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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2013
An excellent and comprehensive account of the English, then the British Navy. The only thing I would say that was skimmed over though was the War of 1812 as it just mentioned that there was a few frigate confrontations which the Royal Navy mainly lost. Apart from that, the book mentions most of the main admirals and battles as well as the times the fleet was laid up and often rotting away and neglected between wars. Lessons should be learnt by the politicians of this country as Britain is an island nation, dependent on the sea lanes for 96% of everything we import and consume. Around the world there are choke points such as the Gulf of Hormuz and the Suez Canal which can be blockaded. Only ships can deal with these problems and we neglect the Navy at our own risk. When the price of food and petrol go through the roof and we no longer have the ships to do anything about it, only then will the British come out of their sea blindness and appreciate the role of the Royal Navy. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of English/British sea power.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2013
Ben Wilson has managed to cover a vast timescale - Pre-Norman to present day, whilst maintaining interest all the way through.
Needless to say it is packed with information, the result of thorough research and understanding.
It gives a convincing argument as to how the nations commercial interests and maritime power were inextricably linked. It also makes comments on the present situation.
It dwells a lot on the ability, or in some cases lack of, of the Navy's leaders and makes it clear how great an admiral Nelson was.
This is a concise yet complete history of the British Navy that makes for a thoroughly good read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2014
This book gives a vivid account of how Navies were made and how they grew,
How technology changed with time, and how this affected the lives of the sailors.
Sadly, this often meant more efficient means of destroying other ships, and other men.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2014
This book is almost impossible to put down, but it is so riveting that you also want to make it last!. Wilson brilliantly and concisely charts the Navy's development over a millennium, At times. it was in serious decline, but common sense and reason prevailed and a number of close calls worked out well in the end, chiefly through the unique British character and qualities. The Navy was indispensable and central to the development of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2014
Terrific! I am only about a quarter through this excellent book, but it really is a great read. The text is never dry, or wordy, or boring - and it reads rather like a good thriller in some respects. If you are looking for an all-in-one history of the British navy, you really could do a lot worse than acquiring this book. I am no expert - far from it - but I do love a good read, and this is exactly what this is. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2014
I thought the book well researched and well written. Ideal for anyone interested in British Naval history. An interesting read.
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on 15 June 2014
For anyone with an interest in the history of the RN this is a must for your bookshelf. A wide ranging & fascinating commentary of the rise of the RN with economic & political insights together with cameos of the leading figures of the times. It will provide a bedrock to widening an understanding of naval history and lead to further reading by way of providing a wide ranging list of sources. Ben Wilson has also pulled no punches in analysing the decline of the RN from the 60s to the present.
An accessible read of a complex and wide ranging subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2014
This book connects the dots. It gives context and clarity on many key battles and world events through history. An essential insight for any history student.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 March 2014
A very interesting book. A lot of detail that I didn't previously know. The best description of the battle of trafalgar that I've read.
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