The author is perhaps most widely known as a fine actor. His interest in the longbow and his work as a Trustee of the Royal Armories at HM Tower of London and Trustee of the Mary Rose Trust is less widely known in terms of the span of audience but is as international. This book is the fifth edition, the first edition being published by Patrick Stephens in 1976. This is an outstanding book in its field and it would be difficult to improve on.
NAME: Longbow, A Social And Military History, Fifth Edition
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Robert Hardy
PUBLISHER: Haynes Publishing
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non fiction
SUBJECT: Longbow, bows, hunting bows, war bows, English history, arrows, flytes
DESCRIPTION: The author is perhaps most widely known as a fine actor. His interest in the longbow and his work as a Trustee of the Royal Armories at HM Tower of London and Trustee of the Mary Rose Trust is less widely known in terms of the span of audience but is as international. This book is the fifth edition, the first edition being published by Patrick Stephens in 1976. This is an outstanding book in its field and it would be difficult to improve on. This reviewer has reviewed each of the four previous editions and is not convinced that the publisher was correct in telling the author that printing technology prevented a major rewrite. It is therefore appropriate to include in the review some information on publishing and printing processes. Back in 1976 most hardback editions of books were produced on offset presses, using photo etched plates and the technology developed by the Harris Brothers who built a company that was to diversify into other technologies and is today the Harris Corporation that is a leading aerospace defence contractor with expertise in military radio systems and satellites, amongst other military and intelligence technologies. With the traditional offset press, publishers maintained their control of book publishing because of the skills needed to select and manage printers, provide funds for the heavy initial outlay, and guide the author through the processes to complete the professional product that would justify the high cost of book publishing. The author’s typescript was edited by one or more editors employed by the publisher, graphics and layout artists produced the pages with illustrations or plate sections and created a stylish jacket to attract the reader in the bookshop. After completion of printing and binding, the publisher provided the sales and marketing to maximize the number of bookshops carrying copies of the product for immediate sale. The general publishing processes were therefore largely unchanged from the first books published by Caxton, even though Nineteenth Century printing press concepts were employed to replace the moveable wood block type and engravings of Caxton’s day. With the offset press, the printing plates had a much longer life than a single print run and could be stored to provide subsequent runs, each at a significantly reduced cost, because all of the editing and layout work had been done and the plates produced. If care was exercised in storage and subsequent use, printing plates could last almost indefinitely and often through a series of mergers and acquisitions amongst publishers. The disadvantage was that major revisions for new editions, and even some minor revisions, usually required a new set of plates to be made which introduced the cost a completely new book. However, scanning technology today allows any printed paper book to be copied into digital files at relatively low cost, certainly considerably lower cost than the cost of preparing a set of plates for traditional printing. Once the digital files have been created from the original paper book, they can be changed with ease and new illustrations added to create a new set of digital master files that can be loaded into the computer driving a RIP computer, where low cost, one time use, aluminium printing plates can be produced and then recycled after the end of the print run, because the real master is a set of digital files stored on magnetic tape or DVD. This approach produces the highest quality of printed paper book in any of the popular binding systems. Having produced a high quality traditional bound book by volume printing, the publisher can then use PrintOnDemand technology to allow the economic production of any quantity of books from one copy upwards. This allows a publisher to keep a book in production for decades without having to pay the large sum for a volume print run, followed by expensive storage costs to keep the book in good condition. POD production is now very similar to the best offset print production and is becoming much more sophisticated, to the point where many publishers are now going over to POD after a first edition has sold out, and where the first edition was produced from electronic files uploaded into the computer controlling the printing press. The publisher is also free to modify the digital files at any time to remove errors that escaped original editing and to update the text to keep it current. At the same time, the publisher can also distribute files to bookshops that use Expresso or similar instore POD systems that allow a reader to visit the store, browse the books available on a terminal, and then order the desired copies. While the reader takes refreshment or continues browsing, the book(s) is/are printed and bound to be collected when leaving the store. Increasingly, readers are moving to electronic books that can be read on a tablet computer or eBook reader such as Kindle. By holding digital master files, the publisher can copy out into any one of the many formats currently in use. Over time, the number of formats will reduce and formats currently in use may be replaced by completely new formats. None of that matters to the publisher because the digital master can be copied into new formats. It might therefore be thought that digital mastering would be highly attractive to any publisher in reducing book costs and allowing a book to remain available indefinitely. Unfortunately for the publisher, electronic mastering makes it easy for an individual to self-publish, making an increased income for the author but significantly reducing the cost of books and allowing the author to recycle elements of earlier books to provide major revisions of a title or to create a new book that incorporates text and/or images from earlier books. From his own experience, this reviewer wrote and published a book in 2008 as a centenary work, primarily because the time required for traditional publishing would have delayed availability. The book was written and published as a part time activity in a period of less than three months and was heavily illustrated. Since original publication, the master has been edited many times to remove errors and maintain currency. Although the bulk of the book is history, the final chapter is current and is the part of the master files most modified. Having said all of that, Robert Hardy has observed that although he relished the opportunity to write a completely revised book, on reflection he feels that he might have meddled unprofitably with what is already a fine book that is unequalled in its coverage of the longbow. This reviewer followed a similar thought process against his reviews of earlier editions. On balance it has seemed much better to read this new edition and write a review without thought to reviews of the earlier editions. When the current upgrade program for the FIRE Project completes, all of the book reviews in the earlier databases will be available to readers. That means that every review since 1995 will be visible to public access and a reader will be free to read and compare reviews through the editions. It also means that reviews written by members of the FIRE Project before 1995 will be copied into the new on-line database. With that in mind, this was a rewarding book to review. Even someone who has built up a level of knowledge of the subject will be reminded of things long forgotten, or previously misunderstood, and new readers will find a fluent text that is supported by lavish illustration, which includes illustration in black and white and in full colour, all placed within the body of the book at the appropriate point in the story. The first factor that stands out is just how thoroughly the subject has been researched, how open minded that research as been and how deeply the author feels for the subject and its related topics. For those new to the subject, it may well come as a major surprise to find that the longbow has been used for more than 8000 years and is still in use today in some numbers. Weapons are not just technology or craftsmanship, but shapers of society and history. Without the longbow, Medieval England would have been at a serious disadvantage in its wars with France. It would then have been most improbable that England would expand into Great Britain and then build the British Empire that encircled the world and for a hundred years was effectively unchallenged. Even beyond Empire, Britain continues to punch way beyond its weight and influences world affairs. Freed from the yoke of Brussels, Great Britain may go on to make an even more impressive contribution to the changing world. Although we may now be in the world of space exploration, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and real time integrated battlefield communication, the heritage of the longbow still shapes Britain and its way in the world. Not least, it is a reminder that an unarmoured bowman with a single arrow could defeat the wealth and experience of an armoured knight. Today, that bowman will carry a shoulder launched rocket that can defeat the most powerful armoured fighting vehicle. Robert Hardy has told the story so well, reviewing the long history of the longbow, its adoption by England as a battle winning weapon system, the equipment, training, uniform, way of life and terms of service of the English longbowman. The author has looked at fact and fiction, the longbow being as much a core of the legend of Robin Hood as any other factor. He has provided a detailed account of how to make a longbow and included details of the tools and materials required. It really is very difficult to think of anything that the author has missed. There must be something but it is certainly not evident. The quality of illustration matches and fully supports the excellent text. There is also a chapter covering the bows recovered with the Mary Rose when she was raised from the Solent mud. Written with the late Professors Pratt and Levy, this provides unique insight and links into the commitment made by Henry VIII, who watched in horror as the Mary Rose sank in front of him, to maintain the longbow. Robert Hardy has not neglected the place of the longbow in modern Britain and its use as a sporting and hunting weapon. The technical appendix, co-authored by Blyth, Jones and the late Professor Pratt is an important addition to the book and will provide valuable information for the reader. This fifth edition will be a treasured part of libraries around the world, private and public. It remains to be seen how the heritage of this book will be handled long into the future. The author may yet be tempted to write again about the longbow, but this edition should be maintained into the future on paper and perhaps electronically. As long as this book remains available, it is hard to imagine that any other author would attempt to produce a competitive book on the subject.