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How Can Man Die Better
Cub


Joined: 26 Dec 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Cardiff
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Hello all. This isn't strictly speaking my first post, but rather my first for a long, long, time. I did post for a while as Paul Cubbin, way back when (10yrs ago maybe?) but drifted off, disgruntled at my own stupidity compared to the intimidatingly broad crania I conversed with.

Sadly this has not improved.

The Mike Snook book of the same title as this thread has been out a while, but I couldn't find a topic already opened about it, so apologies if this has been covered ad nauseam in the past.

The short version of my appraisal is 'it's a bloody good book, buy it'. Well done Mike Snook, a fabulous piece of work and possibly the more so because the writing style seems conversational, natural and not yet bound by the conventions of an experienced author. If you have longer to read my drivel and don't mind wasting ten minutes you'll regret and never see again, read on!

I'm just coming to the end of Mike Snook's book, and I must say, as someone who has probably read maybe a dozen books on the subject and felt there is not much left to say, this one is an absolute revelation.

What Mike has done is looked at the battle through the eyes of a soldier and painstakingly pieced together the myriad scraps of information that survive with a view to putting a time and motion study in place. It truly breaks new ground and, ignoring all previous books or hypotheses, he takes the primary sources and eyewitness accounts, places them carefully in chronological (or probable chronological) order of what happened when and where, and how it affected everything else.

What is also refreshing is the fact that as a serving soldier, Mike is able to make educated guesses about thought processes and events, based on a soldier's response to changing circumstances.

I would add the caveat that I see it very much as an addition to my existing library, not a replacement (albeit a bright and shiny addition). I'm not usually a big fan of authors who thrust their personal opinions on the reader as fact, but in all fairness he does warn the reader well in advance that this is what he has done in certain circumstances and he backs them up with evidence. What may come across to some as character assassination (or even defence) in the case of some of the personalities involved in the battle, he would no doubt describe as honest military evaluation of somebody's decisions and worth as a soldier. In this case it reads less like an historical text as it does an investigation of culpability in a military court. I was quite glad to see my own views were mirrored by his a fair bit. He must have been listening all those years ago ... I taught him everything he knows.

I have always thought that the soldiers involved in the Zulu War really needed to be judged as soldiers (perhaps even by soldiers) instead of civilians, who live by a very different set of expectations and responsibilities. As someone surrounded by the army from birth and immersed in its traditions and personalities, Mike's writing style and conclusions do resonate with that distinctive decisiveness and lack of wishy-washy thinking (outside of the army, I might call this balance and open-mindedness!) so I did enjoy it, without necessarily agreeing 100%. It is also very much written in praise and pride of the British Army (and importantly the Zulus too). I like this, but it may not be to everyone's taste ... so what, they can go boil their heads.

An improvement I would like to have seen is more maps scattered throughout. Mike makes very detailed use of the topography in describing the battle and it is essential to grasp some sort of understanding of the ground over which the battle was fought and the effects it had. Not all of us have had the pleasure of walking over the ground and seeing for ourselves its nature. Ideally, I would like to see large scale colour maps with changes in altitude (quite important given the hidden dongas and ridges and their effect on visibility and movement) clear to see. There are modern photos of the ground included in the book, but being black and white they are quite difficult to make out and in any case are all found in the central illustration pages, not accompanying the relevant text.

I guess this is simply the necessary restrictions placed by the publishers for reasons of cost and practicality, but if you can get hold of a good map, with the various features clearly labelled, it would no doubt improve the experience to have it to hand for reference now and then.

If you like the Zulu War and already have a book or two on the subject, this has got to be added to your library. It doesn't so much absolutely disprove some of the contentious mythology of earlier works, as demonstrate their extreme improbability when viewed in a logical, military light combined with the facts as known and events as calculated.

As a lover of toy soldiers, it also has my mind racing, wondering how I can justify yet another period to collect and paint up. HaT's 1:72 plastic range now have a very tidy collection of troops available, including wagons, irregulars and volunteers.

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"You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me, it's a full time job." Lt. Bromhead to Prince Dabulamanzi before the Battle of Rorke's Drift.
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Paul Bryant-Quinn


Joined: 14 Oct 2007
Posts: 535
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As I live and breathe! Not Paul Cubbins the famous historian?!

Shocked
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Cub


Joined: 26 Dec 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Cardiff
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You may kiss the hem of my ermine robe. Wait a minute, that's still at Sketchley's ... here, it's a Disney fleece blanket instead.

I've been busy getting famous in the time since I was last here. I'm already pretty sure the neighbours know me.

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"You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me, it's a full time job." Lt. Bromhead to Prince Dabulamanzi before the Battle of Rorke's Drift.
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peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 863
Location: UK
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Paul

That's a very fair summary of the book. Mike has done his best with the annotated b/w photographs but the topography changes so much it is very hard to portray in pictures. A 3-D model would be ideal.

Peter
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How Can Man Die Better
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