Down a leafy cul-de-sac in Aldershot, south-west of London, tucked away among suburban officers’ married quarters, sits the Prince Consort’s Library. The library, which last year celebrated its 150th anniversary, houses the British army’s collection of specialist military literature. If current publishing trends are anything to go by, it may soon need to expand. The popularity of military books is sky-high, the constant appetite for military history – particularly of the two world wars – augmented by the dramatic rise in recent years of books about current conflicts, notably Iraq and Afghanistan. The library also hosts the British Army’s Military Book of the Year Award; an accolade that is all the more keenly sought after because the judges are all soldiers. Last year’s deserved winner was Andrew Roberts’s The Storm of War, but what was extraordinary was the fact that six finalists were drawn from among the several thousand military books published in the UK in 2009. Against this background, General Sir Robert Fry, the former senior British military representative in Iraq, was only voicing the concerns of many inside and outside the military when he was reported to have expressed unease at the “excessive reverence” with which the British military is held. Criticism of the armed forces seems to be off-limits, while soldiers are uncomfortably paraded on The X-Factor – all for excellent charitable causes, of course, but further evidence of the “mawkishness” that worried the general. Whether the slew of military books loading the shelves of bookshops and supermarkets across the country is a cause or a symptom of this condition is not immediately obvious.
more from Patrick Hennessey at the FT here.