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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Fitting Legacy

I'm putting together quite a substantial blog about History teaching in schools (yes, another one...) but am waiting for an important link to be posted on my alma mater's website. To keep things ticking over in the meantime, I thought I'd comment quickly on my current reading, Buccaneers of the Caribbean by Jon Latimer. This proved to be his last book; he died suddenly in January 2009, aged only 44. He established his reputation with books on the Second World War that made particularly effective use of survivors' accounts, but also wrote a magisterial history of the war of 1812 which was shortlisted for the George Washington Book Prize. To move on from dealing with those themes to write about 17th century maritime history was quite a leap, and Buccaneers of the Caribbean has its errors, but for a non-specialist in the period, Latimer's grasp of the issues and the source material is very impressive indeed. Too many writers of historical books think that they can read the well-trodden published accounts and then churn out what is essentially derivative pap (which, alas, seems too often to garner good reviews and impressive sales...). Not Latimer; his references make it clear that he'd done a great deal of archival work in both Britain and Spain, and he covers a broad range of contexts in a lively but authoritative style. He was clearly an impressive historian and author who could have had a long and successful career. And that's where my regret at his tragically early death becomes personal. I met Jon Latimer several times - he lived near my cousins in West Wales and became very friendly with them. They often socialised together, notably in the amiable surroundings of what must be one of the least pretentious yacht clubs in Britain, and sometimes, if I was in the area, I'd join them. With my own writing career starting to develop, I said to him that he and I ought one day to have a proper conversation to compare methods, problems and experiences. Death put paid to that, but Buccaneers of the Caribbean, published posthumously, is a fine memorial to a man whom I would like to have known much better.   

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