Vintage Book of the Month: October 2015


October’s featured vintage book is one for the fans of historical non-fiction. First published in 1924 and reprinted in 1928 and 1932, although I have found a contemporary paperback version online as well, this book is full of tales of times past.

With this small (think slightly bigger than your average postcard sized) book the author, Hilaire Belloc, sets forth to educate the public about 28 historical events, from an eyewitness point of view. Of course, for many of the events retold, there are no eyewitnesses, so with meticulous historical research, he has come up with ways to tell the story as if there were some. This makes that “The Eye-Witness” is less dry and factual way than the than regular history book.

The writer did do a pretty good job with the telling of his chosen events. It’s generally a fine attempt to present these happenings in a way that is enjoyable to read and he makes it easy to keep your attention to them. So I feel like this is probably something that history buffs would rather approve of.

Hilaire Belloc "The Eye-Witness"

Aside from the historical content to the book, for which the writer explains his methods and reasons in the introduction and preface, it’s also a very beautiful book. It’s practically sized so easy to take along, it’s bound in sturdy red linen with gilded print on the spine, holds an ex libris for the owner to write down their name (I lucked out as no previous owner[s] filled in the one in mine) which is accompanied with a quote by Milton on the next page.

There’s a drawn portrait of the author on the intro pages, but aside from that it’s devoid of illustrations. The lack of illustrations clearly didn’t mean they didn’t spend a lot of effort in presentation though, as you can undoubtedly already conclude from this review, and it kind of makes people long for that kind of lay-out, which is often lacking in books for adults these days, especially in the time of electronic formats.

It seems to be part of a series called “The Kings Treasuries of Literature”, number 107 to be exact, but I can find little reference to further information about this inside the book itself. Although a quick search online has come up with a book of the same title by the fellow listed as the general editor of this work, a Sir A.T. Quiller Couch, so you can see that as a little mystery in itself if you feel like it.

Hilaire Belloc "The Eye-Witness"

The Eye-witness was another find at a second-hand bookstore with a small vintage/antiques section. It retailed for € 3 at the time, and if you check something like antiqbook or abebooks, it doesn’t go for much higher. So should you want to get your hands on it, I’m fairly certain you could.
Should you really want to own a copy, but you can’t find a vintage copy, several online stores still sell the 2008 paperback version, for ironically a steeper price than what I paid for the vintage reprint of the original, which is undoubtedly a much finer version. According to the blurb, it also contains 25 pieces, so 3 clearly have been edited out, so I wouldn’t recommend this one. Try hunting for the vintage one instead and read all of it would be my advice.

Hilaire Belloc "The Eye-Witness"

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