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Trick quiz - questions and answers, example: Who found the Mary Rose?
You cannot put these books down because truth really is stranger than fiction in the hands of this master story teller. Alexander McKee always interviewed eye witnesses, if possible, in order to bring the full impact of the human story direct to the reader. He often also interviewed the descendents of the eye witnesses, and indeed, made a bee-line for them if the eye witnesses themselves had passed away. He strived to create and maintain as direct and passionate a human connection to the actual events as possible. He scooped some truly bizarre personal stories by doing this.
Alexander McKee was no "yes-man", he dared to criticise many military, political, economic, media and academic icons and he always kept an open mind. He was fanatical about making his works as accurate as he possibly could. He was ever alert to plain-wrong, biased, distorted or sloppy reports and hidden agendas; wickedly delighting (the more so as a self-educated man) in criticising and exposing assertions that did not fit the evidence. Among his targets were those who tended to emphasise media-image-managment, the accumulation of personal wealth and career progression over both personal integrity and respect for other people's contributions. He gleefully highlighted all the many lapses of integrity that he found. Equally, many established experts, often highly educated people and indeed experts regarding the theoretical aspects of their disciplines, but whom he considered scandalously remiss when they complacently failed to complement such theoretical understanding with practical knowledge as a way to test their theories empirically. Consequently, some of them came in for some harsh criticism on occasion. One gets the impression from his work that some of them appeared reluctant to venture outside the academy at all; out into the "real world": let alone to mix with ordinary people. Implicitly, he urged them to converse with the fishermen, the builders, the soldiers, the doctors, the nurses, the shipwrights and the firemen to glean practical understanding from these practical people, who had to be willing and able to carry out the ultimate tests on their theories to provide demonstably working solutions in order to fulfill their typical working roles. Then he urges such experts in the theory to re-test their theories against the empirically derived knowledge gleaned from their excursions among the working classes, and to do so conjunction with their own senses, out in the "real world": rather than limiting themselves and risking their reputations on the results of thought experiments alone. He dug deep into eye-witness testimonies and spent countless hours searching libraries and museums for the documentary evidence surrounding each his-story. One may find this slightly comical that viewed against the background of established caricaturisations, when the elevated "pillars of wisdom", went "building castles in the air" around about the "ivory towers" and he found strong contradictory "real world" evidence he often lambasted them mercilessly, although it does sometimes seem to be overdone. In contrast, he made the point that some of the sloppy documentary historical works such as that of Sir Robert Davis, that temporarily led his own research astray (and much to his annoyance caused him to repeat untruths in public lectures) while causing the propagation of serious errors until he uncovered them, were nevertheless probably a consequence of the pressures of work, owing to the high quality of the rest of the publication.
It is clear from his books that Alexander McKee greatly admired men who could rapidly assimilate information and then immediately innovate, particularly militarily but also in difficult conditions. King Henry VIII, the Dean brothers during their earlier salvage operations on the Mary Rose and General Gordon of Khartoum stand out in the Alexander McKee titles read by this reviewer.
He even ventured behind what Winston Churchill christened the "Iron Curtain" (as Joseph Stalin descended ever deeper into obsession, paranoia and land-grabbing/buffer-zone creation), into what was the then Deutsche Democratische Republic, in order to interview witnesses about the saturation bombing (and fire-storm) of Dresden: also known as "The Venice of the East". If discovered and detained, he would very likely have spent many years in a communist jail. He also interviewed many of the British, American and Canadian airforce personnel who had been tasked with the saturation bombing. This may invoke an odd and erie tension in the reader, while he/she struggles to simultaneously mentally comprehend and reconcile the internal with the external conflicts waged by the participants, with the horrors that ensued and a reader's attempts to mentally invent a personal balance regarding what may and what may not be regarded as an acceptable attack strategy, on what quality of intelligence, on what kind of target, in a total war.
King Henry VIII's Flagship Mary Rose -
Project Solent Ships and the original Mary Rose Special Branch 0551 of the Southsea branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club.
Visiting a Dam Busters site - the Moehne Dam.
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