“Ocean Liners, An Illustrated History” Book Review

MaritimeMatters contributor and esteemed maritime author Peter Newall returns with a blockbuster of a book entitled “Ocean Liners, An Illustrated History”, to be released on January 30 by Sword and Pen Books.

As wide-ranging as it is ambitious, this is a truly comprehensive publication, running the gamut from the first Atlantic sail-enhanced steamers to today’s remaining handful of combi-liners.

Page 1:  IVERNIA (1955)  bow.

The author’s unique and, at times, provocative point of view sets this volume apart from the usual cut-and-dry references. “Ocean Liners, An Illustrated History” is rife with a connoisseur’s perspective and colorful anecdotes. Even if the reader might not always agree, Newall’s observations are not of the armchair variety. Since his early childhood in Cape Town, he regularly visited ships like the CAPETOWN CASTLE, CARONIA, WILLEM RUYS and the legendary ANDES, ultimately watching them sail off into the sunset as newer generations of ships came into vogue. And while he clearly adores this subject, he doesn’t succumb to mere romanticism and nostalgia when making a practical observation.

Pages 40 and 41: “U.S Competition for the Canadian Pacific Railway” (DAKOTA and MINNESOTA) and “The All-Red Route extended to New Zealand and Australia” (MAKURA and NIAGRA).

For instance, although he has written the magnificent “Union-Castle Line, A Fleet History”, that company’s lavender-hulled round-Africa workhorses get faint praise in comparison with some of their more comfortable Post War rivals, the spacious Ellerman Line quartet and the streamlined, gorgeously decorated, lido-bedecked Lloyd Triestino liners.

Newall animates this collection of ships by giving credit to key designers and architects (Mewes, Gibbs, Pulitzer, Zoncada, etc.) as well as distinguishing noteworthy interior layouts and important public areas. While taking in the glory of the ships, themselves, readers also learn about the first turbo electric maritime power plants, Maierform bows, bulbous forefoots, important socio/political events affecting emigration, and other factors influencing the evolution of ship design and marine engineering. All the while, the basic nuts and bolts (shipyards, year built, capacity, key dimensions, career milestones and demise) are included.

Atlantic aficionados can rest assured that most of their favorites are well covered but equal time is shared with the unsung Blue Water liners that sailed to the far corners of the earth, along with some obscure regional ships that were nonetheless working liners. Newall elaborates, “I have always been bothered by the fact that liner books tend to be focussed on Atlantic and Australian routes and seldom covered cross and short routes.” Hence, vessels like KNSM’s dapper ORANJE NASSAU, McIlwraith McEachairn’s gallant KAMNIMBLA and CGT’s VILLE D’ALGIER share space with the NORMANDIE, NIEUW AMSTERDAM (‘38) and the first ORIANA.

Pages 152 (SGTM’s BRETAGNE and PROVENCE) and 153 (American Export Line’s INDEPENDENCE and CONSTITUTION).

In order to keep the book at a reasonable size, sister ships are grouped in a single listing, usually with an emphasis on one in particular, crisply illustrated with a photo from the vast Newall/Dunn photo archives that Newall acquired from Laurence Dunn, the legendary author and ship historian. Some of the more splendid images include Dollar Line’s PRESIDENT HOOVER dressed overall, a pristine 3/4 bow view of the AMERICA, the 1954 ORSOVA with a bone in her teeth and a brilliantly lit BELGENLAND belching steam and smoke.

Although the QUEEN MARY 2’s principal architect Stephen Payne, contributed the book’s foreword, that particular ship did not make the cut. Newall explains, “QM2 is in my mind, a transatlantic cruise ship — designed to cruise.” He does defer to her onetime consort, the QE2, “I gave her a full page and although she was originally a splendid ship, the changes over the years spoilt her in my view. She was also very noisy.”

Enjoy this master work like a fine wine or a frothy cappuccino — sip and savor its magnificently illustrated pages at a leisurely pace, for, all too soon, like its subject matter, it reaches a glorious peak and comes to a sudden and decisive end.

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