Pen & Sword Review: The Real World of Victorian Steampunk, by Simon Webb

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Paperback, 168 pages
Published November 13th 2019 by Pen and Sword History
ISBN: 1526732858 (ISBN13: 9781526732859)

In the last few decades, steampunk has blossomed from being a rather obscure and little-known subgenre of science fiction into a striking and distinctive style of fashion, art, design and even music. It is in the written word however that steampunk has its roots and in this book Simon Webb explores and examines the real inventions which underpin the fantasy. In doing so, he reveals a world unknown to most people today.

The Real World of Victorian Steampunk shows the Victorian era to have been a surprising place; one of steam-powered airplanes, fax machines linking Moscow and St Petersburg, steam cars traveling at over 100 mph, electric taxis and wireless telephones. It is, in short, the nineteenth century as you have never before seen it; a steampunk extravaganza of anachronistic technology and unfamiliar gadgets. Imagine Europe spanned by a mechanical internet; a telecommunication system of clattering semaphore towers capable of transmitting information across the continent in a matter of minutes. Consider too, the fact that a steam plane the size of a modern airliner took off in England in 1894.

Drawing entirely on contemporary sources, we see how little-known developments in technology have been used as the basis for so many steampunk narratives. From seminal novels such as The Difference Engine, through to the steampunk fantasy of Terry Pratchett’s later works, this book shows that steampunk is at least as much solid fact as it is whimsical fiction. 

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Review: The English Civil War: Fact and Fiction, by James Hobson

The English Civil War
By James Hobson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 135
Illustrations: 40
ISBN: 9781526734877
Published: 9th April 2019

Have you ever found yourself watching a show or reading a novel and wondering what life was really like in the Civil War? Did the war really split families? Was Charles I just too stupid to be King? Did Cromwell really hate the monarchy and did Parliament actually ban Christmas?

In The English Civil War: Fact and Fiction, you’ll find fast and fun answers to all your secret questions about this remarkable period of British history. Find out about people’s lives and how the Civil War affected them. Learn about the role of women and if they merely stayed at home and suffered, and if Cromwell really was always miserable.

James Hobson brings to life the tumultuous and unprecedented period of history that is known as the Civil War. An unfussy yet accurate history, each chapter presents a controversy in itself and sets about dispelling commonly held myths about the Civil War.

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Map Review: Major & Mrs Holt’s Battle Map of the Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches

Major & Mrs Holt’s Battle Map of The Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches
An accompaniment to the best-selling guide to the area, now sold separately.

Showing the sea Assault formations for UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD Beaches and the air Assault Formations round Ste M Eglise and Pegasus Bridge; the D-Day Objectives and the Ground Gained on D-Day.
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 9781526764942
Published: 28th October 2019
Price: £5.99

My Review

This map seems fairly detailed and would be useful for someone touring the D-Day Landing beaches if they’re searching for specific sites. No hotels, car parks etc. but the GPS references would make your tour to Normandy easier.

Non-fiction Bonus Reviews #1

I haven’t been feeling great so my reviews are a bit behind. I have a stack of books next to my laptop that I need to tell you all about. I’ve got three Pen & Sword books for you and an indie about comic book history.

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Last Reviews of 2018

Honest! I’m not doing anymore this year. I’ve been ill, there’s been a lot of reading time. I’ve been making progress through my Pen & Sword collection.

Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century
Published By: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 7th November 2018
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781526731654
Price: £15.99
Link

Blurb


Pirates and Privateers tells the fascinating story of the buccaneers who were the scourge of merchants in the 18th Century. It examines their lifestyle, looking at how the sinking of the Spanish treasure fleet in a storm off the coast of Florida led to a pirate’s gold rush; how the King’s Pardon was a desperate gamble – which paid off – and considers the role of individual island governors, such as Woodes Rogers in the Bahamas, in bringing piracy under control.

The book also looks at how piracy has been a popular topic in print, plays, songs and now films, making thieves and murderers into swash-buckling heroes. It also considers the whole question of buried treasure – and gives a lively account of many of the pirates who dominated the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy.

My Review

A very good introduction to the subject, concentrating on the era known as the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy, and while the author notes that piracy is still with us and is the result of systemic inequalities, he doesn’t discuss modern piracy – that is outside the scope of the book. The chapters cover the general history of piracy, biographies of various pirates and colonial officials who sought to deal with them, and the ‘pirate’ sub-genre of crime literature and it’s later developments in novels and other popular culture such as plays and films.

The book was very easy to read, the author writes sympathetically but is realistic about the nature of piracy – not heroes but thieves, rapists and murderers – and explores the myths surrounding pirates and their treasures with a keen eye for poppycock. The book explores only a tiny fragment of the subject, but it is a good starting place for further research.

The Scandal of George III's Court
BPublished By: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 19th November 2018
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781473872516
Price: £15.99
Link

Blurb


From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III’s supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker?

With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better.

So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III’s court. You’ll never look at a king in the same way again…

My Review

What a family! I’d be so embarrassed if I was directly related to them. An overbearing matriarch and patriarch, daughters confined to the palace, sons and brothers making ‘unsuitable’ marriages, girlfriends and illegitimate children here there and everywhere, the odd murder. Sounds like most families. Except this one had money and power to back up their behaviour and silence people. And they were the centre of press focus for decades. And what fun the press had with them…

I sat and read this book yesterday after I’d finished reading about pirates. Sometimes a bit of gossip is fun, especially when those concerned have been dead for two centuries. It was fun, amusing. Curzon’s jaunty writing style lends itself to the subject and it’s obvious that the eighteenth century is her passion. She writes sympathetically and makes evenhanded judgements on the truth or otherwise of the rumours and scandal. She uses contemporary sources, later literature and current scholarship to provide a rounded picture of events and the people involved.

This book is a an accessible, fun, introduction to the period and people of George III’s court.

Review: ‘Balloonomania Belles’, By Sharon Wright

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Published By: Pen & Sword

Publication Date: 26th February 2018

I.S.B.N.: 9781526708342

Format: Hardback

Price: £19.99

 

 

 

 

 

Blurb

Balloonomania Belles reveals the astonishing stories of the fabulous female pioneers of balloon flight. More than a century before the first aeroplane women were heading for the heavens in crazy, inspired contraptions that could bring death or glory and all too often, both. Award-winning journalist Sharon Wright reveals their hair-raising adventures in a book that brings the stories of the feisty female ballooning heroines together for the first time.

Women were in the vanguard of the “Balloonomania” craze that took hold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and swept across Europe then the world. Their exploits were a vital element of our first voyages into the sky. When women’s options were often severely limited by law and convention they managed to join the exhilarating quest for spectacle, adventure and danger among the clouds.

Many of the brightest stars of this extraordinary era of human flight were women. From the perilous ascent in 1784 by feisty French teenager Elisabeth Thible, female aeronauts have never looked back… or down. Who were these brave women who took to the air when it was such an incredibly dangerous and scandalous thing to do? Sharon Wright brings together in one book the show-stopping stories of the very first flying women.

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Bonus review number two

Dickens and Christmas

Published By: Pen & Sword History

Publication Date: 3rd October 2017

ISBN: 9781526712264

Format: Hardback

Price: £15.99

Blurb

Dickens and Christmas is an exploration of the 19th-century phenomenon that became the Christmas we know and love today – and of the writer who changed, forever, the ways in which it is celebrated. Charles Dickens was born in an age of great social change. He survived childhood poverty to become the most adored and influential man of his time. Throughout his life, he campaigned tirelessly for better social conditions, including by his most famous work, A Christmas Carol. He wrote this novella specifically to “strike a sledgehammer blow on behalf of the poor man’s child”, and it began the Victorians’ obsession with Christmas.

This new book, written by one of his direct descendants, explores not only Dickens’s most famous work, but also his all-too-often overlooked other Christmas novellas. It takes the readers through the seasonal short stories he wrote, for both adults and children, includes much-loved festive excerpts from his novels, uses contemporary newspaper clippings, and looks at Christmas writings by Dickens’ contemporaries. To give an even more personal insight, readers can discover how the Dickens family itself celebrated Christmas, through the eyes of Dickens’s unfinished autobiography, family letters, and his children’s memoirs.

In Victorian Britain, the celebration of Christmas lasted for 12 days, ending on 6 January, or Twelfth Night. Through Dickens and Christmas, readers will come to know what it would have been like to celebrate Christmas in 1812, the year in which Dickens was born. They will journey through the Christmases Dickens enjoyed as a child and a young adult, through to the ways in which he and his family celebrated the festive season at the height of his fame. It also explores the ways in which his works have gone on to influence how the festive season is celebrated around the globe.

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Review: ‘Death, Disease, and Dissection: The Life of a Surgeon-Apothecary 1750 – 1850’, by Suzie Grogan

Published by: Pen and Sword

Publication Date: 30th October 2017

 

I.S.B.N.: 9781473823532

Format: Paperback

Price: £12.99

Blurb

Imagine performing surgery on a patient without anaesthetic, administering medicine that could kill or cure. Welcome to the world of the surgeon-apothecary…During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries significant changes occurred in medicine. New treatments were developed and medical training improved. Yet, with doctors’ fees out of the reach of ordinary people, most relied on the advice of their local apothecary, among them, the poet John Keats, who worked at Guys Hospital in London. These men were the general practitioners of their time, making up pills and potions for everything from toothache to childbirth. Death, Disease and Dissection examines the vital role these men played their training, the role they played within their communities, the treatments they offered, both quack and reputable against the shocking sights and sounds in hospitals and operating theatres of the time. Suzie Grogan transports readers through 100 years of medical history, exploring the impact of illness and death and bringing the experiences of the surgeon apothecary vividly to life.

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Review: ‘Maladies and Medicine: Exploring health & healing 1540 – 1740’, by Jennifer Evans & Sara Read

Maladies and MedicinePublication Date: 4th July 2017

Published By: Pen & Sword 

ISBN: 9781473875715

Format: Paperback

Price: £12.99

 

Blurb

Maladies and Medicine offers a lively exploration of health and medical cures in early modern England. The introduction sets out the background in which the body was understood, covering the theory of the four humours and the ways that male and female bodies were conceptualised. It also explains the hierarchy of healers from university trained physicians, to the itinerant women healers who travelled the country offering cures based on inherited knowledge of homemade remedies. It covers the print explosion of medical health guides, which began to appear in the sixteenth century from more academic medical text books to cheap almanacs.

The book has twenty chapters covering attitudes towards, and explanations of some of, the most common diseases and medical conditions in the period and the ways people understood them, along with the steps people took to get better. It explores the body from head to toe, from migraines to gout. It was an era when tooth cavities were thought to be caused by tiny worms and smallpox by an inflammation of the blood, and cures ranged from herbal potions, cooling cordials, blistering the skin, and of course letting blood.

Case studies and personal anecdotes taken from doctors notes, personal journals, diaries, letters and even court records show the reactions of individuals to their illnesses and treatments, bringing the reader into close proximity with people who lived around 400 years ago. This fascinating and richly illustrated study will appeal to anyone curious about the history of the body and the way our ancestors lived.

Continue reading “Review: ‘Maladies and Medicine: Exploring health & healing 1540 – 1740’, by Jennifer Evans & Sara Read”