A couple weeks ago we had posted some reviews of the book “Steel Steeds Christie” by Edward Christie in the 1986 issues of ARMOR. Steel Steeds Christie is a rare and largely forgotten book and it generated an overwhelming negative reaction from knowledgeable AFV historians at the time of it’s publication. However, it remains one of the few books dedicated exclusively to the topic of Walter J. Christie, one of the most important figures in post WWI tank development. Shortly after posting the old ARMOR reviews of the book, friend of the site “Volketten” informed us that he had recently purchased a copy of this hard to find volume. He wrote up a description of book which we have posted below.
“Steel Steeds Christie by J.Edward Christie
a book review by Vollketten
This is a difficult book to review because I really wanted it to be good. The designs of Walter Christie have interested me for quite some time so I got hold of a copy of this rather hard to find and far too expensive book with an inbuilt bias to want to like it. And that bias continued despite reading the rather unpleasant reviews of it in old editions of Armor Magazine which failed to dissuade me from getting a copy. This continued right until I opened it and started reading.
Let’s be frank here the book is terribly badly written, I mean really bad. There is no way you can dispute the first hand evidence of ‘well my dad told me X’ when compared to a piece of paper from the era no matter how official it may be but the book simply does not do this.
It is not a cold reasoned factual edition covering technical aspects of design but more a poorly written and barely referenced propaganda piece to justify the actions of Christie who frankly is described acting as a belligerent con-man refusing to refund investors and leaving behind debts and failed companies. He did make sure though to make sure the designs being built by one of his numerous failed endeavors to be the personal property of a family member so he gets to keep the design and start all over again. Even as a man he isn’t made to sound likable. Unpleasant, overbearing caring little it seems for his own family my opinion of Walter Christie as ‘designer who was shafted by the government and prevented from achieving his potential’ is now more like ‘unpleasant charlatan who doesn’t play well with others’
It is quite possible or even probable that the US Government did not act with all due propriety towards him and his companies and almost certainly owed royalty fees but it’s hard to tell from the information in the book as it is so incredibly biased. I don’t mean that it’s pro-Christie, you would expect an element of this in the book but it is written in a strange story format full of verbatim and effusive quotes from people like Patton and various military men gushing in their praise over the amazing and incredible Christie’s machines denied to them by the ‘zombies’ of Washington. Again and again we are treated to often lengthy verbatim quotes which could not possibly all have been recorded like that and you cannot but draw the conclusion that it’s completely made up. And that’s not even the worst part.
Unforgivably the ‘photographs’ within the edition are tampered with and it’s not even done with care to hide what is done. Take this for example:
This purports to be a “truck used in the Pershing expedition – 1915-1916” but is quite obviously a really badly retouched version of this:
“Christie four-wheel drive truck to mount cannon MC 7, 1920. Five were built in 1916-1917; the rear wheels were wagon-wheel type”
He doesn’t say that one is an artists impression of one of Pershing’s trucks later improved with the gun mount and ‘wagon wheels’ etc. No he simply asserts it to be correct. The affront is that he has the images together on the same page as if you wouldn’t notice.
This isn’t even the gravest offense. Take this image:
This is labeled as a “Russian Christie BT 1 -8 1931-1938”
(I apologize for the curvature of the photo but the binding is such low quality had I made it flat I’d have broken the binding)
Okay so you think it may have been a little retouched – nothing wrong with that right- obviously it was poor quality shot; well think again. On the very same page he shows you the image he cut it from (labeled “mass production of Russian BT Christie tank” and then redrew a false background and missing parts back on it.
Still not convinced? Well the problem is that doing things like this means that when he prints a photograph like this (also without any mention of the horrendously badly done retouching) there’s no way of knowing if its real, partially real or just complete humbug:
This is allegedly “Christie Convertible Marine Tank – submarine ready to submerge and leave Marine tank to proceed under its own power”
Now whilst I doubt the submarine is ‘ready to submerge’ with what appears to be three crew still on the decks it does actually seem like a good way to ‘launch’ a vehicle for this test and that the odd perpendicular planks in front of the conning tower do look like something was mounted there, but how are we to tell? One (and in the case of this book ‘many’ ) badly retouched photo in the book colours our perceptions and casts doubts on the veracity of all of the others to the extent that a potentially historically important image like this could be, can now can be doubted. As someone who is working hard on his own book at the moment such a thing is utterly unacceptable. Tampering with images and passing them off as real for a book is simply unforgivable.
I should try and say something positive about the book too and really that isn’t hard either surprinsgly. It is always good to find obscure books on obscure subjects and the first parts of the book covering Christie’s early work on race cars and even fire trucks is certainly interesting but the quality of the work overall is very poor. There are without doubt new images in the book I’ve never seen before and some new information on some of Christie’s tanks which will help develop an overall picture of them and it is always good to see both sides of an argument over Christie tanks ‘success or failure’ which has gone on for far too long. That said though and given the lack of references, the obvious bias and the semi-fraudulent nature of much of the work I’m loathed to even have my name associated with a review of it as a book. I mean I really wanted to like the book because I wanted to know more but having read it I’m not much better off and even a little more confused in certain areas. My impression of it can be summised by the authors own final paragraph.
If you cannot from this snippet get a impression of the whole tone of the writing style and thorough research which has gone into this work then nothing will. You might think I now wished to I had listened to those reviews in Armor magazine now but actually I’m glad in a way to have this book and it provides some amusement during reading because it is so bad, entertaining maybe but for sure not an authoritative account or a reference book
——Vollketten, July 2015″