Mr Pearson's book is a witty and entertaining look at a decidedly niche hobby - collecting, painting and gaming tabletop battles with miniature soldiers. Along the way he touches on related topics, such as re-enactors, boardgaming and role-playing games, but at the heart this is exploration of a hobby and its often quirky practitioners, as well as a personal confession of sorts from a man who both enjoys the activity, but is also acutely aware of how it appears to those on the outside. It's this ability to see things from both sides, as the avid and meticulous army builder looking for just the right figures for a 25mm Napoleonic unit to be painted in the precise regimental colors, and the observer who recognizes many wargamers as obsessive collectors, mired in military minutiae and often a bit on the anti-social side, that makes the book interesting.
Pearson is a Brit, and at least in my impression, wargaming in the UK is mainly with miniatures, small model soldiers and vehicles, usually cast on metal or plastic and coming in a variety of scales, with 10 - 28mm figures being the most popular sizes. These are organized into units appropriate for the period and used to fight battles on the tabletop using dice, yardsticks to measure range and movement, and detailed (often very detailed) rules. Done right, with well-crafted miniature terrain and exquisitely painted figures, these battles can be quite the spectacle. But the battles themselves are just the fruition of long process of finding and purchasing the right figures and the many hours spent painting and fitting them out. For many, the meat of the hobby, is in the preparation of their armies rather than actually using them in a game, and this is well borne out in the book.
Along with anecdotes both personal and about his gaming friends and aquaintances (most of whom are more idiosyncratic and amusing than Pearson himself), the author gives a nice history of the role of toy soldiers have played in the past and the astonishing list of individuals who have collected soldiers and used them for games. Perhaps it's not surprising to find kings and statesmen here, but figures such as Robert Louis Stevenson and the Brontes (the Brontes?!) are unexpected.
In the US, wargaming takes on more of a boardgame nature, with maps and cardboard chits for units, and again often very detailed rules. Pearson touches a little on board wargames, such as popular titles like Risk, Stratego and Escape from Colditz, but the military simulation games of companies like Avalon Hill and Simulations Publications Inc from the '60s and '70s that defined wargaming for many. This is no failing on the book's part, since presumably such games were not that important in the author's experience, but it certainly renders the book less useful as a history of wargaming.
But that's not what this book is about. The subtitle tells all: this is a personal account of one boy's (and the boy lives on in the main who writes the book) experience. And by that measure, this is a fine book indeed.