Leadership and Landscape – My Book Collection Part I.

“Hi, my name is Darren, and I’m a book addict.” There, I admitted it. I don’t intend to diminish the experiences of anyone who is or has been truly addicted to a substance, but rather to state that books are one of the very few material items that I have difficulty resisting. Some years ago I decided that it was in my best interests financially to restrict my book buying to several preferred topics – history and military history coming at the top of that shortlist – and mostly I have stuck to that.

Seeing as though I have this blog, I intend to periodically be self-indulgent and write about some of the books in my collection. Now seems to be an appropriate time to start…

Two of my most recently purchased books are “The Somme – The Unseen Panoramas” by Peter Barton with Jeremy Banning; and “My Share of the Task – A Memoir” by General Stanley McChrystal.

The latter book, “My Share of the Task” is, as its subtitle states, a memoir, by the American general who commanded the U.S. dominated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I purchased it because I have for some time been researching and writing a biography of a formerly well-known Australian Army leader, and I wanted to examine how such stories were structured. Not having any military experience myself, I will refrain from commenting on matters of tactics or strategy as mentioned in McChrystal’s book, but I found it intriguing how much politics and diplomacy was involved in the role of a senior military commander.

The most interesting part of the book for me was probably the story of the painstaking search in Iraq for the notorious terrorist Abu Mussab Zarqhawi who was eventually tracked down and killed by a taskforce under McChrystal’s command. The laborious intelligence work required could never be adequately acknowledged in the brief sound and image bites we in the civilian world see in the mainstream media when such events reach a crescendo.

Overall, though it was well-written and interesting in the sense that it provided a glimpse into events that are relatively recent, I was left with a feeling that “My Share of the Task” left too many things unsaid or unwritten, and I put it down not having much more of an idea of General McChrystal’s leadership qualities – aside from diplomacy – than I did when I purchased it.

“My Share of the Task – A Memoir” by General Stanley McChrystal. Published 2013 by Portfolio/Penguin.

“The Somme – The Unseen Panoramas” by Peter Barton with Jeremy Banning is a superb quality book of photographs – both contemporary and more recent – maps, and authoritative text explaining the British experience of the disastrous Somme Campaign in mid 1916 France during World War One. Central to the volume – appropriately in landscape format – is a collection of black and white panoramic and aerial photographs of the battlefields. For a military history enthusiast who considers himself ‘spatially-challenged’, in that I can read of distances and locations and directions of advance etc., but find it difficult to visualise the same, these panoramas are a blessing. Of interest also are the ‘then and now’ comparisons: colour photographic panoramas taken in more recent years juxtaposed with the contemporary black and white ones taken just prior to, during, or after the battles described. This is more than simply a picture-book however, for the substantial text gives a context in which the panoramas can be viewed, and includes many personal recollections that give an unmistakeably human dimension to the destruction often evident in the accompanying images.

This is one of those books, purchased online and with only a rough idea of its content, that has proven to be a real ‘gem’, and I would recommend it to anyone seeking an understanding of what took place in that area of the Western Front.

“The Somme – The Unseen Panoramas” by Peter Barton, (with additional research by Jeremy Banning and Tom Barton). Revised Edition published by Constable, London, U.K., 2011.

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