WORLDS GREATEST TANKS – Review by Mark Barnes

This is a brave book if ever there was one. How often have you been challenged to nominate a greatest this or that by your mates in the pub or locker room? It is a minefield of the worst sort and it takes a degree of valour to commit yourself to print thereby cutting off any opportunity for denial at any stage when you are facing ridicule or the unpleasant attentions of the affronted.

So, here we have a bold looking package where the author makes a mixture of easy and not so obvious choices. Having been through it from cover to cover I was struck by the tanks NOT included as much as Mr Haskew’sselections. He must have had some quite difficult moments going through his initial list, cutting things out as he went along. This sort of book is anchored to subjectivity and while I readily question some of his choices, such an exercise is wholly pointless. The book is out there and my name isn’t above the door, so like me, you will have to respect him for his courage, if nothing else.

We could go down the anorak/geek route and dissect every choice he makes but, as said, what would that achieve? Leaping off with a contradiction, I can say that, for me, a book that doesn’t include the Renault FT17 is either brave or bonkers. I find it hard to reconcile the author sticking with the massive T-35 multi-turreted Russian thing. His text tells us what a dog’s breakfast the tank was, which is thoroughly confusing in respect of the book’s title. It seems to me that the title diminishes the purpose of the book. I have in mind a childhood favourite – the Guinness Book of Tank Facts and Feats – which from this hazy distance did so much more, offering a lot more unfussy bang for much less buck…decades of currency adjustments considered.

We get a fair sized slab of the usual big cats  – Tigers, Leopards and Panther; accompanied by other no brainers – Abrams, Shermans and Challengers. The author goes a little off-piste with the Bradley and heads off like a rocket down a black run with the Valentine, Cromwell and S-Tank. My son looked through the book and spent a lot of time shaking his head. It’s amazing how even picking tanks can start an argument.

The book relies heavily on colourful illustrations to give it a little pizazz and, I am sorry, but these really do not work for me. We get a mixture of plan and cutaway designs that do not gel. The text seems straightforward enough, but there is somethingabout it I cannot put my finger on. I really get the feeling the book started out intending to be something much different from the final result.

So, I don’t entirely agree with the author’s selectionsand I don’t like the artwork – a sure fire clue that the book does not float my boat. Make no mistake; it doesn’t.  But, I admire anyone who has the balls to produce a book like this. Someone might read this and make the obvious observation: If I am so clever, why don’t I produce my own bloody book then, eh?  A fair point well made.

The author has collated most of the tanks I would select as being a touch of the bleedin’ obvious and added some I would leave as hard targets out on the range. I am struggling not to fall into the pit I described, whereby I start questioning his choices and nominating my own. Like a soccer anthology that ignores Bobby Moore or a car book with no E-Type Jag, this one misses many of the targets I would aim at. If I’d liked the artwork I might be a little more charitable. Nuff said.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

An Illustrated History
By Michael E Haskew
Amber Books
ISBN: 978-1-78274-108-4

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.