Review: A book about the hidden history of modernism in the mountains by Max Leonard and Camille McMillan
I'd been working on an article about the Col du Petit St Bernard - researching the Fort high above the pass road when I came across the Little Maginot Line or Alpine Line.
The French built a line of fortifications to defend against invading armies at strategic points down their borders and named it after André Maginot, who came up with the idea. Where this met Italy and the Alps, it became known as the Alpine line.
These ouvrages (works) consist of bunkers and forts and often appear on the alpine passes due to their ideal location to defend against invaders. Like us, you may have seen one but may not have realized their history, complicated nature and their underground expanse.
Thanks to the power of suggestion (or perhaps Facebook's invasive tracking) Instagram showed me an #ad for 'Bunker Research'. I bought it there and then.
The rise of the independent publisher is something close to our hearts and such a niche subject is its forte. Written by Max Leonard, well known for his cycling books, and photographed by Camille McMillan, this is a fascinating look at how these fortified buildings found their way into some of the Alps most remote, beautiful and 'unspoilt' landscapes.
In a print designer's dream of paper stocks, cover flaps and hand-drawn illustrations Bunker Research (second edition) expands on the limited-run first copy. The majority of the book is photographs with a section on how and why Max came across the bunkers, their history and how they fit into today's Alpine landscape.
Many of the fortifications never saw any action but some in the 'Secteur Fortifie Alpes Maritimes' (SFAM) were active during WWII and this is where the book concentrates. It's not only the French side that have these bunker systems, the Italian army also had a defensive line, the 'Vallo Alpino'. After WWII the border moved and now many Italian bunkers sit abandoned on the French side.
They are disappearing into the landscapes they once commanded, stray facts from a future passed, still waiting for an onslaught that never came
It seems nobody knows what to do with these sunken structures, so they sit ignored but still watching. You can't dig them out or blow them up of course, although the Germans tried. They sit as a reminder of a time when Europe was fighting within its borders and trench warfare was still a thing. Some are large with multiple levels hidden beneath the surface, where many 100's of men and artillery spent months and some are just for a few soldiers with machine guns.
Nature is slowly taking them back, but they will always be part of the landscape, a landscape we now look on as wild but that has always been fought over.
One of the marks of a good book to me is when I feel the need to take notes to look up later or see ideas I might want to research more. This is one of those books. Fascinating, beautifully constructed and on a subject you are unlikely to read about elsewhere, Bunker Research is niche publishing at its best.
- 120 pages
- 80 full-colour photos and 30 one-colour photos, maps and diagrams
- Essay explaining the history, architecture and legacy of the bunkers
- Softcover, with flaps
Bunker Research is available from Isola Press.