena is an important part of the Napoleonic legend and I guess that’s why Frank Giles decided to write a book about it.

“Charging Against Napoleon” is a look at Napoleon from the other side of the battlefield and is historically a little bit earlier than the other book. Three officers of the 18th Hussars (British) wrote letters and kept diaries that Eric Hunt has carefully compiled into one readable volume. These guys (excluding Eric Hunt) were there at Waterloo and at the occupation of Paris of which the significance is fairly obvious.  Even if like myself you don’t have all the Napoleonic facts, this is impressive.  I like the fact that this book is based on first hand accounts and if a near Napoleonic virgin like myself is impressed, one can only assume that any au fait Napoleonic reader will get excited by it.

I enjoyed finding these books, they are a nice thing to sell… when they sell.  Based on my past experience they will sell but possibly not on line.

* Excluding the conflict with our indigenous people and brief attacks against Australia during WWII.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Records of the Castlemaine Pioneers.

Records of the Castlemaine Pioneers.  Hardcover book published by Rigby 1972, 236 pages with some black and white photographs and illustrations.

“Every chapter in this book is a true and colourful picture of the uproarious days when Australia was like a great golden magnet. It consists of the recollections of pioneers on the central goldfields of Victoria assembled from the 1880s onwards and here published for the first time.”

Victoria (Australia) was the scene of one of the world’s major goldrushes.  Between 1851 and the late 1860s people came from all over the world to try their hands at gold mining.  An interesting figure is the increase in Melbourne’s population between 1851 and 1854 from 29,000 to 123,000. That’s a big increase in a short amount of time for what was then a small town.  What is even more interesting is that there was no gold in Melbourne (?), Melbourne was just the nearest metropolis to the goldfields… which included Castlemaine.

Not far from where I sit (Clunes), is where the first minute pieces of gold were discovered in 1850 by a Mr. W. Campbell.  He kept this quiet for a while (as you would) but made it public in early 1851 and soon after this there was major mining going on all over Victoria… including Castlemaine, which is not really that far from here.  Any history of any town in this area, usually begins with gold, which is also the reason why you get all those great nineteenth century town halls, banks and post offices in what appear to be sleepy little townships in the middle of nowhere.  Castlemaine is slightly different in that it has maintained a population and size to varying degrees and is still a thriving metropolis compared to many of the smaller less habited towns in the area. 

This book is full of first hand accounts of the goldrush and afterwards.  From experience any local history books of this period are popular and Castlemaine being the historic gold town that is, is no exception.  As soon as I saw this book I figured it would be a seller, if not on line, then definitely in store.  Other books and booklets on Castlemaine have done well for me in the past and this one, whilst not rare, is one that I have not found on a regular basis.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lawrence of Arabia: The authorised biography of T. E. Lawrence by Jeremy Wilson.

Lawrence of Arabia: The authorised biography of T. E. Lawrence by Jeremy Wilson.  Hardcover book published by Heinemann 1990, 1188 pages with a few black and white photographs and illustrations.

This is a large daunting volume by anyones standards.  The sort of book that requires commitment and care to both the book and the reader.  I read it many years ago and I can’t quite remember how I managed it at the time, but obviously I did despite its unwieldiness.  What I do remember is that the book opened up the whole world of Lawrence to me which lead me to read Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  To this day, Seven Pillars is a book that I look upon as a milestone in my reading history and as being a must read for anyone else interested in reading.  I’ve found a few copies over recent years and have had no difficulty in selling it either by recommendation or by fulfilling requests.  Those of you that know the book, know what I’m talking about.  Those of you that don’t…. click here.  Just last weekend I had two separate customers ask me for anything about Lawrence and I did manage to sell a copy of the letters which from memory were edited by the author of this biography.  Lawrence still has many admirers and his relevance, legacy and controversy is worth mentioning in relation to the current issues that plague the Middle East and most recently Syria.  Not bad for a guy that has been dead for more than 75 years.  If you don’t know what the “relevance, legacy and controversy” is all about, I know of a book that should sort this.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Australian Hereford Breeders' Guide: 1950, edited by Frank O’Loghlen.

The Australian Hereford Breeders' Guide: 1950, edited by Frank O’Loghlen.  Hardcover book (no dust jacket) published by The Australian Hereford Society 1950, 160 pages with black and white photographs and a few black and white illustrations.  Book contains quite a lot of advertising for Studs and related products.  (Spine title indicates that this is “Vol.2.1949”)

I do like a good vintage agricultural book and this one meets most of the harsh Huc & Gabet criterias that are carefully considered before such a purchase.  These include:

Subject matter –  Bovines of the Hereford sort in Australia 
It’s a cow.  There are lots of them. They’re in Australia.  People are interested in cows for various different reasons… and so are cows.

Year – 1950.
It’s a historic/nostalgic look at cows. 

Condition – Good.
Condition is always important (… of both the book and the cows).  It was published in 1950, so it should have a little bit of wear… but not too much.

Bonus features – Contains advertising.
Not only does it have cow products (hair gel, deodorant*) it also contains advertising for other cows… sort of like on line dating but with less emotion.


Scarcity – It’s not the Da Vinci Code.

There are other very positive things about this book other than what I’ve written above and I’m fairly sure that one of my regular shop customers will snap it up once I have carefully placed it in his hands.  For now though it’s on line, awaiting some moovement. 

* Not true.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Childlens, edited by Action Punch.

Childlens, edited by Action Punch.  Hardcover book with pictorial boards (no dust jacket) published by Action Punch/Little More 2003, unpaginated with colour photographs as well as some black and white photographs (of the photographers)(Small amount of text only.  This is in Japanese).

I recently sang the praises of hard boiled vintage photographer, Weegee. This book is at the complete other end of the spectrum re interesting/of interest photography books.  The small amount of text is in Japanese, but that’s not really important as it is a collection of photographs and the photos really do speak for themselves.  My skills of detection lead me to believe that the book was published to accompany an exhibition of photos in 2003 somewhere in Japan… at least that’s what the promotional sticker on the front cover written in Japanese and English indicates.  The title gives a little more information as to who took the photos and the subject matter of many of the photos leaves little doubt that they were taken by young children.  There’s also a section at the back of the book where there are many small black and white photographs of the photographers.

I am a bit of cynic at times and the idea of an exhibition of childrens photography is something that horrifies this bookseller… Sorry if this offends any parents of young “gifted” photographers, but it’s true, I couldn’t think of anything worse than looking at out of focus poorly executed photographs.  If I wanted to see that sort of thing, I would take more photos.   So, I nearly didn’t pick up this book until I had a good long hard look at it.  Wow...  it’s beautiful, a true surprise… and revelation.  I am so impressed with this book that I’ve even written about it here.  Here’s a few scans of some of the images.  (Some of the edges are a little blurry and have been trimmed due to the scanning process.)

Besides the parents of the kids involved, I don’t know that many people would be interested in this book… except for me… and if I like it, and I’m not related to any of the photographers, there may be others.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bang!: The Complete History of the Universe by Brian May, Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott.

Bang!: The Complete History of the Universe by Brian May, Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott. Hardcover book published by Carlton Books 2012 (fourth edition), 144 pages with some colour photographs and illustrations as well as a few black and white photographs and illustrations.

“BANG! Space, time, matter... the Universe was born 13.7 billion years ago. Infinitely small at first, it expanded more rapidly than anyone can contemplate. Brian May, Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott explain how all this came about, from that moment when time and space came into existence, to the formation of the first stars, galaxies and planets, and to the evolution of human beings able to contemplate our own origins and ultimate destiny. Then on towards that destiny in the infinite future, long after the Earth has been consumed by the Red Giant Sun.”

The complete history of the universe in 144 pages!!!  144 pages isn’t really a lot of pages, particularly if you start thinking about the 13.7 billion years that are covered by this book.  Even 50 shades of Grey has more detail, so I can only assume that this is probably a condensed version of a long, long story and the authors have left out some very, very boring bits that just go on and on forever (billions of years).*  But let’s face it, we, the reading novice astronomers of this planet, only really want to know the juicy bits and this book sets out to do just that.  It avoids all that boring maths stuff that I, and probably others, don’t understand and goes straight for the jugular avoiding the times when not a lot was happening.

One thing i want to know is how someone from this classic rock band

(he’s the one with the rollers… now I understand why his hair was always so curly) can have time to be so knowledgeable about Astronomy.  I guess when you’re a rock legend there is quite a bit of downtime and besides taking lots of drugs and getting into trouble as some rock stars do, Brian decided to spend his time studying and writing about the Universe. There are two other guys who helped him write this book and both of them aren’t rock stars, although flicking this book they understand quite a bit about the life of the stars.

*Maybe 50 shades should have done the same thing.