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OK, I apologise in advance for this very naive question, but I gather there is something rather wrong with Osprey from the limited things I have heard about them, mostly concerning innacurate reconstructions, illustrations, representations and so on.

Giving that they do not paint your typical fantasy 'hollywood' image of antiquity but apparently fall short of re-enactment standards, I ask, what is actually wrong with their illustrations? I bought a ''Hadrians Wall AD 122-410'' and rather like it, illustrations included, but being myself an amateur historian and still inexperienced re-enactor I am probably oblivious to a lot of innacuracies.

So, can someone elaborate on this? Whats with their reputation? Why, is it always wrong? Etc ...

P.S: Something I do rather hate is the lovely £13 price tag for 65 pages of ''booklet'', a complete rip-off.

Thanks.
"but I gather there is something rather wrong with Osprey from the limited things I have heard about them, mostly concerning innacurate reconstructions, illustrations, representations and so on."

I presume you are just talking about their Roman publications. Firstly who has said limited things about them? I can not speak myself about other periods but in general the Roman ones are very good. However with the format you can never cover a broad period like the Roman Army in 60 pages. Also do keep in mind that some of their Roman titles were written nearly 30 years ago.

The situation is somewhat better with the specialist topics like the Artillery books by Duncan Campbell and the tactics books by Ross Cowan because in my opinion you will not get better introductions elsewhere. I also hope my clothing books do not fall into your category either and having spent a few months doing 80-90 hour weeks getting the Plates ready for their new Roman Naval forces book with Raffaele D'amato, I hope you do not think the results a waste of time! That is also just an indicator of how much effort goes into the paintings never mind the research.

As an illustrator I always turn to them first if I am working on any non Roman military project. Nevertheless if I was making a 3D reconstruction it would be common sense to seek out the relevent archaeological reports and diagrams as well.

Graham.
The thing with Ospreys is that they get written and illustrated by a wide variety of people. Some are experts in the subject and have time to do a good job, and some aren't so well equipped. And because Ospreys are so popular, good or bad they have a lot of influence.

I'm glad they exist, but I know some Osprey haters too.
I have the Carthaginian Wars, Early Roman Armies, Army of Alexander the Great and Armies of the Hittites editions and didn't notice any problems. Not as in-depth as you might like, but good for light reading and you can get used copies on Amazon for around $5.

But Sean is right, they have published so many titles over the years by so many different authors there may be some that have serious flaws.

That said, there are usually better, more thorough books out there if you're looking for something on a particular army from a specific period, and the References & Reviews section on here has a lot of good recommendations.
I also can only comment on the Roman Ospreys. First, you absolutely can't state they are bad in general, but (and just as with all books in general) you have first to take into account WHO did the writing and WHO did the paintings and WHEN did they do that? The format of Osprey is very interesting on one side, but on the other side not so good, as it is short (so it is a good short read, which is more easy to read for some of us, who get bored by the real scientific papers). This also mean there is no much space for discussion of the facts and some writers just take some short cuts 'cause there is no place to clarify them better'. In general I would highly suggest the ones by Duncan Campbell and Graham Sumner and (as I just read) the forthcoming one of Raffaela D'ammato. These are all high listed scientific writers, who write about their own topics.

But again, also in non-osprey books you have bad one. Even worse then Osprey. And for a small introduction on a theme, they are great!
Quote: you have first to take into account WHO did the writing and WHO did the paintings and WHEN did they do that?

Exactly. Whilst I know that the more recent ones (notably the Roman Military Clothing series) are extremely well researched both in terms of text and illustration and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them as research tools, others are not so credible.

The volume on the Anglo-Sason Thegn is in dire need of a re-write and it was pretty horrible when it was first published. The two 'late roman' books (infantry and cavalry) also contain some major errors (the famous crested 'Sutton Hoo' cavalry helmet which English Heritage copied for their late roman cavalry kit, or the caped mail recently discussed on this forum for starters). Whilst such errors are usually easy to spot and dismiss from the great mass of useful information by the knowledgable reader, it (and the fact that they're so easily accesable) does make them dangerous tools in the hands of people new to the subject and/or period in question.
I think "Osprey" is just one aspect of a larger problem. Desktop publishing has allowed the rise of many new publishing houses. Competition has increased; anyone can now publish anything. The publishers' response is usually twofold: either they are clustering (and there is a theory that within the near future, only some ten big players will remain worldwide), or you try to cut on the costs. One way to reduce the costs is producing standardized books (e.g., not allowing correction in the reprints); another is to fire the final editor and your scientific/scholarly advisor.

Here in Holland, the situation is pretty hopeless. One ancient historian sort of dominates the market, but he is not above making 250 factuals errors in 300 pages. We used to have a series that wanted to do better (and they did), but their books were way too expensive. Then there are some vulgarizers who use Asterix to propagate stereotypes. I am now reading a nice book by Hans Teitler on Julian the Apostate, and am surprised that here I finally meet a Dutch ancient historian who (a) has his facts right; (b) produces a book at a reasonable price; © is not simplifying scholarship, but taking his readers up to scholarship. But he's the exception.

I think that this also applies to the British market, and to Osprey. Competition is fierce, there is no money for external advisors, and the result is as good as the authors. The Osprey books I own are usually good, although I am happy to own a book that is so unquestionably bad that it has some charms of its own, like Plan Nine from Outer Space.

If we want to improve the situation, we should diminish competition. If the universities would collaborate and create one single publishing house, much could be gained; besides, the profits would not go to the share holders, but to scholarship and science again. (This brilliant idea is actually Jasper's.)
Quote:If we want to improve the situation, we should diminish competition. If the universities would collaborate and create one single publishing house, much could be gained; besides, the profits would not go to the share holders, but to scholarship and science again. (This brilliant idea is actually Jasper's.)

Eliminate competition and give the power of the press to a single publically-held publisher? I hope I am not understanding you correctly, because this sounds like one of the most dangerous ideas in which I have ever heard.
Quote:publically-held publisher?
No, not publically-held; university-held. That will create the same problems as today -patronage, bias, and so on- but at least the profits stay inside.
Quote:power of the press to a single publically-held publisher
Certainly not. The idea is that academic publications - research and writing paid for by the tax-payer in this country anyway - are published by (a) university owned publisher(s), thereby ensuring that profits from such publications are funnelled back into more research. We now have the odd situation that tax-payer money is, in the end, used to boost stockholder profits.
Quote:Competition has increased; anyone can now publish anything. The publishers' response is usually twofold: either they are clustering (and there is a theory that within the near future, only some ten big players will remain worldwide), or you try to cut on the costs. One way to reduce the costs is producing standardized books (e.g., not allowing correction in the reprints); another is to fire the final editor and your scientific/scholarly advisor.

Wow... word-for-word, you could be describing contemporary journalism here in the US. Online news outlets can produce content cheaper (though not necessarily of a higher quality) than newspapers with their expensive printing presses, so the papers cut costs by laying off reporters and copy editors, so there's been an increase in sloppy stories rushed in to meet deadline, and the quality of journalism has suffered across the board.

(I have a BA in journalism.)
Wow, I don't think I've ever had so many detailed replies in such a short space of time on a forum.

First things first,

Quote:"but I gather there is something rather wrong with Osprey from the limited things I have heard about them, mostly concerning innacurate reconstructions, illustrations, representations and so on."

I presume you are just talking about their Roman publications. Firstly who has said limited things about them? I can not speak myself about other periods but in general the Roman ones are very good. However with the format you can never cover a broad period like the Roman Army in 60 pages. Also do keep in mind that some of their Roman titles were written nearly 30 years ago.

The situation is somewhat better with the specialist topics like the Artillery books by Duncan Campbell and the tactics books by Ross Cowan because in my opinion you will not get better introductions elsewhere. I also hope my clothing books do not fall into your category either and having spent a few months doing 80-90 hour weeks getting the Plates ready for their new Roman Naval forces book with Raffaele D'amato, I hope you do not think the results a waste of time! That is also just an indicator of how much effort goes into the paintings never mind the research.

As an illustrator I always turn to them first if I am working on any non Roman military project. Nevertheless if I was making a 3D reconstruction it would be common sense to seek out the relevent archaeological reports and diagrams as well.

Graham.

Hey Graham, I only found out a couple of days ago there was more than one (or a small group) of people doing the roman publications, I used to think also they ONLY did roman/greek topics since they are the only ones I have ever come across. Only yesterday did I see one on Cossacks and Napoleonic stuff.

Its good to know Duncan Campbell writes on Osprey also. As for your stuff, it is regularly on the e-mail lists of both groups I am part of, so I gather its good quality stuff. Like I said, I only have one edition, one on Hadrians Wall, and am rather pleased with it.

I know what you are talking about, having had a 3D reconstruction comissioned, archaeological reports and diagrams are off course always useful, not to mention mandatory for accuracy.

Quote:The thing with Ospreys is that they get written and illustrated by a wide variety of people. Some are experts in the subject and have time to do a good job, and some aren't so well equipped.

So how can you be sure of the quality of one booklet from another if theres no consistency? I happen to know one author, and know he does good work, but not many of the others... seems a bit.. random.

Quote:I have the Carthaginian Wars, Early Roman Armies, Army of Alexander the Great and Armies of the Hittites editions and didn't notice any problems. Not as in-depth as you might like, but good for light reading and you can get used copies on Amazon for around $5.

Yeah, I suppose the used ones are best. Its decent enough, its just a brand new one for £13 ... almost $28, a lot of money for such a small book I think.

Quote:I also can only comment on the Roman Ospreys. First, you absolutely can't state they are bad in general, but (and just as with all books in general) you have first to take into account WHO did the writing and WHO did the paintings and WHEN did they do that? The format of Osprey is very interesting on one side, but on the other side not so good, as it is short (so it is a good short read, which is more easy to read for some of us, who get bored by the real scientific papers). This also mean there is no much space for discussion of the facts and some writers just take some short cuts 'cause there is no place to clarify them better'. In general I would highly suggest the ones by Duncan Campbell and Graham Sumner and (as I just read) the forthcoming one of Raffaela D'ammato. These are all high listed scientific writers, who write about their own topics.

Yes I agree its a nice short read, the one I just read was quite to the point too, told me pretty much all I wanted to know about the wall, and some other facts I didn't already know. Its also good to know which writers to look out for.

Quote:Whilst such errors are usually easy to spot and dismiss from the great mass of useful information by the knowledgable reader, it (and the fact that they're so easily accesable) does make them dangerous tools in the hands of people new to the subject and/or period in question.

Exactly! The thing is, how many 'knowleadgeable' readers will buy such a small book only to find out what they already know, or worse, pay for something that isn't actually right in the first place. This is more what I have sort of heard, inaccurate representations or formations/kit/fort layouts for which there is no evidence for, only speculation.

Quote:I think that this also applies to the British market, and to Osprey. Competition is fierce, there is no money for external advisors, and the result is as good as the authors. The Osprey books I own are usually good, although I am happy to own a book that is so unquestionably bad that it has some charms of its own, like Plan Nine from Outer Space.

If we want to improve the situation, we should diminish competition. If the universities would collaborate and create one single publishing house, much could be gained; besides, the profits would not go to the share holders, but to scholarship and science again. (This brilliant idea is actually Jasper's.)

Ha! That was a pretty interesting review. I wonder if the author of the book ever read it.

Thats actually not a bad idea, I always wondered why uni's don't get more involved in the market. Very few students at the Archaeology and Classics department at Nottingham are involved with re-enactment ( I counted one), and they seem to disbelieve we have anything 'proper' to contribute to their field, even though sometimes I think we contribute more than they ever do. True, they dig the remains, but we actually put it together and use it. Its a symbiotic relationship and I wonder why this has never translated to the press.

Anyway, thanks for the replies everyone.
Quote:
Sean Manning:3cgpd8e2 Wrote:The thing with Ospreys is that they get written and illustrated by a wide variety of people. Some are experts in the subject and have time to do a good job, and some aren't so well equipped.

So how can you be sure of the quality of one booklet from another if theres no consistency? I happen to know one author, and know he does good work, but not many of the others... seems a bit.. random.
Its pretty much like research in general I think: you have to read enough that you get an idea of what makes sense and who are the leading experts. Graham's suggestion of checking when the first printing came out is a good one. And in general you'll be better off with longer books, or ones on more specific topics like Ross Cowan's one on tactics.

I'm lucky to have a good university library in town so I can usually read before I buy.

Jona, if the problem is too much competition from small publishing houses with low editorial standards, wouldn't academic books be getting cheaper? I'd be interested to see a chart of trends in pricing, but everyone seems to complain that books are getting too expensive.
Quote:Jona, if the problem is too much competition from small publishing houses with low editorial standards, wouldn't academic books be getting cheaper? I'd be interested to see a chart of trends in pricing, but everyone seems to complain that books are getting too expensive.
If you don't mind me replying instead of Jona: the market for these books is relatively small and whichever way you turn it, producing a book in all its phases is still not cheap. More importantly, academic books are generally aimed at an even smaller audience: other academics. Academics don't buy the books themselves, but their libraries do so at their request. Price then becomes more or less irrelevant, so the publisher can ask what they want.
Note though that we are talking about two segments of the book market in this thread: academic and non-academic books. Ospreys generally do not fall in the first group.
Some very interesting replies: Ospreys must be important to us Smile I am a fan.

I think the standards of research/referencing in the titles I've picked up recently has increased and to be honest, I think this is a surprising plus for books of this length. This is presumably to cater to the growing portion of readership who, like RATers, and re-enactors, have more of a research disposition and as the range has grown the typical focus has narrowed e.g. from the vast subject of 'The Vikings' by Ian Heath to something as specific as the 'Zeppelin Menace 1914–17' and has therefore deepened.

But I think the 'unique' selling proposition, or at least the defining style, remains the colour reconstruction illustrations. I was delighted to find them for the first time and see Vikings brought to living colour, for me at the time a new dimension over the black and white Wargames Research Group guides, particularly of Ian Heath which I used to pore over (and would you believe I was happily rereading 'Armies and Enemies of the Crusades' in bed this morning?). To find the specifically late Roman titles just as I was finding out such a thing existed was doubly exciting and the bits which
John Conyard warned me were to be taken with a pinch of salt simply inspired me to move up to more academic reading. I think they fulfil this function very well: colourful introductions which draw you into the period. I have taken advantage of occasional offers to pick up titles about periods of which I know nothing, such as 'Queen Victoria's Highlanders', simply to look at the illustrations and again found myself whiling away the wee hours unexpectedly fascinated by the subtle differences portrayed in the uniforms worn by different regiments.

They are expensive and I think that would be fully justified if more of that went to the authors and artists who combine years of research and experience with enviable creativity to produce something which conveys a lot in a small package. I tend to read a denser textbook once for information and return to research specifics, but I spend hours just looking over classics like Roman Miltary Clothing just for pleasure. Judged simply by the amount of time they are some of my favourite books of all time!
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