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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2008
This is a massive and elegant work that is part art history, part naval history. Before you buy it--look at the dimensions (I had not done that). 90% of the 225 pages consists of art (the rest is narrative). You expect to see old paintings of naval battles, and you certainly get lots of those, all in full color. You also get lots of portraits of admirals, captains, etc, paintings and drawings of life below decks, contemporary maps of battles and harbors, architectural drawings of ship plans, paintings of navy yards and ships under construction.

The book illustrates a wide variety of naval activities--from the loss of the Royal George to shipwrecks to recovery efforts. The title is a bit of a misnomer--not everything here involves fighting ships. There is, for example, a painting of the Terror (a former bomb vessel) trapped in the ice of Hudson's bay in 1837. A delightful book indeed!
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Immensely readable,lively,interesting and beautifully produced. A magnificent book to keep for the sheer pleasure of turning the pages to see one superb illustration after another, with text that is equally accessible for the novice and the expert. Historically well researched and full of intriguing details, this is a book that will appeal to anyone interested in ships or warfare at sea. Fantastically good value.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 December 2009
Most of the superlatives which I wanted to lavish on this massive, beautiful, and highly informative volume have already been used by other reviewers, but I do want to add my tuppence and say how delighted I was by this book.

It's an extremely large book, which contains an interesting set of essays by naval historian Sam Willis about the last century of the "wooden walls" and a collection of delightful large size illustrations, mostly contemporary, which range from maps and plans to portraits of ships, battles, and some of the dramatis personae of the battles of the era.

It's easy for us to think of the ship of the line as a beautiful relic of a bygone era, but, like the dreadnaught battleships of a century later, these ships were both a remarkable feat of engineering and far and away the most powerful weapon of war which had ever existed up to that point in recorded history. To build, maintain and operate fleets of these vessels required both science and skill, and very considerable resources by the standards of the time - and indeed, appointment and promotion systems to find their captains and officers which were vastly more meritocratic than the societies of the time allowed in almost any other sphere.

(More meritocratic, indeed than the navies of the period are often given credit for in popular fiction, but that's another story.)

Most of the illustrations are contemporary documents, or paintings by artists of the period such as Pocock and Stanfield, (for example it includes Turner's "Fighting Temeraire") although there are also some excellent illustrations by more modern artists such as Geoff Hunt.

The text is much more nuanced than some accounts of the period. For example, though nobody doubts that the treatment meted out to Admiral John Byng, was, as Willis puts it, "an extraordinary example of self-inflicted bloodletting" this book also hints at the reasons why "there was no professional sympathy for his actions".

Forgive me going into detail here, but I want to give chapter and verse of a specific example where this book gives what is almost certainly the correct explanation for a tragedy which very many other books and sources blame on the wrong causes.

This concerns the tragic loss of the first rate "Royal George" with the loss of about 900 lives including Admiral Kempenfeldt.

I had read many other accounts in which the loss of the "Royal George" which suddenly sank in calm water while heeled over to undergo a minor repair at Spithead, was blamed on a gust of wind or poor maintenance by the dock authorities. The court martial failed to attribute blame for the tragedy and acquitted the officers and crew (many of whom had perished), blaming the accident on the 'general state of decay of her timbers.'

If the reader starts to seriously research this question it may quickly become apparent that accounts of the disaster are seriously inconsistent on several issues

- most accounts say that the ship capsized, but some say she went down upright after the captain had ordered the list cancelled.

- some accounts say that there was a sudden gust of wind but most suggest that the ship was taking on stores on the side which she had been heeled towards for the repair, and water started to come through the open gunports

- some accounts say that a large part of her bottom fell out but those witnesses at the court martial who supported the view that there was a maintenance problem did not put it as strongly as that.

- there is a considerable range of figures quoted for the number of deaths (a toll of about 900 is suggested by what appear to be the most authoratitive sources)

Until I read "Fighting Ships" I had suspected that poor dockyard maintenence might have been a factor in the tragedy, but that the court martial possibly exaggerated this rather than blame the crew, most of whom had drowned, or the captain whose son was among the casualties.

This book suggests that problems with the hull of the "Royal George" may have been due not to a systematic failure of dockyard maintenance but to ineffectiveness of a contemporary attempt to prevent electrolytic action between the copper sheathing on the bottom of 18th century ship hulls, and the iron nails which held them together, by putting a thick, tarred "paper" between the copper plates and the hull. It argues that many officers believed that the "Royal George" disaster demonstrated this merely delayed the corrosion.

After reading this in "Fighting Ships" I cross checked by adding the words "iron" and "copper" to the internet searches I had previously done on the loss of the ship. Adding these two words turned up the additional information that a further Board of Inquiry had indeed found that the iron bolts used to hold the copper sheathing to the wood had rusted becaused of a reaction between the iron and copper. This in turn had rotted the timbers underneath.

The same search also turned up the SOLUTION which the navy adopted, and which I am mildly surprised Willis did not include in his book: instead of using copper sheathing and iron bolts, in 1784 the Admiraly ordered that all new ships should use copper sheathing and COPPER bolts and that existing ships should have their iron bolts replaced with copper ones.

Wonderful book if you have an interest in the subject, cannot be too highly recommended. If you like this, other books which you might appreciate include

1) The two volumes of Brian Lavery's magnum opus, The Ship of the line:
 The Ship of the Line: The Development of the Battlefleet, 1650-1850: 001 and
 The Ship of the Line: Design, Construction, and Fittings: 002

2) Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: The Evolution of Fighting Tactics, 1650-1815 (Conway's history of sail)

3) Trafalgar Companion: The Complete Guide to History's Most Famous Sea Battle and the Life of Admiral Lord Nelson
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2008
This is a book of pictures of naval ships from 1750 to 1850.

The format is alternating pages of text and pictures. The text supporting the following picture. The text is informative and splendidly readable but forget about that, thats not really important.

This book weighs a freaking shedload. Its massive. Its awesomely gigantically massive. About 16" tall and its cover is made out of depleted uranium or something. It nearly breaks my coffee table.

The Pictures are mostly contempory to the period and sketches or paintings.Each one is pourable over for hours, turn the page and theres another one. Only better.

If you love fighting sale, then grab this book for a bargin price. There simply is no reason for you not to own it. Each minuite you lack it,will dull your life.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A great companion book, made especially useful by its physical dimensions. I have seen many of the pictures before in other smaller histories but they come to life here because of the sheer scale of each plate, the double-page Trafalgar depiction is especially good. Not an in-depth study of the topic but a fabulous overview and one that will surely provide the reader with a stimulus for further research and reading. I'm very glad to have this beautiful book in my library.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2011
The illustrations are out of this world. The only thing is, we did not know that the book was as large as it is.
It is a huge heavy book. 2 foot by 1 foot. In the book description we thought it was an ordinary book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is a classic coffee table book - it's hardback, it's in glossy colour, and it's an easy and interesting read. It's also absolutely the biggest book you'll ever get for £13.75!

The book is presented hardbound in plain black, with just gold lettering on the spine. The dust jacket shows the paintings "The Victory" and "Cutting Out The Chevrette". Inside, the whole thing is printed on thick, high quality medium gloss paper, in full colour throughout. The huge page space is used to great effect, as the paintings are practically posters. The text is in quite large fonts, and provides brief commentaries about the pictures and their historical context. The book is arranged in chronological order, so the pictures and the text flow nicely through the years.

Thankfully, it gives several pages to Nelson. The painting on p131-132, of the Battle of Trafalgar, is particularly good. The authors, Willis and Rodger, are both professors of naval history. Their enthusiasm for their subject is on every page, in their choice of pictures and their colourful and informative writing.

The chapters begin with all-black pages containing introductory text. Be sure not to touch these pages with your fingers, as you will end up with highly visible finger marks all over them. The problem is that the book is printed on matt paper, which marks easily. It would have been better to leave a white page margin or, for a full-bleed print (which this book uses), use glossy paper. Glossy paper is expensive, so the trade-off has made the book more affordable.

The writing is concise and informative, but the punctuation leaves something to be desired. Many sentences need to be re-read because the clauses are not separated properly, either by using commas or semi-colons, or by breaking the points into separate sentences. I found only one faux-pas. The text on page 208 refers to a sepia print thus: "...palace is shown on the right, between two yellow and orange flags." Hmmm, it's a bit hard to tell which colour the flags are on a sepia print. Other than this, the text is really rather good.

Make no mistake, this is an impressive book. If you are interested in big old sailing warships, it is a really good picture and story book that gets the imagination working. If you are not into all this, then the paintings are impressive in their own right. I bought it mainly for the artwork, but found the stories a lot of fun to read.
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on 10 December 2012
This book is a wonderful piece of complementary history to any study or general interest into the world of fighting sail from the period of the book's title.

First and foremost, the price is absolutely remarkable; given that the paper is of high quality, the artwork printed within is flawless and the inside sleeve reads a RRP of £50, buying this book via Amazon is an absolute bargain.

The book itself is HUGE, and having poured over its pages a few times I can see why; the fact that much of the artwork within were, in their original prints, quite large would suggest that to get the most out reading the level of detail you would need to view these in a good sized format. There is much one can learn simply from 'reading' a painting, and as there is plenty going on in a lot of the paintings and sketches, having large-sized prints makes exploring these details all the more easier. After all, much of the paintings here were not just literal pictures of ships as the subject matter, but also expressed themes felt at the time, and were hence prone to exaggeration. There are also various prints of ship plans and potraits of famous/important naval figures throughout the period, along with explanations of who they were and what they did to contribute to naval history.

The artwork is also annotated as one would expect from history books and occasionally peppered on most if not all pages are paragraphs of text discussing the history of the age of fighting sail between 1750-1850. Very informative; you can learn a good deal by reading this. This book was a delightful surprise when it arrived through the post given how big a book it is. I love this period of military naval history and this book satisfies just that but also leaves a thirst for more :)

A recommended buy, especially given the price of it here on Amazon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2011
This book arrived very promptly and was extremely well packaged. The book is superb, not least the illustration on the dust jacket! Hours of reading in this tome! The size and weight is enormous - you need a very large coffee table to accommodate this, my bookcases and shelves can't take it!! But you will derive hours of pleasure from it - promise!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2009
Heartbreakingly beautiful throughout - you are essentially getting 100+ large glossy prints of proper works of art including Turner's Temaraire - plus accompanying text that gives you enough detail to put each picture in context. Others have raved about this book already so I won't go on but Amazon is offering this at a price that makes it total bargain. These books tend to have limited print runs so buy it and keep it while you can.
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