Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book – Wales – A History

Wales – A History (Gwynfor Evans 1996)

Jack gets to write the book review this week –

I was taught hardly anything about Welsh history at school, so this was a real eye opener for me. All I knew was that Wales has a strong indigenous culture and language and that its influence extended once to southern Scotland, Cumbria, Cornwall and even to Brittany.

What Evans explains is that while it was never a ‘kingdom’ with a centralized ruler, it was a loose federation of ‘cantons’ rather like modern Switzerland. It was held together by its shared culture, language and values. Sometimes the various local leaders fought each other but often they banded together to resist incursions by, in turn, Romans, Danes, Normans and English. In effect Wales, including all its territories where Welsh was the common language, was the land of the Brythonic Celts.

He also points out that despite attempts to anglicize Wales over many centuries, the sense of Welshness in a large part of the population remains strong.

The book ends just before the Welsh assembly was established which introduced a limited amount of devolved responsibilities and democratic accountability. The UK government now frequently refers to a United Kingdom of four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There’s also strong evidence that support is increasing for Welsh independence, for which Evans argues powerfully.

I suppose all historians write from their own perspective, prejudices and world view and sometimes this can be rather hidden and subtle. I prefer when the author makes no secret of their point of view and so I was able to keep Evans’ obvious enthusiasm for independence to the side and concentrate on his well researched factual narrative.

I must admit that at various points I had to concentrate hard to distinguish between the many Llewellyns and Daffyds that appear, but I also have difficulty with the many Scottish kings called James!

This is a very readable book and highly recommended for anyone with Welsh roots, interested in Wales or how it fits into the wider Celtic picture.

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The Monday Book – Wind, Sand and Stars

Jack gets to write today’s book review –

Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

wind

Some years ago Wendy and I watched a movie called ‘Wings of Courage’ at the IMax theatre in Chattanooga. It told the story of a pioneering mail flight across the Andes from Chile to Argentina that went badly wrong. The pilot was called Guillaumet and he crashed in the mountains and had to walk over many days through the snow to reach safety. What I didn’t know was that the story was based on a chapter in this book.

As an enthusiast for anything to do with early aviation, I was delighted when Wendy handed me the book from some (pre-quarantine) thrift store outing. She thought I’d find the book interesting and she wasn’t wrong. Saint-Exupery’s writing is wonderful and the translation by Lewis Galantiere does it full justice. The author describes his own experiences as one of the early aviators opening up mail routes around the world – particularly in North Arica and South America. His descriptions of the perils of flying at low altitude and before the days of navigational equipment are amazing and nail-biting.

As I finished the chapter about Guillaumet’s experience in the Andes we watched ‘Wings of Courage’ again on line and it proved very true to Saint-Exupery’s telling of the story. When I came to the final chapter, I was once again blown away as the author described crash landing in the Sahara. He was trying for a record flight between Paris and Saigon and got lost as he was heading for a stopover at the Nile. He plowed into a hill top destroying the plane, but miraculously escaping injury along with his engineer. They struggled for days finding a way to rescue with very little food or water, almost exactly replicating the earlier Andes story, but with sand instead of snow.

The book, however, isn’t all about flying. There’s a good deal of philosophizing about the meaning of life, the relationship between people and peoples, and the futility of war.

I think the only thing that might bother anyone reading the book might be the authors views on the effect of technology on humanity. He appears to view all technological advance as completely benign but I suppose we have to allow for when the book was written.

‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ finishes with the author visiting Spain during the civil war and ruminating on the way a community can be so easily and sadly divided.

Many people know Saint-Exupery best as the author of the children’s classic The Little Prince. He flew a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944 from which he never returned.

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