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April 05, 2006

The Trouble with Penguin: Singapore Burning - Colin Smith

Posted by Jeremy Black

Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II
by Colin Smith
Pp. 628. London: Viking Penguin, 2005,
Hardback, 25

I was told some years ago by a Penguin author that he was surprised that the publishers did not employ academic readers and simply published what had been contracted with the literary agents. I do not know if that is true, but there is certainly something the matter with many of the war books that they are publishing. They are frequently unreflective narratives, retreading largely-familiar stories, and often failing to match (or sometimes appreciate) excellent recent scholarship. For the fall of Singapore, there is a first-rate book of the latter type, Alan Warren's Singapore 1942. That is the book to read. Smith is simply not in the same league. There are also some important recent articles, including one on Force Z, in the far from obscure English Historical Review, but Smith appears not to have read them. Doubtless he will produce more books of this type. He can certainly write, and the interview material is most interesting, but this is not a particularly original book, and there is better work available.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter.


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