Pen & Sword Review: The History of Video Games, by Charlie Fish

By Charlie Fish
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 120
Illustrations: 150 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781526778970
Published: 28th May 2021

This book is a potted history of video games, telling all the rollercoaster stories of this fascinating young industry that’s now twice as big globally than the film and music industries combined. Each chapter explores the history of video games through a different lens, giving a uniquely well-rounded overview.

Packed with pictures and stats, this book is for video gamers nostalgic for the good old days of gaming, and young gamers curious about how it all began. If you’ve ever enjoyed a video game, or you just want to see what all the fuss is about, this book is for you.

There are stories about the experimental games of the 1950s and 1960s; the advent of home gaming in the 1970s; the explosion – and implosion – of arcade gaming in the 1980s; the console wars of the 1990s; the growth of online and mobile games in the 2000s; and we get right up to date with the 2010s, including such cultural phenomena as, the Gamergate scandal, and Fortnite.

But rather than telling the whole story from beginning to end, each chapter covers the history of video games from a different angle: platforms and technology, people and personalities, companies and capitalism, gender and representation, culture, community, and finally the games themselves. 

My Review

This book was sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

I hang around with gamers. It would be nice to have some idea of what they’re babbling on about. This book provides a history of computer games from several different angles. I found this a useful way of understanding the developments, especially the chapters about console development and about culture.

There are lots of pictures, some quite nostalgic – my sister had an original game boy with Tetris and Super Mario for instance. The biographies of important people involved in games and console development were interesting. A couple of them are definitely autistic.

There was quite a bit of detail and the references are fairly extensive so as a place to start, this potted history is a good one.

Unfortunately, the two chapters I was really interested in were truncated. Between pages 65 and 81 – most of the chapters on the important personalities of games development and gender and representation in games – had been replaced by a repeat of the previous chapter, on console development. I understand that I got an an ARC so errors happen, but it is disappointing.

Pen & Sword Review: A History of The Undead: Mummies, Vampires and Zombies, by Charlotte Booth

A History of the Undead
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526769060
Published: 9th February 2021


Are you a fan of the undead? Watch lots of Mummy, zombie and vampire movies and TV shows? Have you ever wondered if they could be ‘real’?

This book, A History of the Undead, unravels the truth behind these popular reanimated corpses.

Starting with the common representations in Western Media through the decades, we go back in time to find the origins of the myths. Using a combination of folklore, religion and archaeological studies we find out the reality behind the walking dead. You may be surprised at what you find.

My Review

Thanks to Rosie Crofts at Pen & Sword for my review copy. I’m going to read the author’s book about ancient Egypt next.

The Rosie Synopsis

The book is divided into seven chapters, two each on mummies, two on zombies and three on vampires. The author covers the literary and film history of the undead in one chapter and then the folklore in the second chapter. In the vampire section Booth also covers the modern ‘vampires’ – people who think they’re vampires or live a ‘vampire lifestyle’.

The Good

I liked the way the author wrote the chapters as individual essays, because they can be dipped into, and the illustrations. It is a good introduction to the subject, and the author states that it is an introduction not the be-all-end-all on the subject.

The Not-So-Good

Despite my enjoyment of academic texts, I found it was a bit dry at times and there were some errors in reference to some of the televsion series.

It would have been good to have a summation chapter drawing all the thought lines together.

The Verdict

Not a bad introduction to the subject.

Pen and Sword TBR Pile Review: Balloons and Airships, by Anthony Burton

Balloons and Airships
By Anthony Burton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 60
ISBN: 9781526719492
Published: 30th September 2019

This book tells the often dramatic and always fascinating story of flight in lighter than air machines. For centuries man had dreamed of flying, but all attempts failed, until in 1782 the Montgolfier brothers constructed the world’s first hot air balloon The following year saw the first ascent with aeronauts – not human beings but a sheep, a duck and a cockerel. But it was not long before men and women too took to the air and became ever more adventurous. The aeronauts became famous giving displays before crowds of thousands, often accompanied by special effects.

In the early years, ballooning was a popular pastime, but in the 19th century it found a new use with the military. Balloons were used to send messages out during the Siege of Paris and later found a role as observation balloons for the artillery. But their use was always limited by the fact that they were at the mercy of the wind. There were numerous attempts at steering balloons, and various attempts were made to power them but it was the arrival of the internal combustion engine that saw the balloon transformed into the airship. The most famous developer of airships was Graf von Zeppelin and the book tells the story of the use of his airships in both peacetime and at war. There were epic adventures including flights over the poles and for a time, commercial airships flourished – then came the disaster of the Hindenburg. Airships still fly today and ballooning has become a hugely popular pastime.

Continue reading “Pen and Sword TBR Pile Review: Balloons and Airships, by Anthony Burton”

Pen & Sword Review: The Last Days of Steam, by Malcolm Clegg

The Last Days of British Steam
By Malcolm Clegg
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 144
Illustrations: 200 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526760425
Published: 7th August 2020

This volume covers the final decade of British steam, looking at steam traction in a wide variety of geographical locations around the British Railways network.

The book covers a wide variety of classes of locomotives, that were withdrawn during the last decade of steam traction, some examples of which are now preserved.

Malcolm Clegg has been taking railway pictures since the early 1960s and has access to collections taken by friends who were recording the steam railway scene during this period.

This book is a record of his and other people’s journeys during the last decade of steam in the 1960s.

My Review

This book is a collection of photographs from the 1960s of steam engines. The author has clearly been taking pictures for a long time and this was an interesting time in British transport. When the rest of the world was moving to diesel and electric, Britain stayed with steam. Then the government destroyed the network in favour of motorways and private transport, because the minister in charge had a vested interest in road building. New engines were scrapped when they still had thirty years of working life in them. What a travesty!

The book is substantial and covers a large range of engines, with captions giving details of the engine pictured and the place, if known. The images are in black and white which adds to the nostalgia of the book. The book is glossy and substantial, which is useful for those who are interested in trains of the era, reconstruction and reclamation of trains that they might find, or railway model enthusiasts.

Review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows

The Magic of Terry Pratchett

Published By: Pen & Sword – Imprint: White Owl
Price: £13.99
ISBN: 9781526765505
Published: 6th July 2020

The Magic Of Terry Pratchett is the first full biography of Sir Terry Pratchett ever written. Sir Terry was Britain’s best-selling living author*, and before his death in 2015 had sold more than 85 million copies of his books worldwide. Best known for the Discworld series, his work has been translated into 37 languages and performed as plays on every continent in the world, including Antarctica. Journalist, comedian and Pratchett fan Marc Burrows delves into the back story of one of UK’s most enduring and beloved authors; from his childhood in the Chiltern Hills, to his time as a journalist, and the journey that would take him – via more than sixty best-selling books – to an OBE, a knighthood and national treasure status. The Magic Of Terry Pratchett is the result of painstaking archival research alongside interviews with friends and contemporaries who knew the real man under the famous black hat, helping to piece together the full story of one of British literature’s most remarkable and beloved figures for the very first time.

*Now disqualified on both counts.

Continue reading “Review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows”

Review: The Mayfair Mafia, by Dick Kirby

The Mayfair Mafia
By Dick Kirby
Imprint: Pen & Sword True Crime
Pages: 198
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526742612
Published: 1st May 2019

It is a little known fact that one immigrant Italian family ran London’s thriving vice trade unchecked from the mid-1930s for some twenty years.

The five Messina brothers imported prostitutes from the Continent on an industrial scale, acquiring the women British citizenship by phoney marriages. Demanding 80% of earnings, the Messina became fabulously wealthy, purchasing expensive properties, cars and influence.

As this revealing and absorbing account describes, the brothers ruled with a ruthless combination of charm, blackmail and all too credible threats of disfigurement and death.

It took a sensational Sunday newspaper exposé to get the authorities to act. A series of dramatic arrests and trials followed and one by one the brothers were imprisoned and deported for crimes including immoral earnings, attempted bribery and firearms offences.

Such was their fortune that numerous potential beneficiaries came forward, most recently in 2012.

The author, a much published former Metropolitan police officer, has researched the remarkable criminal careers of the five Messina’s and the result is a riveting and shocking read.

Continue reading “Review: The Mayfair Mafia, by Dick Kirby”

Review: The Spanish Flu Epidemic and its Influence on History, by Jaime Breitnauer

ISBN: 9781526745170
Published: 20th November 2019
Price: £15.99

On the second Monday of March 1918, the world changed forever. What seemed like a harmless cold morphed into a global pandemic that would wipe out as many as a hundred-million people – ten times as many as the Great War. German troops faltered lending the allies the winning advantage, India turned its sights to independence while South Africa turned to God. In Western Samoa a quarter of the population died; in some parts of Alaska, whole villages were wiped out. Civil unrest sparked by influenza shaped nations and heralded a new era of public health where people were no longer blamed for contracting disease. Using real case histories, we take a journey through the world in 1918, and look at the impact of Spanish flu on populations from America, to France, to the Arctic, and the scientific legacy this deadly virus has left behind.

My Review

Thanks to Rosie at Pen & Sword for sending me this book. It’s much appreciated, given how much time it’s taking me to read and and review books she’s been sending me.

Took me less than four hours to read this book last night. I couldn’t sleep anyway. No, really, I’m coughing a bit. It’s probably just a cold or an allergy. Might change my bedding later and vacuum the carpet, just in case. I’ll let you know if it’s something worse.

Like the Spanish Flu.

Although I’d probably be dead by now if I had Spanish Flu. In the second wave it was so virulent that it killed people as they walked down the street to the doctors to get help. Whole families died. Thousands of children were left orphaned. Up to 100 million people died in less than two years. At the time it was a shocking event, but in the years that followed it was forgotten. The author speculates that the horrors of war, mass movement of people, malnutrition and then the pandemic was too much for people to cope with. They prefered to think that people died in combat not coughing up their own lungs and choking to death.

Colonialism helped spread the pandemic. Troops from the colonies were sent to the Western Front and then sent back. European troops had been sent to the Middle East, Chinese citizens were sent through Canada and across the Atlantic as part of the Chinese Labour Corp. Millions of people from all over the planet moving around, meeting up in closely packed, unhealthy conditions, malnourished and carrying seasonal infections, then going back out into the world.

People generally know about the effects of the Spanish Flu in Europe and North America, but the pandemic covered the whole globe. People who were of European decent were less likely to die compared to indigenous people in Africa, the Americas, Australia and the Pacific Islands. European and North America people of European descent are used to getting colds and flu, so they had some immunity. Indigenous people didn’t.

Viruses do this interesting thing where they can share their genetic material with each other if they meet in a cell. At some point in the years between 1916 and 1918 some nasty H1N1 flu strains met up, shared genetic material and produced the nastiest virus humans have ever dealt with. Reconstruction of the virus from Alaskan bodies buried in the permafrost in 1920 shows that any one of the eight segments would produce a nasty virus; together they made it leathal.

The arrival of the flu in 1918 helped end the Great War, because it’s really hard to keep up violence when your soldiers are dying from disease and your support lines are falling apart because everyone who should be moving supplies is dead, dying or sick. There were mass famines as the fields weren’t harvested or planted in 1919. In industrial areas, factories and mines shut down because too many people were ill.

It encouraged new and already existing independence movements in colonies in response to the poor treatment of indigenous people during the pandemic, and probably screwed up the post-war negotiations, since it killed or sickened many of the people at the table. The loss of moderate political voices lead to greater punitive measures against Germany, the loss of expertise about the Middle East resulted in the utter mess we still have today.

People are still not sure where it started. There were outbreaks of flu in 1916, 1917 and 1918 in China, the US and France before the first wave of the Spanish Flu. I have a hypothesis that there were some nasty strains going around, and the mass movement of people from across the world, carrying these different strains, as the ‘first wave’ and finally brought together in France, allowed the nastiest of them to meet up, shuffle around some genetics and then produce the virus we call Spanish Flu. I think this is the ‘second wave’, which was the truly awful one. The one that killed millions. The ‘third wave’, less virulent was possibly a version that had drifted a bit or one or the less nasty. Might be wrong, someone else has probably looked at it and ruled this idea out.

Honestly, this is a really good introduction to the Spanish Flu pandemic and its ongoing influence. I could tell the author has a history background and a journalism background too. She made the book very easy to read and the use of real people examples really brought the events of those years to life.

Bonus Review: ‘A History of Trees’, by Simon Wills

A History of Trees
Published by: Pen & Sword – White Owl
Publication Date: 12th December 2018
Format: Hardback
I.S.B.N.: 9781526701596
Price: £25.00
Purchase Link


Have you ever wondered how trees got their names? What did our ancestors think about trees, and how were they used in the past? This fascinating book will answer many of your questions, but also reveal interesting stories that are not widely known. For example, the nut from which tree was predicted to pay off the UK’s national debt? Or why is Europe’s most popular pear called the ‘conference’? Simon Wills tells the history of twenty-eight common trees in an engaging and entertaining way, and every chapter is illustrated with his photographs.

Find out why the London plane tree is so frequently planted in our cities, and how our forebears were in awe of the magical properties of hawthorn. Where is Britain’s largest conker tree? Which tree was believed to protect you against both lightning and witchcraft?

The use of bay tree leaves as a sign of victory by athletes in ancient Greece led to them being subsequently adopted by many others – from Roman emperors to the Royal Marines. But why were willow trees associated with Alexander Pope, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Samuel Johnson? Why did Queen Anne pay a large sum for a cutting from a walnut tree in Somerset? Discover the answers to these and many other intriguing tales within the pages of this highly engrossing book.

Continue reading “Bonus Review: ‘A History of Trees’, by Simon Wills”

Bonus Review #4:’The Murder of Prime Minister Spencer Percevel: A Portrait of the Assassin’, by Martin Connolly

Published By: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 4th October 2018
Format: Hardback
I.S.B.N.: 9781526731241
Price: £1999


England entered the nineteenth century having lost the American states and was at war with France. The slave trade had been halted and the country was in torment, with industrialisation throwing men and women out of work as poverty haunted their lives. As the merchants of England and America saw their businesses stagnate and profits plummet, everyone blamed the government and its policies. Those in charge were alarmed and businessmen, who were believed to be exploiting the poor, were murdered. Assassination indeed stalked the streets.

The man at the centre of the storm was Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. From the higher reaches of society to the beggar looking for bread, many wanted him dead, due to policies brought about by his inflexible religious convictions and his belief that he was appointed by God. In May 1812 he entered the Lobby of the Houses of Parliament when a man stepped forward and fired a pistol at him. The lead ball entered into his heart. Within minutes he was dead.

Using freshly-discovered archive material, this book explores the assassin’s thoughts and actions through his own writings. Using his background in psychology, the author explores the question of the killer’s sanity and the fairness of his subsequent trial.

Within its pages the reader will find an account of the murder of Spencer Perceval and a well-developed portrait of his assassin.

Continue reading “Bonus Review #4:’The Murder of Prime Minister Spencer Percevel: A Portrait of the Assassin’, by Martin Connolly”

Review: ‘Lady of the House’, by Charlotte Furness

Lady of the House
Published by: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 3rd July 2018
Format: Paperback
I.S.B.N.: 9781526702746
Price: £12.99


This book tells the true stories of three genteel women who were born, raised, lived and died within the world of England’s Country Houses. This is not the story of ‘seen and not heard’ women, these are incredible women who endured tremendous tragedy and worked alongside their husbands to create a legacy that we are still benefitting from today.

Harriet Leveson-Gower, Countess Granville was the second born child of the infamous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire who married her aunt’s lover, raised his illegitimate children and reigned supreme as Ambassadress over the Parisian elite.

Lady Mary Isham lived at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire with her family where, despite great tragedy, she was responsible for developing a house and estate whilst her husband remained ‘the silent Baronet’.

Elizabeth Manners, Duchess of Rutland hailed from Castle Howard and used her upbringing to design and build a Castle and gardens at Belvoir suitable for a Duke and Duchess that inspired a generation of country house interiors.

These women were expected simply to produce children, to be active members of society, to give handsomely to charity and to look the part. What these three remarkable women did instead is develop vast estates, oversee architectural changes, succeed in business, take a keen role in politics as well as successfully managing all the expectations of an aristocratic lady.

Continue reading “Review: ‘Lady of the House’, by Charlotte Furness”