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Bulleid: Man, Myth and Machines

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Bulleid: Man, Myth and Machines

3.5 (4161)

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    Available in PDF Format | Bulleid: Man, Myth and Machines.pdf | English
    Kevin Robertson(Author)
Oliver Bulleid was undoubtedly one of the most controversial railway engineers of the 20th century. Born in New Zealand, he joined the GNR in 1901, becoming Gresley's assistant in 1912 and an important influence in Gresley's designs until the mid-1930s. In 1937, he was appointed the CME of the Southern Railway where he produced his radical designs of Pacific as well as the austerity 'Q1' class of 0-6-0 before launching into the radical design that led to the 'Leader' project. Following the Nationalisation of the Southern Railway, Bulleid became CIME of CIE in Ireland, continuing his experimentation that culminated in the production of CIE's turf-burning locomotive. Following retirement in 1958, he moved to Malta where he died in 1970. Over the years much has been written about Bulleid and, more particularly, his locomotive designs. Whilst undertaking the research into the 'Leader' project, Kevin Robertson uncovered a significant amount of new information about Bulleid's life, much of which runs counter to the traditional view. Amongst the areas covered, for example, are the circumstances of Bulleid's departure from the LNER in 1937. As Gresley's assistant, and given his superior's ill-health, Bulleid would have been the natural successor to his boss on the LNER. And yet he left. Was he pushed or did he jump?
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3.3 (11632)
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Book details

  • PDF | 160 pages
  • Kevin Robertson(Author)
  • Ian Allan Publishing; 1st edition edition (6 May 2010)
  • English
  • 3
  • Biography

Review Text

  • By TimofShipley on 30 August 2010

    Bulleid and his designs are such fascinating subjects that it must be hard to write a book about them that doesn't hit the mark. Sadly Mr Robertson has achieved this difficult feat. The book is, unfortunately, peppered with typographical and grammatical errors, making it a painful read. The pain is increased by a style that is unnecessarily repetitive (how many times do I need to know that Bulleid's effects are to be moved to the NRM?), verbose and grammatically imprecise. Equally I found the "running commentary" of the author's views irritating as it broke up what flow of narative might have remained.There is much of interest in the book: the photographs (b&w) are of decent quality, and I gained much from the information contained within it, as I have not read other dedicated accounts of Bulleid's life or works. Ultimately, however, I was left feeling that I was reading a first draft (although the writer says not) and that the writing had been "padded out" to meet some length criterion. I felt also that, if Bulleid were an honest man (the writer says he was), his decisions would have been based solely on his engineering beliefs, without other prejudices. If so, I doubted that the writer, as a self-professed non-engineer, could understand the "why?" that he sought to answer.

  • By cider glider on 4 October 2010

    Although several books about Bulleid's designs have appeared in recent years, this is the first biography of him since that written by his son in 1977. So I approached this book with great anticipation. The blurb on the dust jacket promises "a significant amount of new information about Bulleid's life", but I didn't discover much I hadn't read elsewhere. The author does not make the most of the information that he does present, flitting from one theme to another, often failing to make a point. The author's uncertain grasp of his material is apparent where he claims that Bulleid had little interest in politics. This claim doesn't sit easily with the fact that Bulleid joined the Junior Carlton Club.Describing Bulleid's lack of tact, the author goes on to say "this behavioural trait displayed by Bulleid may well be analysed more accurately by those with knowledge of human behaviour, but that is certainly not the intention here". It is surprising and disappointing to hear this disclaimer from someone attempting to write a biography.The quality of the photographs used to illustrate the book is very good. However, there are more pictures than is necessary to illustrate the points being made, and I did get the feeling that the photos were padding out what would otherwise be a slim volume. Furthermore, many of the captions to the photos are quite prolix, and repeat what has been said in the main text. (In the case of the photo that illustrates a comment about cab temperatures, the caption contradicts the text.)

  • By J. J. Bradshaw on 24 May 2014

    The book seems to be getting a rather negative rating by other reviewers. I think it is true that the book would be greatly improved by some good editing and the grammatical and typographical errors are certainly disappointing. In places the book reads like a Kindle E-book translation in containing a lot of silly errors which do become a bit distracting. I would also agree that some of the language used, repetition and a feeling of some parts having been padded out do not do the book any favours. I think part of the reason some feel let down by the book is that based on Kevin Robertson's other efforts we would expect better. So I do appreciate why there is a lot of negative comment but that said I believe 2* ratings are unfairly harsh as for all its faults the book also has many positive attributes and for those wishing to learn more about Oliver Bulleid it is a fine starting point. Few railway engineers have been as divisive and controversial as Bulleid, some see him as a flawed genius and the one man who could have extended the hegemony of steam for a few years, others deride him as an engineer who peddled some seriously flawed ideas and was obsessed with blind alley ways divorced from the true needs of the Southern. Bulleid was a flawed engineer but it is precisely this which is partly what makes him such a fascinating subject. True, some of his ideas were misguided but he was capable of brilliance and there is something hugely appealing about a visionary breaking free of the bonds of convention in the way he did. His designs were never uninteresting and even today his work has a certain excitement in the way that he refused to conform to evolutionary conservatism in engineering terms but followed his own revolutionary path. He was a fine engineer, not perfect but those who sometimes dismiss him as a lightweight and failure do him a great injustice. Warts and all he was indeed one of the great steam engineers. Robertson's book captures this and does convey to the reader a sense of an engineer who realised that steams era was coming to a close but who nevertheless threw himself into trying to delay the inevitable with innovative designs. The book covers the work he did in other fields such as coaches (the infamous tavern cars indicate he had a sense of humour) and electric multiple units. In a sense the book has something of Bulleid himself about it in feeling flawed and being subject to many valid criticisms whilst remaining an interesting and with a lot of attractive virtues. Not the definitive article but still worth reading.

  • By Geoffrey Uren on 9 March 2012

    Although I enjoy the content of most books by Kevin Robertson, and I usually buy the "Southern Way" titles, this one was a disappointment. For a start, I found it badly written, sentences are often circumlocutory, sometimes even lack verbs, and give the impression of padding out a "thin" book. The book also shows a lack of proofreading, for example "To a large sign of relief from Bulleid, the bracket held....". As others have said, the photos are of generally good quality, but why, for example, is there a half page photograph of an A4 on page 23, seemingly just to make the point that Bulleid's designs were inferior? There are far better Bulleid biographies available, and far better books dealing with his work, although many are now only obtainable on the second-hand market.

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