Book Reviews – May 2016 roundup

No Way But Gentlenesse: A Memoir of How Kes, My Kestrel, Changed my Life’ by Richard Hines

Published by Bloomsbury

Reviewed by Steve Earles

“Richard communicates his passion for falconry and the landscape of his home town with great warmth. He played a great part in training the three kestrels who played ‘Kes’. Ken Loach

“There is no way but gentlenesse to redeeme a Hawke.” Edmund Bert, 1619

When I was very young I saw Ken Loach’s excellent film ‘Kes’, an experience that has stayed with me to this day, and helped to contribute to a life-long love of nature and hatred for human cruelty. It truly is a moving film, once seen it is never forgotten.

So I was particularly pleased to review this fine book.

Richard Hines grew up in a South Yorkshire mining village called Hoyland, where everyone’s life revolved around the coal pits. The people were surrounded by heaps of coal dust, where youngsters would play, and folk lived with the ever-present worry that their loved ones would die at work.

It seemed most likely that the young Richard Hines would most likely end up working ‘down pit’. Particularly when, to his crushing disappointment, he failed his 11+. So, while his older brother Barry had been accepted for grammar school and his future seemed bright, Richard’s future seemed to hold only the darkness of the coal mines.

This hurt Richard deeply, a hurt worsened by the cruel treatment he received from his teachers, and thus, he spent as much time as he could in the peace of the surrounding countryside.

One day Richard came across a nest of kestrels in a derelict medieval manor. Fascinated, he found ancient falconry texts in the library, and with the knowledge gleaned from them and his own unique inner empathy, he learned to train his kestrel Kes. It could be said that the two of them grew up together.

Richard’s experiences with kestrels would form the inspiration for his brother Barry’s novel ‘A Kestrel For A Knave’. When the production of the film ‘Kes’ began, Richard trained the Kestrels used in the film.

No Way But Gentlenesse’ is a truly inspiring memoir. They say everything is eventual and it is incredible how the right person found the right Kestrel, changing both of their lives.

Anyone with a love for the natural world and for good writing will find much to enjoy here. It is amazing that there is so-much more humanity in animals than in so-called humanity.

Above all, Richard is a superb writer, his descriptions are vivid, electric, and moving. It is easy to see the metaphor of the unfortunate earth-bound Richard, chained by cruel teachers and a vile school system (as schools all too often are) and a culture that was very much about ‘knowing your place’ and staying there until you die. Finding Kes broke those chains for Richard and allowed him to soar to his full potential, and, in that, there is hope for us all.

Bloody Britain: O.G.S Crawford And The Archaeology of Modern Life’ by Kitty Hauser

Published by Granta

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This engrossing book is a biography of British archaeologist O.G.S Crawford (1886-1957), a man who was one of the pioneers of field and of aerial archaeology.

His experiences as a pilot in the Great War taught him the skill of reading the landscape from the sky. He saw patterns in the landscape. He was also affected in others ways by the Great War, he was angry about the state of Britain and he thought the answer was in the path taking by the Soviet Union, history has very much proved Crawford wrong here but that doesn’t take away from his contributions to aerial archaeology. In a sense, to Crawford, the landscape was like a tabula rasa- something to reflect his own view of the world upon.

Crawford’s manuscript ‘Bloody Old Britain’, was so negative about 1930s Britain that, rightly or wrongly, it was never published due to war looming on the horizon and it’s being considered unpatriotic. Crawford was a kind of proto-Victor Meldrew- a grumpy old man in every sense of the word.

But he was a very interesting man in his own right (a friend of H.G Wells no less), and made an outstanding contribution to archaeology.

Hauser writes about her subject with empathy but not with rose-tinted glasses, and this makes for an engaging read.

A Book of Silence’ by Sara Maitland

Pubished by Granta

Reviewed by Steve Earles

After a life that was noisy by any standards, Sara Maitland went in search of silence. As records in this worthy book, she found that silence in such places as the Isle of Skye, the Sinai desert, and the Australian Bush.

As well as her experiences with silence, she recounts the history of silence in such traditions as religion and myth.

Having built a hermitage on a distant Scottish moor, it is fair to say Maitland is well qualified to write about silence; which is more than just the absence of noise. In fact silence can be essential for the health of a human being, bombarded as constantly are with stimuli.

An engaging and thought-provoking book; one whose insights will stay with the readers long after they have red it.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone’ by Olivia Laing

Published buy Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Ironically, we live in a time where communication was never easier yet people have never been more isolated and alone (at the end of the day digital communication is a form of pseudo-communication, where people started sending texts of sympathy or thanks; it really shows how isolated and unreal people were making life for themselves and others).

I really enjoyed Olivia Laing’s ‘The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking’. She is a brave, honest, and talented writer who always mines the inner truth of her chosen subjects.

When she was in her mid-thirties, Olivia moved to New York City and found it a lonely experience but not necessarily a negative one. One that led her to ask, do you have to be lonely to create art?

In one way this book is an exploration as seen through the prism of loneliness. It is a universal subject, after all, we are born alone and we die along; it’s up to us to fill in the gap between those two events as best we can.

She’s a very brave writer, far too many people have felt what she has felt; but how many would be brave enough to say it.

A courageous and thought-provoking book.

The Confidence Game: The Psychology of the Con and Why We Fall for It Every Time’ by Maria Konnikova

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

The con man is a universally known creature; we all know of the likes of Lance Armstrong and Bernie Madoff, and sadly all too many more. Indeed, some of us may even have had the misfortune to be conned ourselves.

How this happens, why it happens; and why people keep falling for it; are all explained in this excellent book which is social science at its most entertaining.

Maria Konnikova delves into the psychology of the con man- how they identify their victims, how they get what they want, and how they get their victims to keep quite. Make no mistake; these are deadly persuasive people. One of the great values of ‘The Confidence Game’ is the information it contains will help the reader to protect themselves from such people.

It is an engaging book, the stories told are truly fascinating; but it is book that has the potential to save the reader a lot of money and pain. Bear that in mind the next time you get an unsolicited text, phone call, letter, or e-mail telling you you’ve won a million if only you give up your banking details.

The way the conman operates and thinks teaches the reader who we ourselves think. The more in touch we are with the world the way it is rather than how we would wish it to be, the less vulnerable we will be to being conned.

A valuable book.

Steps To The Gallows’ By Edward Marston

Published by Alison & Busby

Reviewed by Steve Earles

I’ve long been a fan of Edward Marston’s previous books such as ‘The Railway Detective’ series, but it amazes me he has once again come up with a brand-new, first-class series.

This is the second book, set in the Regency Period, of the adventures of twin detectives Paul and Peter Skillen…I think twin detectives must be something of a first in detective fiction.

Without revealing too much of the plot; a rather scurrilous newspaper enjoys a wide circulation courtesy of its penchant to print stories concerning political and sexual scandals of various hues. Needless to say, there are potentially a great many of those who found themselves subject of those exposes who would like revenge.

Thus, when the paper’s editor is murdered and its printing press destroyed, Paul and peter Skillen are engaged by the paper’s financier to bring the killer to justice so he can revive his paper.

The Invisible Detectives thus find themselves drawn into a web of corruption, danger, and scandal.

The writing and plotting is a superb as I would expect from Edward Marston. I feel the new settings have inspired him greatly and his descriptions of the world his characters inhabit are truly evocative.

Now, when is some wise TV producer going to option Edward’s work and start making TV series out of them?

The Wisest One In The Room: How To Harness Psychology’s Most Powerful Insights’ by Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross

Published by Oneworld

Reviewed by Steve

When a group of folk get together, one often stands out. The others turn to him or her for advice and insights. These standout people have an intrinsic understanding of humanity; which makes them the titular ‘wisest one in the room’.

Both authors are psychologists and they share with the readers the significant discoveries in psychology so we can all benefit and become wiser. They deal with everything from shyness to conflict resolution; they reveal how even small changes can make a big difference; and they back their words up with findings taken from real life.

It is a very accessible book and the lessons learned from it can genuinely make a difference.

Make no mistake, social psychology is a very important; so many of the problems in the world boil down to people not understanding each other.

A must read.

A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness’ by Gareth Williams

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Reviewed by Steve Earles

We all know of the Loch Ness Monster; but is it real? Is it a hoax? Or is it simply the product of a great deal of wishful thinking?

Sir Peter Scott, an internationally renowned naturalist and president of the World Wildlife Fund, certainly believed it existed. As did senior scientists at London’s Natural History Museum and Chicago University; who were sacked because they would not recant their belief in Nessie.

For many years, the scientific establishment sought to quash attempts to investigate Loch Ness, until Nature published an article by Peter Scott featuring underwater photos of the monster.

Extensively researched and eminently readable, Gareth Williams tells the story of the history of the search for the Loch Ness Monster; and it is am amazing tale. Truly, you couldn’t make up this book. At the end of the day, this is a book about the people who sought the Loch Ness Monster and all the more readable for that. The photographs are truly excellent too.

If you only read one book about the Loch Ness Monster, make it this one.

The Christopher Lee Filmography’ By Tom Johnson and Mark A. Miller

Forewords by Jimmy Sangster, Veronica Carlson and Joe Dante

Afterword by Christopher Lee

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Christopher Lee’s sad passing last year was a huge loss to the world of cinema but until I read this fine book, I didn’t realise just how much of a loss.

For make no mistake, Christopher Lee’s body-of-work is far more impressive that most could have imagined. Indeed, there are few genres of cinema the great man did not contribute to during his long and well-lived life less ordinary.

For instance, it’s amazing to see Christopher was in such comedies as ‘Police Academy: Mission to Moscow’ (1994), ‘The Stupids’ (1996 and ‘1941 (1979 and not 1941 as you might expect!). He was also in the western Hannie Caulder (1971) ad biopic Jinnah (1998).

I see many films in this well-written and entertaining book that I will make my business to hunt down.

Of the films I have already seen I can highly recommend the following…

Horror Express’ (1972) is one my all-time favourite films and without a doubt one of the most original horror films ever. Set on the Trans-Siberian Railway at the turn of the 20th century Cossacks, zombies animated by an extra-terrestrial life form that a Rasputin-like Russian Orthodox priest dubs Satan! As well as Telly Savalas (amazingly cast as a Cossack), it also stars Christopher’s great friend and fellow horror icon Peter Cushing. It also features a great and haunting soundtrack. One of the greatest Hammer Films not made by Hammer Studios, no greater compliment can I give it.

‘The Devil Ship Pirates’ (1964) is a fine swashbuckler from Hammer- a genre the studio deserves to be better known for.

Christopher starred in both ‘Rasputin the Mad Monk’ and Dracula-Prince of Darkness’, both filmed back-to-back in 1966, with many of the same cast, sets, and crew. Well worth watching to spot the connections. As a child Christopher had met Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin’s assassin’s, and Christopher gives a superb performance as Rasputin.

Christopher was a fine singer, recording several heavy metal albums. His voice can be heard to fine effect in the hilarious ‘The Return of Captain Invincible (1983).

Christopher was one of the best James Bond villains in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ (1974). Interestingly, Christopher personally knew James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

Of course, pagan horror classic ‘The Wicker Man’ is a must-see.

Christopher did a fine documentary ‘In Search of Dracula: The Legend and the Vampire Tradition’ (1975), which I would love to have a copy of.

Finally, if I was to pick just one film to sum up all that was great about Christopher Lee, it would have to Hammer’s adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (1966). Wheatley, a personal friend of Lee’s, loved the adaptation, scripted by the great Richard Matheson, it is simply definitive.

I wholehearted recommend this superb book.

After Stalingrad: Seven Years As A Soviet Prisoner of War’ by Adelbert Holl Translated by Tony Le Tissier

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

The Battle of Stalingrad is etched into the human consciousness with so many books and documentaries on the subject.

But there usually end with the battle but for tens of thousands of German soldiers captured by the Soviets in 1942, their nightmare was beginning in earnest. We seldom hear anything of their fate.

Which is why I can say Adelbert Holl’s story of his seven years in the Soviet prison camps is so important, a valuable historical document as well as a very engrossing story, one described with meticulous detail. Used as slave labour, the prisoners were treated with the utmost cruelty.

Credit must also be given to Tony le Tissier for his superb translation. Pen & Sword have published an important book here.

Images of War: The German Army on Campaign 1914-1918. Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’ by Bob Carruthers

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

The ‘Images of War’ series of a very inspired idea on the part of Pen & Sword. The quality and selection of photographs within is first class with just the right amount of text from the worthy Bob Carruthers to put them in their correct context.

A book that proves every picture tells a story.

Pen & Sword through their imprints Seaforth and Pen & Sword Maritime, have published four worthy books on the Battle of Jutland

There are….

Jutland: The Unfinished Battle’ by Nicholas Jellicoe

Published by Seaforth

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Voices From Jutland; A Centenary Commemoration’ by Jim Crossley

Published by Pen & Sword Maritime

Reviewed by Steve Earles

The Jutland Scandal: The Truth About The First World War’s Greatest Sea Battle’ by Vice Admiral John Harper and Admiral Reginald Bacon

Published by Seaforth

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Jutland: The Naval Staff Appreciation’ Edited by William Schleihauf Additional Text by Stephen McLaughlin

Published by Seaforth

Jutland was the British Navy’s last great sea battle and it is still controversial to this day. I cannot do justice to the controversy in a book review but I will say that these books will give a great perspective on the battle to the reader. Jellicoe’s book is well-researched and written, with his family connection to Jellicoe, of course the author is very positive about him, yet he makes a compelling case, one that the reader can make their own mind up about. ‘The Jutland Scandal’: Admiral Beatty once blocked the official account of the battle, leading to the two authors of ‘The Jutland Scandal’ publishing two accounts independently, presented here by Pen & Sword in one value-for-money volume, and it is riveting and essential for any students of the battle. Most valuable of all these four books has to be ‘Jutland: The Naval Staff Appreciation’, which is the aforementioned report Beatty tried to have destroyed but a few proof copies survived to provide the material for this astounding book. Finally, we have ‘Voices From Jutland: A Centenary Commemoration’, which really humanises the battle in great detail and is a very worthy read

The Great War Illustrated: Call To Arms: Over By Christmas: Outbreak Of War’ by David Bilton

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Another of Pen & Sword’s excellent books of photographs. The photographs are truly amazing and David Bilton’s text is superb, just right. It concentrates on the civilian side of the war, humanizing it in a way that text alone could not do. The illustrations have been gathered together into various themes and it really gives the reader an insight into life during the war in the various countries depicted.

A book that would appeal to a wide audience

The Great War Through Picture Postcards’ by Guus de Vries

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

In a most inspired idea, this book shows some incredible reproductions of postcards from the Great War. An informed text puts them all in their proper context. The printing and reproduction of this book is superb, and I can’t recommend it enough.

British Concentration Camps A Brief History From 1900-1975’ by Simon Webb

Published by Pen & Sword History

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Britain is not the first country one would associate with the use of concentration camps, however, as this important and eye-opening book reveals, Britain was a chief driving force behind the development and use of concentration camps in the 20th Century.

The British use of concentration camps began during the Boer War, leading to tens of thousands of children dying of starvation. In post World War 2 Britain, well within living memory, a huge amount of slave labour was provided by Britain’s camps.

Shockingly, during and after the Second World War, the Polish government in exile was allowed to maintain a number of camps in Scotland where Jews, communists and homosexuals were imprisoned and even killed.

To put this all in perspective, the last political prisoners held behind barbed wire in the UK were released as recently as 1975.

Not only is Simon Webb’s writing and research of the highest standard, but the photos can silence all naysayer, they are truly disturbing and shameful.

Great credit is due, not only to the author, but to Pen & Sword for having the courage to publish this important book which deserves the widest readership possible. I also feel it will not only educate and shock people, but will open the doors to further books on documentaries on this shameful episode in British history.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life. Loves And Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot’ by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Published by Pen & Sword History

Reviewed by Steve Earles

When an author of the calibre of Hallie Rubenhold (author of ‘The Scandalous lady W’) praises a book, as she does this one, it is a good indication of its quality.

Grace Dalrymple Elliot was a spy, a mistress, a prisoner during the French Revolution, and was reputed to be the mother of the Prince of Wales’ child. It’s fair to say that, living in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century London and Paris, she had an extraordinary life.

Moreover, she was a born survivor and as you read the book it is easy to admire her. The book not only acts as fine biography of her subject but gives a great insight into the social history of the Georgian era.

The authors have not only done great research but have written with great empathy on their subject and her world.

This book would form a great basis for a documentary on Grace, and it is a beautifully bound and illustrated book.

Pen & Sword have published two interesting books on the Battle of Verdun. These are…

Verdun: The Left Bank’ by Christina Holstein

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Images of War: The French Army At Verdun’ by Ian Sumner

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

‘Verdun: The Left Bank’ is a superbly illustrated and accessibly written book, really impressed by it. The ‘Images of War’ book by Ian Sumner is extremely compelling and a worthy addition to the Images of War series, it would be interesting to see an Images of War book about Verdun from the German perspective to compliment this. Both books are essential for any reader with an interest in Verdun.

Irishmen In The Great War: Reports From The Front 1915’ by Tom Burnell

Published by Pen and Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Interest in the role played by the many thousands of Irish soldiers in the Great War has never been higher. Tom Burnell is a very worthy writer and historian, and hails from County Tipp, a major plus point! As a soldier he has a great feel and empathy for his subject and has complied over 150 stories from twenty-six different Irish newspapers published in 1915.

A superb and compelling book and one that deserves the widest possible readership

Angel Meadow: Victorian Britain’s Most Savage Slum’ by Dean Kirby

Published by Pen & Sword History

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Increasingly, Pen & Sword are publishing books whose appeal goes beyond that of military enthusiasts. Such a book is ‘Angel Meadow’.

The ironically-named Angel Meadow was a truly vile and lawless Victorian slum in Manchester, so horrible it was dubbed ‘hell upon earth’ by Friedrich Engels. Criminals, alcoholism, and cholera were just three of perils faced by the wretched inhabitants of this terrible place.

Dean Kirby has combined the research skills of a journalist with the talent of a born storyteller to produce a book that truly would appeal to a wide audience.

Tracing Your Irish Family History On The Internet: A Guide For Family Historians’ by Chris Paton

Published by Pen & Sword Family History

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Put simply I don’t think anyone will write a better book about researching your Irish family history on the internet. The author is an absolute expert on his subject and really has done some extraordinary work on finding sources and information, a process that is still ongoing.

Absolutely essential for anyone with any interest in this subject.

Small Wars: And Their Influence On Nation States: 1500 To The Present’ by William Urban

Foreword by Jeremy Black

Published by Frontline

Reviewed by Steve Earles

I really enjoyed reading and reviewing William Urban’s superb ‘Medieval mercenaries’ (approved by Terry Jones no less). I had high expectations of this book which is well-researched and entertaining but also, has an important point to make; that the small wars of the past have a strong resonance with the carnage we see on the news every night. Urban also explains how the West can learn from both the successes and failures of the past.

It has to be said too, that Urban writes beautifully, as proved by what I quote here as a great example of Urban’s insights into human nature: “There is a borderland and a frontier. Both can be a periphery, but the first is less distant than the second- its population also acknowledges the authority of the centre, while frontiersmen often do not.”

“One might reasonably expect that the periphery is at a physical distance from the centre, but the mental distance may be more important. One can be an outsider compared to the heavily populated core of a state- by simply living in a valley or an island whence travel to the closest city takes time and effort. Isolation is a characteristic of the periphery that can create and sustain not only very different economic systems, but also very different values and attitudes.”

“In America the famous ‘mountain pride’ of the sturdy ‘hillbillies’ living in North Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee is the stuff of legend- and a persistent frustration to do-gooders in the federal bureaucracy who want the people there to accept welfare and other government programmes. Odd, that in an era where idealistic young people praise self-sufficiency and locally produced foods, they criticise people who actually live by those principles.”

A superb book that would appeal to a wide audience indeed.

The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind The Photographs’ by Don N. Hagist

Published by Westholme Publishing

Reviewed by Steve Earles

During the bloody American Civil War, only a handful of soldiers that fought in the American Revolution still lived. Six of these men were interviewed and photographed for a book by Reverend E. B. Hillard. Six men who fought in a war that created a nation photographed and interviewed during another war that threatened to destroy it. The ironies of history! While the photographs are still well know today, over the decades the stories behind the photographs have been lost and distorted. Now, with superb research and insight Don N. Hagist has rectified this, restoring and updating the original information, and adding additional illustrations and photographs.

An enthralling read, and one beautifully bound and presented by Westholme.

Recently Grimsby’s reputation has received something of a mockery and hammering at the hands of Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Grimsby’ film. Yet, I know Grimsby well, as my late and much-missed Aunt Mary emigrated there from Ireland many years ago, and I always have liked the place and people. Thus, I am pleased that Pen & Sword have published two very interesting books on Grimsby. These are…

Grimsby In The Great War’ by Stephen Wade

Published by Pen & Sword Military

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths In Grimsby & Cleethorpes’ by Stephen Wade

Published by Wharncliffe Books

Reviewed by Steve Earles

‘Grimsby In The Great War’ is a worthy book. When the Great War broke out, Grimsby and Cleethorpes, exposed to the North Sea were vulnerable to the threat of the German Baltic Fleet, and ships would be exposed to the threat of torpedoes from U-Boats and mines.

This book also covers both regiments of Grimsby Chums and other regiments involving Grimsby men. Stephen Wade does not neglect the home front either. There was a local shell factory staffed almost entirely by women, a Women’s Emergency Corps and the War Hospital Supply Depot.

This book’s great strength is not only Stephen Wade’s thorough research but also his empathy for the subjects he writes about; he brings them to vivid life. A book with an appeal beyond the people of Grimsby.

The same can be said for Stephen’s ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Grimsby and Cleethorpes’ This is a really enthralling book. I never imagined when I visited my aunt Mary in Grimsby as a lad that such bloody crimes had occurred

For instance, there was the brutal murder of the unfortunate Lucy Lingard as Stephen Wade writes: “It was clear that Lucy had tried in vain to protect herself but she was savagely wounded, having been stabbed eleven times- in the head, face, chest and arms. She died in hospital four days later.

In a lighter vein, in 1915 “Grimsby had its episode of spay activity. A Swede called Ernst Olsson was convicted at Lincoln Assizes on 17 June of trying to gather information that would constitute an offence under the Official Secrets Act of 1911.

Again, this is an excellent book with an appeal beyond Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoers Guide to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details’ By Matthew Coniam

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

It might have been thought that there was nothing new to add to the legions of books on the Marx Brothers, and them, along comes this worthy and funny book. Basically, this book does exactly what its title says it does. It explains the origin of the in-jokes in the Marx Brothers films. The significance of these in-jokes was, of course, more obvious when the films were originally released, so this book is invaluable to the modern audience for the Marx Brothers.

And like the films it covers, the book is very funny!

Highly recommended.

‘…But if a Zombie Apocalypse Did Occur: Essays on Medical, Military, Governmental, Ethical, Economic and Other Implications.’ Edited by Amy L. Thompson and Antonio S. Thompson.

Foreword by Wade Davis

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Zombies, via the films of George A. Romero, the Walking Dead TV series, and more, are highly ingrained on popular culture, and indeed, human consciousness. It seems everyone knows what a zombie is.

Wade Davis, author of the must-read ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ provides a superb and perspective introduction, one that it is well worth the reader taking onboard, as he writes: “America was a one time a land of courage and grit. It is today a place where the media whips up a constant frenzy of fear and the public seems to revel in it. One shudders to think how an American public capable of believing in a “zombie apocalypse” might respond to a serious challenge to its survival, an actual natural or man made disaster of apocalyptic scale. New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina most certainly did not inspire. This is something worth studying and writing about, and if the most tangential reference to the zombie phenomenon draws attention to the work, so much the better, as this wonderful book reveals.”

Quite a compliment for any book!

What this clear collection of essays does is consider the implications for humanity if a zombie apocalypse occurred in real life.

For instance, the essay ‘Looking to the CDC and WHO for Answers’ uses as a basis how both organisations actually work in dealing with real epidemics, to speculate as to how they would deal with a real zombie apocalypse. One of the impressive aspects of this essay is how successful the Communicable Disease Centre and World Health Organisation have been at dealing with epidemics in the past. The author Amy C. Thompson contrasts the success of dealing with malaria, rabies, polio and cholera in the West with elsewhere in the world

The essay ‘The Psychology of Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ by Scott Mirabile is a good example of how good this book is. “Across most depictions of a zombie apocalypse, there are four common themes: the survivors are isolated from contact or assistance from the outside world; if one still exists; the survivors are confined to an area of uncertain safety: the survivors face lethal threats to their well-being, sometimes from one another in addition to the zombies; and finally the survivors must attempt to cope with these new stressors and adapt their behaviour to the demands of their new reality.’

This new reality is also explored in the essay ‘The Law and the Living Dead’ by Jennifer M. Lankford. “’Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levellers, and in our courts all men are created equal…’ As he closed his defence of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch spoke of an enduring truth of our legal system; it is an imperfect, but righteous attempt at justice. Accurate and inspiring, Atticus’s representation of American jurisprudence was also limited. He described a “human” institution where all “men” are created equal, reflecting a critical, underlying problem with out legal system. It is not yet prepared, in form or spirit, to apply to the living dead.”

Finally, I must highlight the excellent essay ‘Day of the Engineer: Engineering and the Zombie Apocalypse’ by Jeff Moehlis. “The word ‘engineer’ means ‘one who practices ingenuity.’ Over the years, engineers have practiced ingenuity in many different and important ways, using their training in theoretical and mathematical analysis, computational approaches, experimental methods, and design techniques to invent and improve useful devices and solve practical problems. Engineers have been crucial to the development of plans, trains, and automobiles, plus computers, phones, robots, and refrigeration. With this in mind, it should not be surprising that engineers will make significant contributions during a zombie apocalypse…Clearly ‘Plan A’ is to survive a zombie apocalypse. As a human, that is, not as a zombie. This essay will show that this will be much more likely thanks to the efforts of some well-trained engineers. For example, they will devise novel strategies for killing zombies, fortify buildings and cities to protect humans, design robots to carry out dangerous tasks, and maintain modern conveniences such as power sources, communication channels and safe food and water. Engineers will also play a huge role in re-establishing civilisation after a zombie apocalypse subsides and, from a technological standpoint at least, might actually make things better than they were beforehand. This will include establishing more robust power and communication networks, and designing energy efficient buildings and transportation systems. Indeed, with their technical knowledge, engineers will be key players in preserving humanity and civilisation during and after a zombie apocalypse.”

An intelligent, thought-provoking and highly readable book.

Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper’ by John Kenneth Muir

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Even if Tobe Hooper had never made another film since ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ in 1974. that now classic film is enough to cement his deserved reputation as a director of note. Along with the likes of George A. Romero, Wes Craven, Joe Dante, and of course John Carpenter, Hooper is one of the great horror directors of his generation.

For make no mistake, two of my own favourite works come from Tobe Hooper, ‘Lifeforce’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’.

Muir is a fine writer and divides this much-deserved reference work into five sections. The first gives a history of Hooper’s career, the second presents entries with synopses, complete credits, critical reaction and commentaries on every one of his feature films by year of release. The third part covers TV movies and miniseries. The fourth part covers his episodes from horror TV series, and most importantly the fifth part is an essay that puts Hooper in his proper place in horror film history, comparing his works with the likes of the aforementioned Carpenter and Romero.

Muir is an honest and perceptive writer. For instance, he writes in his introduction; “ Tobe Hooper’s breakthrough feature film, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974), remains a blessing and a curse for the larger-than-life Texas-born filmmaker, at least so far as his career in Hollywood is concerned. A blessing because, despite its notorious title, the film remains a smash hit with critics and horror film audiences; a classic of its kind, even. A curse because it’s reputation hounds Hooper wherever he goes and limits the opportunities open to him as a working filmmaker in the youth-centric entertainment industry of the new millennium.”

He rightly states that, despite not have the success of other directors; ‘Tobe Hooper remains solidly ensconsed as one of the “big five” horror maestros of the late 20th century. Along with Craven, Carpenter, George Romero and David Cronenberg, Hooper is among the most skilled of all genre directors toiling in Hollywood, able to tap into audience fears and adrenaline rhythms with seemingly boundless energy, directorial ingenuity and even a richly ironic sense of humour.’

A fine well-written and well-researched book.