Summer Reading

I have been a bit remiss in updating the blog as work has been a bit hectic of late; however, as I am off work ill this week – queue the small violins, please – I thought I would pen a quick post.

For inspiration, I am taking the lead from a series of posts over at Defence-in-Depth about summer reading by members of staff at the Joint Services Command and Staff College. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that!

So what have I been reading over the summer…

To start with, I have been reading the third edition of A Military History of Australia by the late Jeff Grey. This edition was published in 2008 and is an excellent introduction to the subject and illustrates what a great historian Grey was and the grasp he had of the sources related to Australian military history. Of particular interest has been the chapters on the periods before Federation and the challenges of the individual colonies and their relations with the wider empire. However, as an introduction, the best aspect of this book is the bibliographic essay for further reading into which I will certainly be dipping for more information.

On the air power front, I have been reading Eastward by Sir David Lee. Lee, as a retired Air Chief Marshal, produced a trilogy of studies on the RAF overseas in the Cold War period, and this volume, published in 1984, focused on the Service’s involvement in the Far East. It was the second in the series to be issued. The period covered in this book, 1945 to 1972, was a busy time for the RAF with the Service heavily involved in operations in Malaya in the 1950s and then the Indonesian Confrontation in the early 1960s. This book is a good introduction to the subject, though it does illustrate one of the continuing challenges related to the writing of air power history. Namely that the topic typically has, and mostly continues to be the preserve, of those who have been:

[t]he children of airmen, have been military personnel themselves, and have been employed at a historical office or service school in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, or the United States.[1]

This comment is not strictly meant as a criticism, as many authors, such as Lee, have produced excellent works. It is to stress, however, that if the subject of air power history is to grow and develop, it needs to incorporate writers with diverse backgrounds to increase perspectives on our understanding of the past. Those of us closely related to the Service, and yes, I do include myself in this, can suffer from what might be described as cultural blindness towards the subject that we study. Nevertheless, being aware of that challenge at least focusses the mind when writing on the subject.

The final book I have been reading, which has been started but certainly not finished, is Dan Todman’s Britain’s War. This book is the first of a two-volume work with this volume going from 1937 to 1941. It is not a small work by any stretch of the imagination and has been in preparation for a few years. However, what I have read of it so far illustrates that it is an impressive piece of work and will probably become the standard work on Britain in the Second World War for some years to come. I am looking forward to the next volume.

Of course, like most of us, this is not all that I have been reading, and there is an ever increasing to-read pile forming on my desk – it never seems to get smaller. The to-read pile includes some interesting titles, such as David Stevens’ history of the Royal Australian Navy in the First World War, In All Respects Ready, which I look forward to reading.

[1] John R. Ferris, ‘Review Article – The Air Force Brats’ View of History: Recent Writing and the Royal Air Force, 1918–1960,’ The International History Review, 20:1 (1998), p. 119.

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