25 April 2012 by Vitali Vitaliev
It would have been brilliant to have enough space to quote all the emails/letters in full (and I would be particularly tempted to do so, because most of them contained warm and kind - at times, much too kind - words about this column), but then there wouldn't have been much of space left for anything else in the current issue of E&T, I am afraid. So I have to be brutally strict (if not strictly brutal) and will simply list some of the books, chosen by the readers, with occasional commentary/quote to liven it up, so that we end up with a kind of a short reference source - of your passions and interests - on this page:
1. "The Electric Guide for Repairs, Additions and Alterations by the Handyman" (late 1940s-early 1950s), nominated by Alan Davies, MIET. Quote: "When changing a fuse, always stand on a dry board or box".
2. Stanley Gibbons' "Stamps of the World", 2010 edition in 5 volumes and with over 5,000 pages - brought in (must have been heavy to carry!) by L.A. Lawson MEI from Bury St Edmunds.
3. "Jack's Reference" (around 1913) from John Gray in Birmingham. Quote: "We are unable to speak definitely of the financial prospects of engineers - they are without limit in both directions; but for the man of brain (sic. VV) and energy there are few finer professions. Such a man, when fully qualified in his duties, will probably get little more than £100 a year at first, but ... by the time he is 40, an able man ... may expect to be earning £1,000 a year." How about an equally "able" woman, I wondered? Alas, "Jack" stays mum about the issue...
4. Books on architecture (not strictly reference) by Ian Nairn, suggested by Paul Taylor from Newcastle. I am happy to admit sharing a passion for Nairn's writing and his courageous, yet largely futile, stance against the "brutish" 1960s/70s UK architecture. His book "Nairn's London" is a pride of my own collection.
5. "The Door into Summer" by Robert Heinlein (1957) - from Terry Bramer Bsc (Eng) CEng MIET. Again, more science fiction than reference, yet, as Terry assures, "ingenious and full of clever ideas", including "engineering, cryogenic storage of humans and almost fully believable time travel". I haven't read Heinlein, but am going to order this book for my Kindle ASAP - and that's a promise.
6. Chambers Etymological Dictionary, The Oxford Dictionary of Art and the "impressive" "British Rail Rule Book" ("that was some manual") - all from Edwin Scott, who doesn't reveal much about himself, but I think I can safely guess that, despite his other various interests, his main job was (is?) railways-related.
7. "Humorous Poetry", circa 1880, compiled by William Michael Rosetti - a precious contribution from 92-year-old (if we believe him) John JL Weaver, Ceng FIEE/MIET, who assures he has had it for 75 years, which probably means that by now he knows most of its 226 "compositions" by 96 authors in 488 pages by heart. Mr weaver then comments that each of the poems reflects "history of its time" and therefore "truly" represents "an ossified time carcass" - as I referred to old reference books in my column.
8. "Baedeker's Lower Egypt, with the Fayum and Peninsula of Sinai, 1885" was nominated by Norman Wilcox to my considerable delight, simply because I am a passionate collector of old Baedekers myself, albeit, sadly, I don't own the above title.
Incidentally, I find guide-books, particularly old guide-books, amazing. Among other things, they offer us a proper time-scale of technological progress without which it is hard, if not impossible, to decide where exactly we stand and whether we have actually gone ahead or retreated. I am sure that the best way to travel - particularly for engineers, whose very profession requires unending curiosity about the world - is with one eye on the past.
As for Karl Baedeker himself, he was simultaneously a scholar and a sportsman, a bon-vivant and a botanist, an archaeologist and a theatre-goer, an artist and a historian. He never minced his words: "The Sweizerhaus ... is an inn built 10 years ago, which however provokes complaints because of the landlord's lack of politeness," he wrote in the first 1846 edition of "Handbook for Travellers in Germany and the Austrian Empire". Or take the following tip from his 1904 "Central Italy": "Iron bedsteads should if possible be selected as being less likely to harbour the enemies of repose."
Likewise, Baedeker never went into raptures and was very sparing with the "stars" he himself invented to award to the best (in his opinion) hotels, churches, towns/cities and even views. All later guide-book writers simply "borrowed" this simple method of evaluation. Had it not been for Baedeker, clichés like "a five-star hotel" or a "three-star restaurant" would not have existed.
He was also a master of different styles, often combined in one and the same sentence: "Over all the movements of the walker the weather holds despotic sway (reflective): the blowing down of the wind in the valleys in the evening, the melting away of the clouds (poetic); West winds also usually bring rain (scientific)". He could also be dryly and reservedly facetious: "Landlords sometimes make exorbitant demands on the death of one of their guests, in which case the aid of the authorities should be invoked."
Old Baedekers are full of fascinating engineering detail, like, for example, Baedeker's own matter-of-fact dossier on the state of London transport covering cabs (both "Hour-wheelers" and "Hansoms - "from the name of their inventor", the former "small and uncomfortable" and the latter "drive at a much quicker rate than the others", altogether "over 11,000 cabs, employing nearly 20,000 horses"), omnibuses (all 150 lines), tramways (130 miles with 1200 cars, with "horses ... still the chief motive power", "carrying 150 million passengers annually"), coaches, railways (including "electric" and early underground trains) and "steamboats" -- in his classical "London, 1900".
You may have guessed already that I am going to ask you to write to me about your favourite - from an engineering and technology point of view - guide-books - old and new: Baedekers, Murrays, Bradshaws, Bradts etc. etc. It would be also great if you could tell me about little-known engineering-heritage sites and objects (bridges, buildings, machines, vehicles, installations etc.), overlooked by guide-books, so that we could then compile an "After All" engineering and technology mini-guide-book on this page!
As always, I look forward to the flow of your emails and blog entries. Please send them to this blog or to email@example.com
Edited: 26 April 2012 at 11:06 AM by After All Moderator
Posted By: Vitali Vitaliev @ 25 April 2012 02:35 PM General
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