Most helpful positive review
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
The Senior Service
on 5 August 2013
Ben Wilson has written a magnificent book about the rise and fall of the British Navy. His previous books, for example, 'What Price Liberty' sold well.
The naval historian N A Rodger has written two massive books on the command of the ocean that cover the period 660 to 1815. The final volume of his masterly trilogy is eagerly awaited.
Meanwhile Ben Wilson, originally a political historian, has written a major work of scholarship in a single volume of some 720 pages that focuses on the whole sweep of Britain's maritime history. He writes:'The British sense of national identity was in large part forged at sea'. He says we 'forget that at our peril'.
His book covers the period from the Saxons to the recent Defence Review, a review that has been widely criticised. He discusses, for example, in detail the Merchant Warriors, Defence of the Realm 1399 to 1509, the New Model Navy 1642-1652, The Science of War 1772-1779, Nelson's victories, naval matters in the World Wars, and the major naval events up to 2013.
His bibliography is superb and his illustrations and maps are of a very high quality.
Wilson tells us that Darwin was shown HMS Caledonia an enormous 120-gun ship of the line before he departed on his epic voyage in the Beagle. Darwin said that on coming near her:'her hum is like that of a town'. Darwin also described the state of below decks on HMS Beagle, 'everything was so clean that it put to shame many a gentleman's house'.
The author reminds us that the Royal Navy was, after Trafalgar,'an unassailable world force'. In his book Wilson concentrates on two major themes: firstly,the accumulation of centuries of training, fighting and tradition in the Royal Navy, secondly, on the many hurdles that Britain had to overcome in order to be the number one global sea power. He reminds us that Britain only achieved this status by a 'tremendous effort of political will'.
Along with the books by Rodgers mentione above and Sam Willis's excellent recent book:'Hour of Victory', Wilson's book provides a magisterial account of the Royal Navy.
It is to be hoped that at a time when its status is on the decline-maritime studies can no longer be studied at Cambridge University (in early 2013 the prestigious Vere Harmsworth professorship of Imperial and Naval History at Cambridge was awarded to an academic who specialises in the history of medecine and the environment)-Ben Wilson's book will stir national conscious about the importance of the sea to Great Britain.
This is a book to savour and linger over.