Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Great Battles: Culloden (Cuil Lodair) --by Murray Pittock

This book will be available for purchase 15 September 2016

Nonfiction / History / Battle of Culloden
256 pages
4 Stars

Legalities first: I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review.

Every book I read starts out with 5 stars for its review, it is up to the author to keep them. This book rapidly dropped to 3 stars, and I nearly put it down after 50 pages. The beginning was slow, there were inconsistencies, and awkward sentence structures which sometimes made the sentence unintelligible.

There were also endnotes instead of footnotes. This reviewer can see no socially redeeming reason for making her flip and flap pages to go to the back of the book, somewhere, to see what the author thinks is important enough to add. If the notes were where they belonged, at the bottom of the page, this reviewer would not have lost her place on a fruitless search; she would merely have glanced to the bottom of the page, and either read or ignored the note, and continued reading.

I know the author is British, and I had no trouble with the spelling differences, nor most of the grammatical differences between British English and American English. (There really are differences beyond the extraneous 'u' that shows up in British words we have dropped.)

The author seems to assume his readers will all be British, with a working knowledge of the history of Culloden, not to mention the military.  I would have liked to have had a simple explanation after some of the jargon used, as it was, I spent a great deal of time going to several dictionaries only to discover the words used were old and no longer in use. The use of modern words would have made this book read much smoother, with fewer interruptions. Actually, this reviewer could have used a lot less jargon, and a lot more modern words. Instead of Pock, which took a few minutes to find, why not just use 'carry sack'? Instead of the oh-so-fancy and pretentious 'picquet,' why not just use picket?

By the time I got to page 85 (35 pages of date/fact, date/fact, date/fact beyond my usual close-the-boring-book-and-put-it-down place) I had my dander up. My clan (McBrayer) motto, In Defiance, was in full sway. I would finish this book, and give it a review, bad as it deserved.

And then, a miracle occurred. Or a student stepped in to take over the writing. Or a ghost writer appeared in the computer, but by page 86, the pace picked up, and it became almost a page burner. I actually became interested and began learning fascinating things about the Battle of Culloden (beyond what I 'learned' in Diana Gabaldon's book).

There were things Pittock mentioned that I wish he'd elaborated on, such as the women and children who were killed because they got in the way (were they in the way, or caught in cross fire?), and later, the women (and children?) who were shipped off with their husbands? I would have liked to read how the Scots used the pipes for communication – was it by tone, or song, or???

By page 96 or so, the inconsistencies dropped off (or I missed them because I was too interested in the story). Because of the second half of the book, I am giving it 4 stars. If I could give it 3.5 I would do that – I really miss not having an index in the back of the book. A glossary of old and military terms at the beginning of the book would have been a help. And I really hate the use of endnotes.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, especially if you are an historian and somewhat familiar with Culloden, and British military history and use of terms. If you're a history buff, like this reviewer, I still recommend it, but know the first part is a slog. It's slow, it's filled with dates and facts, and reminds one of the history books we had in elementary school that put us to sleep. Skim the beginning; read the second half. That's where the good stuff is.

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