Books – Reorganising my history bookcase made me think about my interests

My big history book case is in the living area and not surprisingly my wife gets annoyed when the books get messy. Recently I tidied it up. Aside from the fact it took hours – which I didn’t enjoy – I found it interesting what this filing task highlighted about my interests. Aside from my enduring interest in all things Spanish and Portuguese, it turns out I have quite a big interest in World War II (okay, not so surprising), and a huge interest in Colonial Empires with a side order of Cold War.

2013 Official Focus

There are four ways to measure my interests, the posts I blog about (which I won’t dwell upon here), my armies, my Official Focus, and lastly what I read about (my books).

Four measures of Steven's Interests
Four measures of Steven’s Interests

In this post I compare my official focus from 2013 with what I read (my books).

If you you look at the About Page you’ll see “this site – Steven’s Balagan – is about Spanish and Portuguese Military History, Wargaming, and other stuff.” The page lists secondary interests including: wars of New Zealand, Arab-Israeli Wars, Eastern Front, Punic Wars and Macedonian Wars (i.e. the Rise of Rome).

I wrote that back in 2013. Has it stood the test of time?

2022 Book Collection

Thankfully, based on my book collection, all those interests I mentioned in 2013 are still interesting. Still part of my particular speciality. But I see big themes in my book collection which are not adequately reflected in the official focus.

The graphic below represents my military history bookcase. Just to explain the lump at the bottom … my main bookcase only has 18 shelves so I had to put some of my collection (Arab-Israeli Wars) elsewhere. So I have 20 shelves in total.

Steven's History Bookcase by Topic
Steven’s History Bookcase by Topic

You can see the 2013 topics in there. But I also noticed three big themes:

  • General History (40%) – mostly Spanish and Portuguese
  • World War II (28%)
  • Colonial and Cold War (33%)

The countries cut across those themes with the majority of books being about Spain (65%). Then Israel (13%), New Zealand (9%), Wales (8%), and Portugal (7%).

Now I’ll go through each of the three themes.

Theme: General History

General history is where I started and is still the biggest part of my book collection (40%). Spain and Portugal through time, mostly Spain. I tiny bit of Israel in biblical times.

Ancients (10%) and Medieval (15%) Warfare were my mainstays for years. I inherited converted Airfix armies for the Punic Wars and Macedonian Wars.

After I moved to 15mm metal figures, my Spanish interest could justify the Punic Wars (think Hannibal’s Spanish Empire) and it was a small step to the Iberian Wars. But I had frame this as part of the wider Rise of Rome to justify the Macedonian Wars. Spain and Portugal played a big part in the Fall of Rome. Armies that fought over the Western Empire were often raised, passed through, based or settled in the Iberian Peninsular. Between them the Rise and Fall of Rome is 8% of my collection.

With the Reconquista and 100 Years War the Middle Ages were well covered (5%)

Then I added Gunpowder (28%). That was a big step for me, but I couldn’t resist the Savage and Romantic Carlist Wars (3%). But other interests followed: the Italian Wars with a side helping of Eighty Years War / Dutch Revolt (5%), Thirty Years War (5%), War of Spanish Succession (3%), and the Peninsular War (8%).

Much later I added Industrial Wars including the Spanish Civil War (3%).

Theme: World War II

World War II is now huge in my book collection (28%). But, it has to be said, that for a long time after I decided that Spain and Portugal was my thing, I didn’t go anywhere near WW2. First I had to get over my phobia about guns (dealt with in the Gunpowder). Once that was out of the way it was only a matter of time before I used the Spanish Blue Division as an excuse. I got a single book on WW2 (Raymond Proctor’s “Agony of a Neutral: La Division Azaul”) and I was off. Now 28% of my military history collection is WW2. Although I started with the Spanish Blue Division on the Eastern Front (15%), I have expanded to 2 (NZ) Division in the Italian Campaign (5%), plus the Burma Campaign plus a bit on the Sino-Japanese War (5%). I also have a few NW Europe books (3%) but this theatre doesn’t really crank my handle.

This natural expansion into World War II really isn’t too surprising, at least to me. As a child I only did WW2 miniature gaming: Soviets versus Germans using Airfix plastics. I also played many WW2 board games with my father, including my favourite the 1969 SPI classic, Barbarossa: The Russo-German War 1941-45. It was only my purist streak that kept me away from WW2 as an adult: Spanish and Portuguese and that is it! But once I caved in this period was only going to grow. Although it did take me 20 years to expand my wargaming collection from Eastern Front to the Italian Campaign. It did’t take anywhere near as long to move to the Burma Campaign.

Theme: Colonial and Cold War

The last big theme is “Colonial and Cold War” although in true it should really be called “Colonial – the creation and the dismemberment of Colonial Empires including several such dismemberment conflicts during the Cold War”.

It all started when my mate Brian said, why don’t you do the New Zealand Colonial Wars. So I did (3%).

It was my long running interest in Spain that led me to the New World. I just couldn’t resist those Aztec war suits so started collecting books on Conquistadores (8%). Many years later a lucky find (John Fletcher’s “Liberators! Volume 1: The War in the South”) got in me into the Wars of South American Independence (3%).

My Portuguese interest trailed a long way behind Spain. But eventually I followed the Portuguese Explorers into medieval Africa (2%) and beyond. I even has some material on the East Africa campaign of WW1 (1%). the Portuguese were the first Europeans into Sub-Saharan Africa and left at the end of the Portuguese Colonial War (4%).

I see the Portuguese Colonial War (4%), Vietnam (2%), and the Arab-Israeli Wars (10%) as the real Cold War. If you add these together you get 16% of my book collection. I see Colonial and Cold War as related as the Cold War manifested in the third world with a variety of revolutions against colonial overlords.

Observations and Conclusions

I think I’ll rejig my official interests. Why not, nobody will die. I started with Spain and Portugal, and I remain interested in their history, but I have also moved on from there.

It is time to fully embrace World War II. Okay, that sounds a bit weird. it is time to acknowledge my interest in World War II as a general theme, without trying to tie it back to another interest (Spain, New Zealand, Wales).

I’m still not sure what to do about “Colonial and Cold War”. It is a theme, but I’m not sure how acknowledging that will change what I do.

I have a big Arab-Israeli Wars book collection (10%). But as I get older I think it is less and less likely to actually game these conflicts. This is part of the reason I have relegated these books to the secondary bookcase.

5 thoughts on “Books – Reorganising my history bookcase made me think about my interests”

  1. I can’t even recall what year each of my books was purchased. I’m impressed.

    I’m currently re-reading a book about Antietam. The binding is broken.

  2. Impressive autofollowing ! WW2 Malaya and Burma is clearly on the offensive in my book collection. ACW also greaty present but less the last years.

    I like your methodic way to address everything.

  3. I think it’s good your focus remains on WW2. Many claim it’s an over represented genre in wargaming, and while that’s true, your approach to it is unique. Plus, of course, the focus on Crossfire and on the Eastern Front (regarding this last thing, just yesterday I read someone claim he wasn’t interested on “Undaunted: Stalingrad”, a wargame by Osprey, because “Russians fighting Germans doesn’t appeal to me at all”. And I thought “that’s essentially saying WW2 doesn’t appeal to you, because the brunt of it was fought on that front!”).

    I’d love to see more of your musings on our South American Wars of Independence, now that you’ve influenced me to buy “Liberators!”

    • Andres, we share a common view on WW2. Won by the Soviets (with some help from US money).

      I’ve got Liberators ideas bubbling away. Jamie is keen to do some more with Bolivar’s Very Bad Day, so you’ll probably see something in the new year.


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