Friday, December 9, 2016

Italian Campaign of 1859 - A Review

THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN OF 1859:
The Campaign, Battles and Equipment
Stephen Summerfield (2016) 
Having recently seen the announcement of this forthcoming book on Warfare in the Age of Steam blog, an order was quickly placed with Ken Trotman Books.  The reply I received from Richard Brown was that the book was still undergoing final preparations before publication.  A few weeks later the book arrived in the post mid-November with handsome cover art.  As I read, I wished more care had been taken during the final pre-publication editorial and content review. 

While the quality of the paperback book, itself, is high (glossy cardstock cover, quality paper), the contents are a discordant mish-mash of articles seemingly thrown together without focus.  Add to that a lack of proofreading and I nearly gave up after reading the first page of Chapter One.  Giving up after only one page?  Hardly a fair trial, you say.  Well, an example from the first page of Chapter One on page 9 reads,
"The troops were condemned to live of the country, the need got clothing and shoes became urgent."
What?

Chapter One begins with an overview of the Austrian Army. Following the first page of Chapter One are two pages of Orders of Battle for the Austrians during the campaign.  No introduction announcing the upcoming OB.  Turn the page and there it is.  Following that interruption, text returns to discussing the composition of the Austrian Army.  Much of the outline in Chapter One focuses on Austrian equipment with a level of detail that left me scratching my head.  In a brief overview of the 1859 campaign, is it necessary to highlight that,
"The limber...had the pintle placed 35cm behind the axletree...?"
This detail seems at odds with the description of Austrian uniforms which simply states that,
"The uniform was introduced in 1852."
Chapters Two and Three follow the outline of Chapter One by providing a similar overview of the French and Piedmont-Sardinian Armies. While Austrian artillery is given a section within the Austrian chapter, the French chapter focuses almost exclusively on artillery.  The Sardinian overview spends three pages devoted to tables showing composition and strength by branch of service.  Such detail was not present for either Austria or France.

The next three chapters (4-6) present Major Miller's 1861 works entitled, "The Italian Campaign of 1859: Parts 1 and 2: General Account."  Chapter Four provides brief recaps of the battles of Montebello, Palestro, Magenta, and Solferino.  Chapter Five provides a brief analysis and critique of the strategy and war operations and then performs the same for each of the individual battles.  Chapter Six finishes off Miller's lectures with a look at why the Austrians failed in the campaign.  I found these three chapters interesting.

The final five chapters reprint translations of W.J. Fiedler as compiled by Ralph Weaver of the Continental Wars Society.  Many of the translations focus on Montebello.  Since one of my current scenario development interests encompasses the Battle of Montebello, I read these short works with interest.

Scattered throughout the text are uniform plates, illustrations, and maps from a variety of sources.  The same map of Solferino is given a one page treatment followed immediately by a two page spread of the same map.  No need for both.  Proofreading should have culled one of these duplicates.  Given that the book is an aggregation of disparate topics on the 1859 campaign, it is easy to understand why the book lacks a common thesis. Perhaps the book's best use might be as a primer on the 1859 campaign.  At GBP21 post-paid, it represents a fair value but did not meet my expectations.  I had much higher hopes.

22 comments:

  1. Jonathan that sounds very disappointing- but I'm afraid in my experience not unusual for books that Stephen is associated with. I have had many similar experiences reading his various 'uniform' books. DEspite the serious need for an edit, I still buy them as the information on uniforms is wonderful.

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    1. It is not what I expected but I will find a useful bit or two therein. Many of the uniform plates and illustrations are either Knotel or Ottenfeld which I have. While I have seen some of the Sardinian uniform plates, I do not know the artist as they are not identified explicitly in the book. It seems a rush job to me.

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  2. The book even has an editor. Oh my. I guess I'll pass on this one. No excuse for a book that has an editor.

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    1. Eric, much of the information can be found elsewhere if you dig.

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  3. What a shame. That first sentence you quoted reads like it passed through Google Translate.

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    1. A pity, no doubt. I had such expectations too. When I read the sentence I quoted above, my first thought turned towards the late 1980's Japanese-to-English video game translation wherein, "All your bases are belong to us!"

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  4. Rather surprising given the association with Summerfield (other works I have from him are at least coherent). Thanks for the review!



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    1. I have Summerfield's SYW Austrian Infantry and Engineers book but only looked at the uniform illustrations...

      Glad you appreciate the review!

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  5. Thanks for the review. It appears a person would have to already be familiar with the war to profit from reading this book.

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    1. David, you pose an interesting conundrum. Giving your statement some thought, I am not sure exactly who this book's target audience would be. There really is not enough to help eiither the neophyte or the historian. Miller's lectures and the translations of Fiedler do add a few kernels of insight.

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  6. Well that's unfortunate, but at least you got a few interesting chapters and a nice cover out of the mess.

    Christopher

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    1. Quite right on all three counts, Christopher!

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  7. That is a pity. I was going to buy that.

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    1. CK, the review is my opinion alone. You may arrive at a different conclusion entirely.

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  8. Dr Sumerfeld has certainly shown an uncanny ability to unearth all manner of details about horse and musket period armies. A sentence like the one you quote is so appalling that it would out me off quite a bit, especially if it is but one of many examples. The Rawkins books certainly do not display that kind of flaw that I have seen.

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    1. Hi Peter! Running into that sentence butchery almost made me put the book aside. I persevered.

      The Rawlins' book on Austria is a good one. Very comprehensive.

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  9. I understand your disappointment. I reviewed a book earlier in the year and found the same problems you mention. Bad editing (or perhaps none at all); a mystifying lack of detail in some instances contrasted with excruciating and unnecessary detail in others; an overall lack of coherence in structure and content; the sense that it had been cobbled together from a variety of mismatched pieces. It is a worrying trend and thank you for voicing your concerns in this review.

    Cheers,
    Aaron

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    1. Aaron, sounds like we read the same book! I figured a chance for being pilloried for my review was a risk but one worth undertaking. Readers and purchasers suffer if we fail to produce honest reviews or encourage substandard productions by remaining silent.

      Again, your continued support is very much appreciated.

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  10. Jon, your OldGlory15s look really great! These are among my favorites in the entire 19th Century line.

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  11. I recently bought an Osprey book and I thought it was randomly thrown together, much like you are describing. What is going on these days?!?

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    1. Dale! I have several theories. Two of which are founded on the rush to publish and lower barriers to entry. Solid editing seems to be a dieing art.

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