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Admiral "Benbow"

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Vasa: A Swedish Warship
Vasa: A Swedish Warship
by Frederick M. Hocker
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Much needed and long overdue book, 6 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Four major, field-defining, nautical archaeology projects took place in the 1960s: the excavation of the Byzantine shipwreck at Yassıada, the recovery of the Bremen cog, the Skuldelev Viking shipwreck excavation and the raising of the spectacularly well-preserved Swedish warship Vasa of 1628. Since its recovery from the bottom of Stockholm harbour in 1961 resources were poured into the ship’s conservation, reassembly (98% of the ship is original) and display in a museum built around her. In 2003 Dr. Fred Hocker became Head of Research and Publication at the Vasa Museum and the focus finally switched to studying the ship and decoding what the ship could tell us of life in the 17th century.

Dr. Fred Hocker’s “Vasa: a Swedish Warship”, is the first comprehensive and accurate account of the history and archaeology of the ship to be published. The target audiences of this book are the 1.25 million annual visitors of the Museum and other people interested in the history of seafaring. The book incorporates the latest results of the author’s far-reaching research program. Chronologically it covers the period from Vasa’s building to the present day. Topics include the intial order for the ship, the strategic context in which the King ordered her building, procurement of materials, the people involved in her construction, the vessel as a warship, its operation, the ship as a floating community, its loss, recovery, conservation and current research. A full chapter is dedicated to the subject of the ship as a symbol; a very important topic, rarely discussed. The book addresses and systematically dismantles widely circulating popular myths that have sprung around the ship over the past 50 years since her recovery. The most popular of them is that of a meddling Swedish king, Gustav Adolf II, who ordered the shipwright to add a second deck (actually that would have been two more decks, as Vasa is in reality a three-decker), thus causing her to capsize 1200 meters into her maiden voyage.

In this reviewer’s opinion, however, the greatest achievement of the book lies in placing Vasa in the strategic context of the early 17th century in the Baltic, presenting her as part of Sweden’s rise to Great Power status. Hocker has an engaging, lively style of writing that makes the book read like an adventure story and makes it hard to put down.

It is a lavishly illustrated work; the photography is of spectacular quality, the illustrations are well chosen and aid the understanding of the material. The captions are informative and contribute to the knowledge of the book offers. The production quality of the volume is that of an expensive coffee-table book, but the price is very moderate, especially in view of the book’s high quality. I can envision “Vasa: a Swedish Warship” being used also in teaching, at least until the completion of the multi-volume archaeological publication of Vasa, on which Hocker is currently working.

Loss of Sea Mastery 1604-1626
Loss of Sea Mastery 1604-1626
by Saturnino Monteiro
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing attempt at Portuguese Naval History, 29 Sep 2012
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The multi-volume history of the Portuguese Navy could have been a very valuable and useful reference, particularly as so little is available in English. It could have been the equivalent of the Laird Clowes history of the British Royal Navy. Alas, any faint hope that this may be the case is quickly dissipated, once the reader opens the volume. I bought only the two volumes covering the 17th century and glad I am I stopped at this!

On the positive side numerous small actions are covered that usually are not even mentioned in naval histories. Alas, this is the only positive thing that can be said about the book. Usually the author does not provide even the names of the vessels, let alone such mundane detail as numbers of guns, size of crews. In places even the numbers of ships engaged in the action are not given. To add to this, the author (possibly the translator!) is not familiar with the terminology at all. All ships to them (author/translator) are either "naos" (fair enough, the Dutch did refer to most of their vessels simply as "ships") or "schooner-brigs". How did the author come up with a "schooner-brig" nearly a century prior to the first recorded mention of the word "schooner" even, is beyond my comprehension. It is clear from the context that the "schooner-brig" refers to the Dutch "yacht", a three-masted small warship, equivalent to the English 6th rate of the Restoration Navy, or "pinnace" in the early Stuart Navy. This by itself is already unpardonable mistake for a naval historian.

There is no scholarship exhibited in the writing of the books. The text abounds with " We can assume that So-and-So sailed first on whatever course:, "we can be sure that", etc., marking an amateurish attempt. Evidently the book is targeted only at a Portuguese audience, as the Portuguese side is always referred to in first person and the opponents are frequently (though not at all invariably, to be fair to the author!) disparaged. This style of writing history has not been seen around since the mid-19th century. Notation of sources virtually does not exist. After each chapter, there is a brief list of entirely secondary sources, with no pagination. Usually the sources are no more than three.

If the writer was an amateur historian (apparently a naval officer), the translator is far worse. The author mentions in the acknowledgements that the translator did the work for free. You get what you pay for. In this case: completely incomprehensible text. It is obvious that the translation was verbal, word for word, without any attention paid to English syntax or grammar. As result, even if there was a thin thread of value in the book, it has been lost in the translation. Deeply as I am interested in the subject and the period, I could not read further than the first 20 pages or so.

In that case, why am I giving it two stars, instead of one? Well, mostly out of pity and for encouragement. :) The author certainly deserves credit for attempting to tackle such monumental work and has at least succeeded at providing a general list of actions. It is pure historiography and this is nowadays rare to find, so should be encouraged. The sheer size of the task that Saturnino Monteiro has attempted to tackle is overwhelming and he deserves much praise and credit for even attempting it. It is perfectly possible that most of the listed shortcomings are due to the criminally bad translation. The terminology issues may be arising from that, rather than the author's mistake. Even the translator deserves some credit for attempting this work - esepcially since he does not appear to be a professional.

There is room and even need for such work on Portuguese naval history, but alas, this is not it.

Final good word, the production quality of the books is quite good, all actions are accompanied with a rough sketch. The shipping was outstanding: delivery was very, very quick. So, two stars seem to be about right.

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