This is the second of Roy & Lesley Adkins excellent popular histories of the Royal Navy in Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that I have read, the first having been "The War for All the Oceans". The Adkins treat their subject - the common sailor - in a thematic approach, covering such areas as recruitment and selection (aka the Press Gang), basic training (learning the ropes), diet (salt junk and grog), the daily routine (bells and whistles) etc. They present letters and memoirs from a surprising number of simple sailors, supplemented by those from junior officers as well, inevitably, as the more senior. The Adkins leave never miss an opportunity to explain the derivation of expressions that have survived to modern times, but the book is none the worse for that.
The book deals with the Navy over the period from 1771, when Horatio Nelson joined as a cabin boy at the age of 12, to 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars. This is an entertaining and very readable book, but the thematic approach does have the disadvantage of hiding developments made during the course of the period. Thus, for example, the term Master & Commander is explained as a temporary rank given to substantive lieutenants when appointed to command ships too small to justify a post captain, overlooking the fact that Commander became a proper rank in its own right in 1794. The requirements for midshipmen to "pass for gentlemen" as well as passing their exams for promotion to lieutenant was one that, as I have read elsewhere, changed over the period, as the Navy's officer corps became more socially exclusive, and men who would have been commissioned at the beginning of the period were denied promotion by the end.
This, however, is a minor criticism and, dealing as it does with officers, is not in any event the main focus of the book. This is an excellent depiction of the life of the common sailor in Nelson's Navy, and is well worth reading.