When we're choosing books to feature in our non-fiction series, Encounters, we look for stories that we reckon have powerful reader appeal. How do we decide that? Partly through our communication with readers and writers over the years who have loved this genre, which has a high interest level for both men and women.
We've found over time that a really readable war book needs three qualities that, oddly enough, it shares with great popular fiction: a gripping story, strong 'characters', and a satisfying conclusion. And accuracy? That goes without saying—we're talking Reader's Digest here!
As an insight, here's a review by one of our readers for The Australian Light Horse by Roland Perry, a fine historical account that we decided not to include in Encounters. Does Bob Rodale's report tell you why?
'The book starts with the last great charge in Australian military history at Beersheba in 1917 which cemented the Light Horse reputation. It’s a gripping and fast-paced start to the book. Perry then takes us back to the early life of Chauvel who was the leader in charge. The story becomes much more pedestrian and this is the way it continues for most of the book. The battle scenes are all well told and in my view the most gripping parts of the book. The links in-between become far too long-winded and bog the story down. Perry seems pre-occupied with the leadership and their changing perception within the British Army. At times this is useful, but more often it is distracting. The story of the Light Horse couldn’t be told (and certainly isn’t!) without the story of T.E. Lawrence. However, a large portion of the book is dedicated to Lawrence and his wrangling, which is better known part of history and could (and probably should) be pared down significantly. There are some colourful characters who we meet along the way including cameo roles for Banjo Patterson and Ion Idriess. As Beersheba starts the book, we miss this climax in the normal chronology of events and are left with the disgrace of Surafend and the sad end of the horses themselves as the finale. The Light Horse story itself is a little buried in such a tome.'
By contrast, here’s part of our report on Peter FitzSimon's Kokoda, before it entered our publishing program.
‘Managing the details of the Australians' war in New Guinea is a great feat; it was deadly chaos much of the time because of the steep jungle conditions and there was no consistent command, with generals being fired off the job in New Guinea and others trying to direct from a distance in a dreadful war that involved very close combat in fatally disorienting surroundings. Fitzsimons has assembled a little cast of real characters to carry the story— a technique that I used to wish earlier writers on Kokoda would adopt. He has made the right choice—without that, it's almost impossible to keep a human eye on events, since so many key men in that tragic field of war ended up buried under it and the reader is constantly losing point of view.’
To read an extract from Kokoda, click here.