06 July 2007

Summertime Reading in the Grand Duchy of Stollen

Ugh! The hot, sticky weather has returned to Central Illinois this afternoon, so the cat and I are sequestered in the air-conditioned spare bedroom that doubles as my office and hobby area with a big, icy glass of pink lemonade. And the Grand Duchess Sonja has bitten the bullet and journeyed to her office at school to wade through the stack of mail accumulated during her absence. Personally, I think it’s really because the buildings over on campus are centrally air-conditioned and refreshingly chilly during hot spells. But, let’s hit the books!

Donald Featherstone’s Military Modelling (1970) arrived here at Stollen Central from Amazon Marketplace a couple of days ago. A first edition in excellent shape for less than US $10! A truly rare occurrence, but as I noted to the Grand Duchess, “I guess the amazingly low price is indicative of the demand for this particular book!”

Anyway, I would say that this volume might be an interesting, but certainly not essential, addition to one’s collection of “old school” wargaming books. Various other Featherstone books, for example Advanced War Games, War Game Campaigns, or the much coveted and terribly pricey Solo Wargaming , are more relevant to wargamers in the early 21st century. Each contains a wealth of ideas and techniques for OSW’ers that will enhance one’s gaming activities – or stimulate new thinking. Even now in 2007!

Military Modelling, on the other hand, contains much that is now very dated. Yes, there is lots of content on making master figures, molds, and casting (and pirating figures), but my impression is that this particular branch of the hobby has moved on in the last 37 years as new technologies, materials, methods, and attitudes have emerged. You’ll also find chapters on additional related topics like figure conversion, painting, working with plastic kits, making guns, vehicles, and buildings for instance.

All of this is interesting from a historical curiosity point of view, but better methods and ideas have come along since the book first appeared. My comments in no way are meant to detract from Donald Featherstone’s considerable contribution to the wargaming hobby, but Military Modelling is not one of his more fascinating books to this OSW’er almost 40 years on. Not to the same high degree as the three titles mentioned above at any rate.

A more interesting work is The Vanished Kingdom: Travels through the History of Prussia (1999) by James Charles Roy. A work of “popular” history, the author combines a description of his travels around modern day Poland and the Kaliningrad Region, during the mid-1990s, with brief historical narratives of the most important eras of Prussian history, including, of course, that country’s military activities. Roy’s book is also very readable, disproving the notion that history is dry and boring.

The book is 398 pages long (including a very general index), so it cannot be considered an exhaustive history of Prussia, but Roy nevertheless provides a nice introductory overview in English. This is important to those of us with an interest in the history of the country, but who don’t read German well (or at all). It can sometimes be challenging to find readily available histories of Prussia that are in English. And if you’ve ever plowed through an academic German text with lengthy sentences and the verbs doing all kinds of confusing things, then you know how time consuming it can be! ;-)

On that note, a particular strength of The Vanished Kingdom , though, is its fairly extensive bibliography, which contains mostly English language sources. Some of these may be more easily obtained than others, but interested parties should be able to track down and read at least some of the titles contained therein, which will give you a pretty good grounding in the basic details of Prussian history to (and slightly beyond) 1945.

So how does this particular book apply to the Grand Duchy of Stollen project? Well, for those of us developing imaginary 18th century campaigns, The Vanished Kingdom provides useful background information on the geography and agriculture of the region as well as its onetime architecture, settlement patterns, linguistic, and ethnic make-up. Features like these enable one to flesh out his campaign (I have yet to discover whether there are any women indulging in imaginary wargame campaigns) to a finer and more realistically plausible degree than might otherwise be the case. This is especially helpful for those like me who set their imaginary combatants farther to the East in Apocryphal 18th Century Europe. So, for that reason alone, I’d recommend getting hold of this book if you indulge in this sort of wargaming.


Bluebear Jeff said...

Instead of pink lemonade, I'm sipping ice tea. We keep several liters of it in the 'fridge all the time.

This particular one is a green tea with mint from Celestial Seasons . . . light and refreshing . . . very nice on warm days.

-- Jeff

Stokes Schwartz said...

Hi Jeff,

Yes, iced tea is also a mighty fine choice for those July and August "scorchers" as my mom used to call them. That green tea with mint you mentioned sounds good!

Best Regards,


Fitz-Badger said...

Thanks for the book reviews! I think I'll take a look at the Vanished Kingdom book. I could do with some 18th century history 101 for continnental Europe, most of my reading in that time period has been American history and some English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh/British.

I'm sitting here, having just finished some frozen yogurt, drinking iced cran-grape juice with lemonade. Today was over 104 degrees F (but certainly less humid than Illinois).

Bluebear Jeff said...

fitz-badger, whereabouts are you located?

I'm on Vancouver Island off of the west coast of Canada. (Okay, we are part of Canada -- but you know what I meant.)

-- Jeff

Fitz-Badger said...

Jeff, I'm in New Albion, I mean California. :-)
Southern California about midway between L.A. and Palm Springs.


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