"Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80: The Transition Years" by Malcolm Fife is a book that will delight all those who have visited modern Leith and wondered about the background to its redeveloped harbourside areas and the remaining port, which continues to flourish beyond the office developments, apartment blocks, shopping centres and warehouse conversion restaurants.
The author begins with a historical introduction that takes you from the last Ice Age to a major redevelopment of the port that began in 1966 and included the construction of a large sea lock to turn the harbour into a deep water port, followed by the port's role in servicing the subsequent North Sea oil boom. Also covered is the rise of Grangemouth Docks, at Leith's expense, partly offset by the steady increase in cruise ship traffic.
Most of the book comprises photographs taken by Malcolm Fife in the 1970s. All are printed in full colour and the story of their taking seems to be summed up in the book's dedication: "In memory of my father, Gordon Fife, who took me to Leith to watch the ships when I was young." Some of the photographs are of Leith Docks themselves, but the majority are of the ships that came and went. The book is divided into a series of chapters, each looking at a different class of ships, including coasters, reefers and livestock ships, oil tankers, container ships, tug boats, diving support vessels, heavy lift ships, cruise ships, and Royal Navy and NATO navies among others. Each chapter comes with an introduction, and each photograph, typically printed two or three to a page, comes with an explanatory caption, sometimes giving a potted biography of the ship depicted.
The book concludes with a short section on Leith Docks in the twenty-first century which brings the story nicely up to date. There is a sense in which the book serves as a vehicle for one aspect of the author's photographic collection. The photographs of ships are excellent (you get the sense that Malcolm Fife's visits with his father to the docks were always sunny-day excursions) and it is the number of them, and their variety, that makes this a collection of wider and lasting interest. What we have here is a fascinating historical document of a particular moment - a decade - in time. Parts of the docks remain, but the world illustrated between the covers of this book has largely disappeared.