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Book Reviews

Has gastronomy become as much a science as an art? Two new books demonstrate the case for cooking as a branch of engineering.

Apogee Prime

Arthur C Clarke: A Life Remembered

By Fred Clarke, $22.95, ISBN 978-1926837-26-0

It was always a foregone conclusion that a number of biographies of Arthur C Clarke would be published, but not that one would bear the name of his (also sadly deceased) brother Fred. In fact, the book is an amalgam of writings, including a chapter on their childhood by Fred Clarke and an interview with him, ably stitched together by co-authors Mark Stewart, Kelvin Long and Robert Godwin. It includes a foreword by sci-fi author Gregory Benford and contributions by other notables, from Stephen Baxter and Ben Bova to Mat Irvine and Patrick Moore.

Parts of the book are standard biography, where one reads of Clarke's early life, influences and indications of what was to come, but the shorter passages by a multitude of guest writers open a more personal window on the subject. Many of them recount how they first met Clarke ' often at a conference or sci-fi convention ' while others reveal their impressions through favourite quotes.

Benford does both: he recalls how "five minutes into our friendship [Clarke said] 'Let's go up to my room so we can think' and we waxed on about the future, ideas, stories we loved" then he quotes Clarke on religion: "I don't believe in God but I'm very interested in her".

Fred Clarke tells how Arthur would "often start an argument" with his brother and sister at the tea table "which could end in chaos". Their mother's solution involved one of many "floppy sticks", or apple tree branches, stored in a high cupboard. One day the boys built a tower from table and chair, with Fred on the top, to get to the sticks, which Arthur put on the fire. What they didn't know was that Mother had a second stash in another cupboard!

The book is illustrated with monochrome photos of Arthur and his friends across the years. All in all, it gives a varied and often personal view of his life, not comprehensive or encyclopedic, but certainly readable and engaging.

Mark Williamson

 

Old House Books

Baedeker's Guide to Great Britain, 1937

by Karl Baedeker, £14.99, ISBN 978-1908402615

In the course of the nearly 200-year history of Baedeker Guides, there were three editions which caused the highest amount of notoriety and therefore became by far the rarest and the priciest among the handbooks. The first ' 'Baedeker's Russia, 1914' ' had only one English edition (1914 was not the best year for guidebook publishing) whose uniqueness lay in the fact that it became a blueprint of Russia and Europe prior to the First World War, after which, as we know, the world was never the same again.

The second was called 'Das Generalgourvernement Reisehandbuch von Karl Baedeker, 1943'. This one and only German edition was an attempt to cover the whole of the Third Reich including the occupied countries of Europe: Poland, Hungary, parts of France, Russia and Ukraine. Karl Baedeker himself had little to do with the idea; his world-wide fame was used by the Nazis as part of a propaganda coup.

The third rarest Baedeker was 'Great Britain 1937'. Why? Because ' largely due to its hundred-odd detailed maps ' it was reportedly used by Luftwaffe pilots during the Blitz to bomb British cities and towns in what became known as 'Baedeker raids' - another example of the famous dynasty's family name being blatantly abused.

As a Baedeker collector I am proud to say that I am now the owner of the two out of three legendary editions ' both in facsimile: 'Baedeker's Russia, 1914' (reprinted by David & Charles in 1971) and now also 'Baedeker's Britain, 1937', thanks to the beautifully produced new reprint by Old House Books, the latest in their series of historical travel guide facsimiles.

As for 'Das General'gouvernement', I held it in my hands at an antique book fair, but not being a German speaker, hesitated to cough up '150 at which it was priced ' and the book was immediately snapped up by another customer. The price was ridiculously low, for this very rare edition normally retails for at least '3,000!

But back to 'Great Britain 1937' ' a 700-page treasure trove of information, whether the Nazi pilots indeed consulted it or not. Apart from the amazing maps and panoramas, the book is awash with fascinating 75-year-old statistics and curious technological details. "British roads are among the best in the world as regards surface, and their deficiencies in width and straightness are being rapidly corrected". What can I say? Good old 1937, when London's main airport was Croydon, from where an Imperial Airways plane could get to Paris in two and a quarter hours, and from Heston one could fly to Alderney "on request". As for descriptions of sites, routes and walks, they are as topical and as modern as one can imagine ' the feature that makes Baedeker Guides true classics of the genre.

Vitali Vitaliev

 

English Heritage

Support for the Fleet: Architecture and Engineering of the Royal Navy's Bases 1700-1914

by Jonathan Coad, £100, ISBN 978 1 84802 055 9

The hostility that tends to greet any move to restructure Britain's armed forces means it's an area that governments have always handled with care. Even with the days of Empire long gone, and future wars likely to be fought in completely different ways, there is a strong association in the public consciousness of military resources with global influence.

There are few areas where the antipathy to 'cuts' is stronger than in relation to the UK's power at sea. A permanent state-backed navy may only have been established a few hundred years ago, but its meteoric growth and the part in played in establishing influence all over the world mean that alarm bells ring when experts suggest that recent changes may have left it too small to meet its commitments. The message is particularly unpalatable when accompanied by warnings that it may have to look to other countries to help plug the gaps.

This nostalgia is largely based on a vague awareness of few famous victories at battles like Trafalgar. What's often forgotten, however, is the vital day-to-day support infrastructure that has always existed around the world to support the navy.

From the early 16th century the royal dockyards were providing essential support for the newly established navy. By the 18th century, expansion saw them growing rapidly, supplemented by facilities around the world.

In 'Support for the Fleet', architectural historian and royal dockyard expert Jonathan Coad charts the period between 1700 and 1914 when the role of these bases in everything from constructing, fitting out and maintaining warships to repairing and equipping them meant they were significant industrial centres in their own right. Alongside the huge workshops whose evolution mirrored the change from sail to steam and from wood to iron to steel were the hospitals, barrack accommodation and training centres.

The picture is very different today. Chatham Dockyard in Kent, which at one time employed more than 10,000 skilled craftsmen, closed in the 1980s and is now more familiar to moviegoers the world over as the backdrop to blockbusters featuring the likes of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond than it is for the part in played in maintaining one country's dominance of the seas.

For those more interested in the largely untold story of how Royal Navy bases were the innovation centres of their time, 'Support for the Fleet' provides a comprehensive, and lavishly illustrated, account of this glorious past.

Dominic Lenton

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