Granted that Sugdens scholarship is first-class it still remains to say that he manages to turn the wealth of facts at his disposal into a smooth-flowing, accessible narrative. We learn about Nelsons apprenticeship and his development into a decisive, ambitious, courageous young admiral and the personal qualities that gained him the trust, love and loyalty of the men who followed him. Much of the book deals with the day to day detail of life on board ship and with the skirmishes and battles-- on both land and sea-- that built Nelsons reputation. Sugden does a wonderful job of explaining the reasons for Nelsons successchiefly his early recognition that the skilled efficiency of British seamanship was superior to that of her enemies. That meant that individual ships, and the British fleet in general, could break with the established rules of engagement, take more chances and ultimately gain spectacular victories against much larger and stronger foes. If one were to be picky the one minor drawback with the book is that with the main focus upon the events in Nelsons life it is hard to understand how the navy was organized and managed and difficult to see Nelsons life in the broader context of the history of the British Navy. Fortunately NAM Rodgers The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 perfectly answers the call.
By the time the narrative comes to an end the relatively young admiral, with his reputation secure but still hungry for glory, is effectively blind in one eye, lacking a right arm and brooding on the dismal prospect of retirement. We have to wait for the completion of volume two for the full account of his last few great years at the forefront of the European war. --Larry Brown
"A magnificently-researched and thoughtful work which locates Nelson in a global context" (Linda Colley)
"This work is massively authoritative" (Max Hastings Sunday Telegraph)
"One can say with confidence that this momumental tome is the finest yet written on England's great naval hero. Sugden's brilliant book is chock-full of fascinating details. And if the second volume turns out as well as this, his life of Nelson will be one of the historical masterpieces of our time" (Frank McLynn Daily Express)
"A massive, first-rate battleship of a book" (Colin White Observer)