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Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy [Paperback]

Roy & Lesley Adkins , Roy Adkins
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
Price: £9.09 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

3 Sep 2009
The Royal Navy to which Admiral Lord Nelson sacrificed his life depended on thousands of sailors and marines to man the great wind-powered wooden warships. Drawn from all over Britain and beyond, often unwillingly, these ordinary men made the navy invincible through skill, courage and sheer determination. They cast a long shadow, with millions of their descendants alive today, and many of their everyday expressions, such as 'skyscraper' and 'loose cannon', continuing to enrich our language. Yet their contribution is frequently overlooked, while the officers became celebrities. JACK TAR gives these forgotten men a voice in an exciting, enthralling, often unexpected and always entertaining picture of what their life was really like during this age of sail. Through personal letters, diaries and other manuscripts, the emotions and experiences of these people are explored, from the dread of press-gangs, shipwreck and disease, to the exhilaration of battle, grog, prize money and prostitutes. JACK TAR is an authoritative and gripping account that will be compulsive reading for anyone wanting to discover the vibrant and sometimes stark realities of this wooden world at war.

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Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy + Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle
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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (3 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034912034X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349120348
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A fascinating, even occasionally humbling study' -- Sunday Times, December 2008

'A spirited and unsparing account' -- Literary Review, October 2008

'An extraordinary read' -- Daily Mail, December 2008

'Gritty detail springs from Jack Tar' -- The Times, November 2008

'This is as comprehensive - and lively - an account of the life of Jack Tar as you could hope to find'
--Navy News, October 2008


'A fascinating, even occasionally humbling study' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Tar; a man, women and child of many faces 7 Oct 2008
This is a wonderful follow up to the Adkins' 2 previous books 'Trafalgar: Biography of a Battle' and 'War for all the Oceans', and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. In this volume the sailors take the limelight and history takes a step back to create the setting for their lives. And what lives they were!

I am always surprised how many sailors of all ranks were able to write journals and diaries about their time at sea, how literate they were, how perceptive and honest their observations were, and more surprisingly how those manuscripts have survived. The Adkins have carefully drawn from these and many other contemporary sources and woven them into their text to create a vivid picture of life in the British Navy at the time of Nelson and the war with France. A good selection of maps, and illustrations helps fuel the imagination, and, as ever, they have succeeded in presenting the flavour of the time, bring the people and events to life in such a way it is easy to suspend disbelief and fancy you are watching real time events

Electric fluid, birds of ill omen, ship wreck, coffee made from burnt bread, one armed cooks,rats in your pies, weevils in your biscuits, goats falling down the hatches, holystones, wash day, pay day, strong liquor, marriage certificates, wives, children, mistresses and dogs on board, volunteers and press gangs, hernias, amputations and disease, cockroaches like animated varnish on the walls, dancing, prize money, pensions and begging, betrayal, decency, heroism, births and deaths. They are all here, and more.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Tar 13 Oct 2008
If you read only one book of history this year that commemorates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Nelson, read Jack Tar.
During the Great War (1793-1815), the Royal Navy was the backbone of the defence of the British Isles and took a major part in the final victory.
Just as the great battles from Valmi to Waterloo were won by the troops in the field, the naval battles were in the end won by the crews - and not by the Nelsons, Hoods or Cochranes.

Roy and Lesley Adkins have worked like the archaeologists they are, unearthing hundreds of sources, extracting hundreds of relevant pieces, then carefully glueing them together until the whole image is reconstructed: the portrait of rough, hard-working men (women and children) living a perilous life on board a primitive, claustrophobic machine in a hostile environment.
Apart from the constant danger from man and nature, ships' companies appear more like small rural communities than the "rum, lash and sodomy" society depicted in "miserabilist" books like Masefield's one.
Jack Tar was no saint but the product of the very harsh 18th-century society. His voice is seldom heard in history books.
When you turn the last page, you'll have envisioned the complete life of Jack Tar from his entry as Johnny Newcome to his later life in Greenwich hospital (if he was lucky), told in his own words.

If you have no previous knowledge of the naval history of the period, don't worry, Roy and Lesley have everything at hand for you: maps, diagrams, explanation of all the nautical terms you'll need.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent history of Nelson's Navy 1 Jan 2009
By Nicholas J. R. Dougan VINE VOICE
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 days ago by Pr Peppiatt
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
This book easily takes pride of place on my bookshelf! Read the sailors' stories in their own words, letters to loved ones, personal memoirs, newspaper reports... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Cathryn
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
Good book, that describes the life in the Royal Navy around Nelsons time through letters and diaries of
serving officers and seamen. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Brian Pepper
5.0 out of 5 stars good read
second hand book in good condition good delivery and a very good read. Would recommend it to anyone interested in naval history
Published 5 months ago by anona mullan
4.0 out of 5 stars anecdotal and factual historical accounts
I had finished 'Trafalgar' by Roy Adkins and wished to continue the theme of history regarding the Royal Navy in the late 18th Century. Read more
Published 7 months ago by D. F. Hockin
5.0 out of 5 stars I never knew that!
As an ex-matelot I wondered how my forebears had managed the book certainly filled in a lot of the wondering, good read, well written, print a tadge small but never mind.
Published 9 months ago by Phil
5.0 out of 5 stars jack tar.
this second hand book is in excellent condition, better than expected. It is a great read and I will order more of these writers factial history books. Read more
Published 10 months ago by david orr
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivetting
This book gives you a real insight to life in the navy in these times. It actually takes you into their lives. Great read.
Published 10 months ago by Arthur266
5.0 out of 5 stars A Step Into The World Of Sail.
As an ex Royal Navy man of twenty five years service the subject is close to my heart. JACK TAR opened up a whole new depth of knowledge for me. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Roland Sampson
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy
I really enjoyed the book but found I had to be in the mood to read as it tended to be a little heavy going. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Raymond A. Bunce
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