Quality over Quantity

I have been updating my various tutoring accounts in anticipation of attracting some new students. One element of that has been checking the ‘going rates’ for tutors in my field. It appears that covid has brought an influx of new tutors into the market, and they charge much less than I do. That gave me pause for thought: should I cut my rates to compete? As soon as I asked that question, another one immediately came to mind: should you be looking for a tutor based on their hourly rate or to achieve the outcome you desire? That gave me my answer: I offer a quality tutoring experience and I am worth the rate I charge for that. I might get less students as a result, but those that do find me will be motivated to work and eager to succeed. Those are the students I want to work with. “Others need not apply” as they say.

Setting the Standard

Setting the Standard

Andrew Abram, More Like Lions Than Men (Helion, 2020)
Growing up, I understood the English Civil War as a fight between two armies that clashed regularly with the Parliamentarian army of Oliver Cromwell overcoming the Royalist army of Charles I who was doomed to lose his head as a result. Other fighting in the regions was dismissed as not much more than local fisticuffs. Times have changed, of course, along with scholarship and interpretation, and the interconnectedness of the struggle has become steadily more apparent. In that vein, Andrew Abram’s More Like Lions Than Men examines the Cheshire Army of Parliament under Sir William Brereton and establishes it firmly in the broader strategic context of the war.
Abram splits his book into three parts. Part I follows the Cheshire army on campaign from Autumn 1642 to February 1646. Brereton assumed command in a County that showed little interest in the war, but he recruited a sizeable force and cooperated with other Parliamentary forces across England. He also resisted Royalist incursions into Cheshire as the County became increasingly important. Brereton was successful through 1643 aided by a cadre of competent officers and experienced soldiers and that continued through the heavy fighting of 1644 and the siege of Chester that occupied much of 1645.
Parts II and III delve into the nuts and bolts of the Cheshire army. Abram examines how men were recruited, dressed, and organized into the infantry, cavalry, artillery, and other non-fighting branches. He includes an interesting section on religious ministers, which was important particularly in the Parliamentarian armies. Abrams turns his attention to how the army functioned away from the battlefield; how they were fed, paid, and armed, including their ammunition. Part III surveys the units that made up the Cheshire army, beginning with Brereton’s cavalry, highlighting their sub-units, officers and NCOs, and numbers. He does the same for the Infantry regiments and Dragoons. He concludes with an outstanding bibliography
  More Like Lions Than Men is excellent value. The opening fast-paced narrative section is followed by an exemplary scholarly analysis of all elements of the Cheshire army. The text is littered with interesting contemporary illustrations and a judicious use of quotes, though some are too long and could have been paraphrased. The colour plate section of soldiers and flags adds to the production values of what is overall a fine book and one that sets the standard for anyone wishing to attempt the same. If diving deep into an English Civil War army appeals to you then this is a must buy; for those just interested in the ECW and how armies fought, Abram has set you up with a thoroughly engrossing read.
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A Roman Icarus?

A Roman Icarus?

John S McHugh, Sejanus Regent of Rome (Pen & Sword, 2020)
His name is synonymous with burning ambition; a man who had enough but wanted it all. At his peak, Sejanus’s power rivalled that of the Roman Emperor, but he overstepped (don’t they always?) and died a traitor’s ignominious death. Along the way, he fundamentally changed Roman history and political culture. John S McHugh brings us Sejanus’s story and attempts to solve the mysteries that still surround him.
Sejanus was born into an influential, though not noble, family during the fiery death of the Roman Republic in 20 BCE. He began his army career as a young man, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps as one of the Emperor’s Praetorian Prefects, which he duly achieved after climbing the military ladder. He had done so through patronage and exercising his ambition, but Sejanus was also charismatic and energetic and politically astute. Sejanus was now near the centre of power but that only stoked the fires of his ambition. He watched and learned how power worked, becoming the Emperor Tiberius’s right-hand man in the process. When Tiberius removed himself from Rome, Sejanus filled the void as a regent. He now controlled Rome through fear and patronage while keeping Tiberius ill-informed as to events in his capital. Then Sejanus fell, sharply, as tyrants do; Tiberius finally wise to Sejanus’s power-grab. The man who would be Emperor was imprisoned, garrotted, and his corpse defiled, though he suffered his fate bravely. A six-year terror followed against Sejanus’s supporters, real and imagined, fuelled by Tiberius’s vindictiveness and spurred on by his new Praetorian Prefect, Macro. It ended only when Tiberius died. McHugh concludes on a sympathetic note for Sejanus who he sees as little different from those who came after, though Sejanus set the precedent.
The sources for Sejanus are patchy at best, but McHugh picks his way through them with care – his handling of the ‘murder’ of Drusus is an excellent example of this. That might not make for the most enjoyable reading experience at times, but it is necessary and provides great insight into the pitfalls and rewards of studying ancient history. McHugh’s draws the reader in with his clear narrative of events and descriptions of the major players in this extended drama, and his placement of Sejanus’s rise and fall in the context of Roman politics is skilfully exposited. Sejanus’s dramatic rise and fall still serves as a morality tale through the centuries, and it is one that McHugh tells well.
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Sabers Ready!

Sabers Ready!

John Walter, Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman (Osprey, 2020)
Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman is part of Osprey’s Weapon series. Its author, John Walter, has written many books on small arms, so you know he is going into the weeds in his latest work, and if you thought that the Civil War cavalryman carried just a saber, carbine, and pistol then think again; there was much more variety in their weapons than popular culture suggests.
Walter dives straight into his subject, discussing the weapons American soldiers carried in their conflicts leading up to the Civil War before continuing into an overview of weapons logistics, particularly their manufacture in the US and foreign suppliers. He expands on the developments of the various longarms – rifles and carbines – of both sides, and there were many different types. Walter follows that with similar discussions on revolvers, including French and British models, with a detour into the small derringers for personal use as a last resort, and bladed weapons. How the cavalry was raised, organised, and fought is summarized with some examples of their use in battle. Walter notes there was no standard issue for all of these because the Civil War was initially a volunteer war. Walter also teases out the debate between the classic saber and the revolver for close combat. He finishes with an appendix on patents and a useful little bibliography for further reading.
If you are familiar with Osprey books, you will know that it is the illustrations and photographs that make them worthwhile, without disregarding the obvious expertise of the author of course. Weapons of the Civil War Cavalryman does not disappoint in that regard, including an illustration of the famous and futile cavalry charge with lances at Valverde in 1862. In addition, photographs of weapons are included on almost every page. Anyone interested in Civil War cavalry will appreciate this slim but interesting book.
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Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide

Jon Diamond, MacArthur’s Papua New Guinea Offensive 1942-1943 Images of War (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In MacArthur’s Papua New Guinea Offensive, Jon Diamond takes us into the heart of a brutal battle during World War II, fought by under-trained soldiers in a vicious environment across almost impossible terrain. Along with the victory at the neighbouring island of Guadalcanal, the Papua campaign marked the zenith of Japanese Imperial ambitions in the Pacific and the turning of the tide in favour of the Allies.
Diamond begins with an overview of the early Pacific War, beginning with Japanese expansion across Asia after Pearl Harbor then focusing on the campaign in Papua New Guinea. That put them in reach of Australia, but they would need to take Port Moresby on the south of the island, which was held by the Australians. When MacArthur arrived to take command of the South West Pacific Theatre, he was tasked with capturing Buna on the north of the island to establish an airfield. The Japanese beat him to it and tried to push over the Owen Stanley Range to Port Moresby, so began the brutal fighting on the Kokoda Trail connecting Port Moresby to Buna. This was conducted against the backdrop of the failed Japanese effort to defend nearby Guadalcanal that put the Japanese on the defensive around Buna. The Australians turned to the offensive with the under-trained Americans pushing in too with engineering and air support. They took Buna then pushed on along the coast to drive the Japanese out for good. Winning was a relentless slog against the elements, disease, and of course the redoubtable Japanese, very few of whom survived. Mixed in with the narrative, there is a chapter on terrain, weaponry, and fortifications that all favoured the defenders, particularly in ground unsuitable for tanks. If that was not enough, the Japanese became experts at constructing concealed bunkers that had to be taken the hard way, man to man. Diamond also considers the commanders and soldiers on both sides.
The Images of War series depends on the collected photographs alongside the narrative to make the books work. In this case, there are too many photos included from the Burma front, the Philippines, the Doolittle Raid, and Guadalcanal, but those from the Papua campaign are informative. Many of the photographs show the awful conditions these men had to fight in – mud, tall grass, rivers, jungle, more mud – and the incredible efforts of soldiers and engineers to overcome them. Diamond includes photographs of the major commanders and soldiers, the latter mostly marching or resting, but there are some excellent combat photographs too, particularly of the Japanese: the deterioration of the soldiers on both sides as the battle wore on is evident. Diamond does not forget the Papuan natives who risked their lives for the Allies and made such an important contribution to victory.
This account of the Papua New Guinea campaign does not break any new ground, but Diamond tells the story well, and the accompanying photographs are useful visual aids for understanding the hell these soldiers went through. There are more detailed books that describe this campaign, but as a primer, Diamond’s MacArthur’s Papua New Guinea Offensive does the job more than adequately and is well worth reading.
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