"200 Years of Clyde Paddle Steamers" by Alistair Deayton & Iain Quinn is published to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the first commercial steamship service on the River Clyde by Henry Bell's Comet, which was also the first anywhere in Europe, in August 1812. It tells the story of the Clyde and West Highland paddle steamer over the intervening two centuries, and the result is a fascinating introduction to a broad and sometime surprisingly complex story. The book is copiously (and superbly) illustrated throughout.
The second part of the book covers 21 significant steamers to have emerged over the two centuries. Each ship gets a full page black and white photograph, and a facing page of descriptive text. The ships covered are for the most part the great Clyde steamers whose names have resonated (and in some cases been reused) down the years, though the twenty first looks at a replica of Henry Bell's original Comet, built in 1962 for the 150th anniversary of her illustrious namesake.
The considerably larger first part of the book covers the history and development of the Clyde paddle steamer. It does so in a series of short chapters, each looking at a different aspect of the story. The result is a subject illuminated by what feels like a series of searchlights shining in from different directions, and the result is a book full of fascinating insights. Many of the chapters are presented in a way that gives an overall chronology of the development of Clyde steamers, while others give an overview of a particular aspect over the entire two centuries. As a result early chapters look at the initial development of the route network; of hull design; of passenger accommodation; and of engines and boilers. Further on we find out about racing between different operators; about the "Sunday breakers", the original booze cruisers; and about the many Clyde steamers who tried their luck (often unsuccessfully) running the Union blockade of southern US ports during the Civil War. Towards the end of this part of the book we read about the steamers' role in the two world wars; post war retrenchment; and the preservation era.
Scattered among the chapters progressing the historical narrative are others covering topics such as builders and owners; accidents and losses; unusual and experimental steamers (including a photograph of the jet powered Lucy of 1950); and remaining relics, some to be found in unlikely places.