Most helpful critical review
10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Historian sunk by taking too much on board
on 1 August 2010
I bought this book on the basis of the several newspaper and other reviews which lauded its "definitive" nature. Have only recently got around to reading it, and completed the reading feeling greatly annoyed and irritated for a number of reasons. Would-be purchasers should be warned that this book is a far from easy read and requires the utmost peace and quiet in which to tackle it - it is written in the ponderous and measured [= slow and heavy, and to our eyes today, "pretentious"] 18th century style of the English of its principal archival sources. Moreover, the author has failed the first test of any competent historian, which is not to allow the sources to master the historian, instead of the other way around. It is only in the last two chapters that, finally, one begins to "feel" the historian mastering the sources and being able, then, to convey to the reader a clear (and clearer) historical account.
In other words, virtually everything the author came across in any of her archival documents somehow has to find its place in these pages. Consequently, the nub of the story - precisely why the Bounty mutiny "actually" occurred - easily gets lost in a welter of "other" information about the nature of English society and its navy in the 18th century (and the "Bounty") that overloads not only the pages of the book but also the mind of the reader until one begins to feel like a mountaineer on Everest running out of intellectual oxygen. Much of that information and material, whilst interesting in a peripheral kind of way, should either have been omitted altogether, or better still, pared to the bone by an historian whose main eye should have been on the essentials of the story in order that a far more accessible version of this interesting and important historical event be presented to the reader. Nevertheless, for "Bounty" afficionados, one has to acknowledge that this is an essential book to read, although for essential reader satisfaction concerning the subject one's heart sinks at the realisation that this particular book is only the jumping-off point for further investigation(s). And speaking of which, especially for historians amongst its readership, footnote references to the book's sources would have enhanced its presentation. The general and generalised section "A Note on Sources" is most definitely NOT a satisfactory way of leading readers to the historian's sources for this or any other book.