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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

There are two or three things I thought I knew about the battle of Hastings. Bear with me, because this is half remembered from primary school…

First off, a bunch of French blokes all called Norman – except for their leader, who’s called William – sailed over from France to claim the throne of England. While this was happening, King Harold was off fighting Vikings at Fulford and Stamford Bridge. When he found out what William was up to, he got proper cross and came down with what was left of his army and fought them all at Hastings. Given that a hat trick is difficult in whatever sport you’re playing, he lost the third one when he got an arrow in the eye, meaning that William got to be king, and some clever archer got a pay rise.

Naturally, that’s just me doing a sub-par impression of Philomena Cunk. Of course it didn’t really happen like that, and no, I don’t really think all the French people were called Norman (evidence that just one of them was, though, would please me immensely). But really, quite a lot of them could be, because as this book makes abundantly clear, the fact is we know very little about the Battle of Hastings at all. Read more

Of course, we’ve all seen Blackadder Goes Forth. The Allied generals used to just throw men at things, not care how many casualties there were, and kept on doing that until… somehow, the Allies won the war. Neillands’ main topic – in fact the whole reason for this book – is to answer the question: if the generals on the Western Front really were so incompetent and didn’t care about casualties, then how did they win the war in the first place?

It’s an interesting question, and he takes 500+ pages to answer it. It’s actually a fascinating read, covering not the what or the how (there are soul-crushing accounts of Passchendaele or the Somme that will haunt you forever, should you choose to read them) but instead asking ‘why’ – why did they choose to attack here, or there, why didn’t they think of x or y or z? Read more

615dsjiz3blI found this book in a branch of Cash Converters in Lisbon. Actually, scratch that – I found the 1966 edition in a Cash Converters in Lisbon. However the cover of mine is rather beaten up so I borrowed this image from Amazon. You can go buy that edition from Amazon if you wish – that’s not an affiliate link, by the way, as having moved out of the UK they don’t let me do that any more. But I digress…

The early chapters of the book are fairly easy to follow. This is probably because there’s not a lot of change in quite a lot of time, and it’s fairly easy(ish) to document that for the general mathematically ignorant (such as me). Generally speaking even my high level of mathematical ignorance is capable of coping with zero, and negative numbers and so on.
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