A city like Portsmouth is always going to be a difficult one to write about. Its got to be nigh on impossible to ever try and write a book about one place, and to be able to say definitely that it is THE history of a town or a city. Let alone a city as momentous, pivotal and diverse and Portsmouth.
Among the plethora of books about Portsmouth, this is probably the closest to a definitive history that you will get at present. Rather than attempting to give a narrative view of Portsmouth, which would take forever and would be very disjointed, the authors take a more thematic approach, offering chapters on Portsmouths geography, the dockyard and Navy, Religion, Government, Leisure, and its future. It is an admirable collection of chapters, particular Ray Riley’s chapter on Wooden Walls and Ironclads, which draws on his wealth of expertise in this area. It also focusses particularly well on Portsmouth’s early development as a town. Another aspect that makes this book invaluable is its considerable bibliography and endnotes, which are a helpful guide to Local History sources.
Reading from a distance of 20 years, it does show its age, however. Modern local history would probably make far more use of ordinary people’s contributions, and would look further than the grand developments and big personalities. This is very much a ‘top-down’ approach, particularly the importance given to religion and Government. Neither is it definitive, and would probably serve more as an intriduction and signpost to other more detailed works, such as the various Portsmouth Papers. But is is a very important contribution to Portsmouth’s Historiography none the less, and hopefully provides a very useful model for a 21st Century version.