Conflict and culture explored

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Flashpoints series

The Balkans. By Simon Adams.

Israel and Palestine. By Michael Gallagher. Franklin Watts. pound;12.99 each

The Second World War. By Dennis Hamley. Franklin Watts. pound;12.99. World War One series

Causes and Consequences. By Simon Adams

Weapons and Warfare. By Adrian Gilbert. Franklin Watts. pound;12.99 each.

Medieval Realms series

Art and Architecture Monarchs. By Stewart Ross.

Death and Disease Education. By Alex Woolf.

Daily Life Warfare. By Peter Chrisp. Hodder Wayland. pound;11.99 each

What an excellent idea - to take modern points of conflict and place them in their correct historical context. In the Flashpoint series The Balkans, for instance, helps explain the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but also helps explain why the assassination of Franz Ferdinand occurred and led to a world war.

Israel and Palestine manages to tread a fine line through the labyrinth of claim and counter-claim to this disputed land, with only an occasional hint of bias. Both books are fascinating, well-written and will appeal to average and above-average GCSE student. There is plenty of detail, but it's attractively laid out.

Dennis Hamley's The Second World War is a big disappointment - you wouldn't expect to find so many factual inaccuracies in a book destined for schools.

Hitler did not found the Nazi Party nor did Germans feel the generals had let them down; it was the politicians who were blamed. Hitler was not elected Chancellor in 1933 and he married Eva Braun before they committed suicide.

The content is carefully chosen to represent the main areas of action in the Second World War, but the language is sometimes difficult - "titanic" and "gargantuan" perhaps need a glossary entry, among others. This is not a book I would want my students to read.

Causes and Consequences is perhaps a misnomer for a book which has three spreads exploring the causes, and three spreads exploring the consequences, and then attempts to cover each year of the First World War in one double spread - rather a challenge. It means lots of areas of great human interest are barely touched on. Perhaps the best part of this book is the timeline for each year of the war. Again language level is an issue, as in "President Wilson believed that the League of Nations could prevent war through arbitration and peaceful sanctions against aggressive nations".

Weapons and Warfare again adopts the double-page spread, with the consequence that Trench Warfare, for example, gets the same amount of coverage as Air Attack, which rather distorts the reality of the First World War. Nevertheless, this should make a good "quick reference" text for the school library or a project collection in the history department.

The Medieval Realms series aims to support key stage 3 and the "Britain 1066-1500" study unit. Each book is lavishly illustrated and, on the whole, the language is appropriate for the target audience. There are plenty of vivid examples to help pupils understand the complexities of medieval life.

If the illustrations had provenance, then teachers would be able to make more use of them.

Some titles work better than others. For example Art and Architecture and Death and Disease go far beyond what you would find in a typical textbook.

Lots of examples come from Europe and therefore broaden pupils' knowledge.

But again, you wouldn't expect to find factual inaccuracies. Monarchs, for instance, has Richard II living from 1277 to 1299 on page 40, and 1377 to 1399 on page 41. I lent this series to a Year 7 student, and his response was less than exciting. There's lots of interesting detail about medieval life, but the presentation is a little lifeless.

ALF WILKINSON

Alf Wilkinson is professional development manager for the Historical Association

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