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Nelson: The Man and the Legend [Paperback]

Terry Coleman
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Oct 2002
Horatio Nelson was a naval genius and a natural born predator. In his private life as in war he was ruthless. A fanatic for duty, at times beyond all sense, he was also a royalist so infatuated with the divine right of kings that he began to see himself as an instrument of God. At the height of his fame Nelson was half unhinged: a generous man who wanted his wife dead; besotted with Emma Hamilton but jealously unsure of her; at odds with his honourable father; at law with his old mentor Earl St Vincent, and damning the Lords of the Admiralty as a set of beasts. Written with access to letters and documents and with previously unpublished material, Terry Coleman provides penetrating and true picture of Nelson as we have never seen him before.

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Nelson: The Man and the Legend + The Nelson Touch: The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (7 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747559007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747559009
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 210,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Horatio Nelson never sailed in a ship named "HMS Audacious", but Terry Coleman's sympathetic and searching biography of England's most famous sea-warrior: Nelson: The Man and Legend suggests it would have been an entirely appropriate command. In an age when a fine line existed between fighting for national honour and fighting for plunder, Nelson was pluckier and luckier than most of his naval contemporaries. Helped by family connections, a talent for self-publicity and a stern devotion to the law of the land (and sea), he quickly rose through the Admiralty list during the tail-end of the American war, before coming to personify the British pursuit of Napoleon in the seas surrounding Europe. Coleman is excellent on the big battles--Tenerife, the Nile, Copenhagen and, of course, Trafalgar. He also sifts the evidence for and against Nelson in the various controversies that dogged his career: his pursuit of lowly commodores in the West Indies, mutineers and conspirators in his crew, republicans in Naples, and patrons and politicians at home. Coleman manages to be judicious without losing any of the colour of the story. And on the greatest controversy of all--Nelson's ménage à trois with Emma and William Hamilton--he lets the audacious facts speak for themselves. This is a very readable and enjoyable book, from which Nelson emerges a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless, fully deserving his pedestal status amongst the pigeon-droppings of modern London.--Miles Taylor. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'Coleman's search through original documents reveals aspects of Nelson's character that have been ignored previously' -- The Times

'Compelling and impeccably researched' -- Daily Telegraph

'In the very best tradition of revisionist history; well researched, closely argued, at odds with received wisdom, and long overdue' -- The Sunday Telegraph

'This vigorous, lucid book gives us a bracingly modern view of England's favourite hero' -- The Sunday Times

'Utterly convincing and completely engrossing ... a real pleasure' -- London Evening Standard

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist history with a sharp edge 1 Nov 2002
Terry Coleman re-examines the man and the myth that is Nelson, in the process delving minutely into details of Nelson's actions (both public and private) and finding many that were less than creditable. But then, could anyone -- famous or not -- survive such a merciless examination of their every act?
In Coleman's eyes, Nelson was a vainglorious, duplicitous and dishonest man whose naval achievements were more a result of good luck, his good connections, and good officers than Nelson's own genius. In the actions of St Vincent, the Nile and Copenhagen especially, Coleman at best damns with faint praise, regarding these victories as overexaggerated and Nelson's role in them as less than the man himself led everyone to believe.
Coleman is all too ready to twist the knife whenever occasion arises: yes, Nelson's actions at the siege of Naples were hasty and illegal, but the author seems unable to let it go, harping on and on about the subject at length. He is also firmly on the side of Fanny Nelson and against the notorious Emma -- which, considering the short shrift Nelson's first wife has had in the past, is probably only fair. The author's contempt for the Nelson-Hamilton triangle is evident. To take one other example, he is also very quick to criticise Nelson for not visiting his dying father, even though his estranged wife Fanny was living with him and the old man had very been severe in his remarks about Nelson & Emma -- calling her a force of evil no less -- so it was hardly surprising that a hurt and offended Nelson nelgected him in favour of the woman he obviously loved with great passion (too much passion according to Coleman).
Overall, this book is a rewarding biography that brings a fresh perspective to bear, though if you are new to the subject it might be better to read a more "old-fashioned" account first before tackling this, which views the foibles and failings of a hero very much through the filter of modern sensibilities.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed Hero, a Great Book 21 Nov 2001
I bought this book on the recommendation of a lecturer, approaching it with dubious enthusiasm. My views were entirely changed however as I began to read, gripped from the very start by the mastery of Coleman in his simple yet comprehensive narrative. I found myself, like many others, totally ignorant of the extent to which myth dominates our ideas of this national hero. The detailed research is staggering, and i was surprised to find myself increasingly convinced of the validity of his argument. The real Nelson, however much of a hero he may be, is perhaps even more interesting in light of this book, particularly in considering his death as near suicide. A must for anyone who wishes to know the man as well as the legend.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A vivid portrait 23 Feb 2012
There are many books on Nelson and I had no real reason for deciding to read this one in particular.

It is a concise and scholarly work, perhaps a little terse in its style, but it does seem to cover everything you would want to know about Nelson. It pulls no punches about his vanity, going so far as to suggest it was ultimately what killed him. He was most certainly a unique character and extraordinarily brave to the point of recklessness but that was what earned him his victories and his renown.

The book is very critical of his brother, William, who appears to have been a self-serving, coat-tail grabbing so-and-so and who was behind the official biography which spawned many of the false legends about Nelson and which this book does a good job of debunking.

I enjoyed reading about his faithful wife Fanny, the Hamiltons and his Father, who all stood by him and longed for his company despite his (at times) appalling behaviour towards them. There must have been something irresistible in his character and there is a lovely description of a meeting between Wellington and Nelson that sums things up nicely.

Well worth reading.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fact or fiction? nelsons' still a legend. 7 Dec 2001
By A Customer
Being an avid reader of all things Nelson, I looked forward with much relish the new offering from top journalist Terry Coleman. "Nelson, The Man and the Legend" is indeed a refreshing and much needed new look at a figure in history who has benefited and suffered more than most at the hands of countless biograhers.
As Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood said in a letter to Dr Alexander Carlyle, "Nelson is an incomparable man, a blessing to any country that is engaged in such a war. His successes in most of his undertakings are the best proofs of his genius and his talents.... An enemy that makes a false step in his view is ruined, and it comes on him with an impetuosity that allows him no time to recover".
This was written by one of Nelsons peers not with hindsight, but at a period where both men stood equal, a most magnaminous opinion considering the competitive nature of the higher ranks prevelant in the Navy during the Napoleonic wars.
I know who I trust.
It's not that this isn't a really entertaining read, but I do feel at times Mr Coleman was looking down the wrong end of a telescope in trying to highlight Nelsons' faults never mind trying to prove he never held a telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen. Big deal!
A final point. If Nelson really did mean to commit suicide at Trafalgar by wearing all his stars, why did he purchase five sets of each when obviously he would have only needed one. Just an observation.
Still, great reading.
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