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on 17 August 2008
John Sugden's "Nelson: A Dream of Glory 1758 - 1797" is the first volume of what promises to be a two volume definitive biography on the life and career of Vice Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, the greatest admiral in the history of Western Civilization. Not only is Sugden's tome impeccably well-researched, but his prose is often as fine as Patrick O'Brian's, giving readers a compelling view of the late 18th Century Royal Navy and the wars against France as seen not only through Nelson's eyes, but indeed those of many of his friends, acquaintances, and subordinates, including sailors from the lower decks. This is quite simply the finest nonfiction book on the Royal Navy that I have read; without question, it is a far better written and researched book than Arthur Herman's recently published "To Rule the Waves", his one volume history of the Royal Navy. I wait eagerly for Sugden's second volume, which will show Nelson's genius for battle during his celebrated victories at Aboukir Bay and, of course, Trafalgar.

Sugden offers a compelling portrait of a man who was more often a sinner rather than a saint, yet still heavily revered and regarded by his subordinates and superiors such as Admiral Sir Samuel Hood and Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Earl of Saint Vincent. Sugden demonstrates how this son of an impoverished parson was able to use his important familial ties to such distinguished British families as the Walpoles in obtaining and then furthering his career in the Royal Navy, going to sea at a relatively young age as an unrated servant aboard his uncle Captain Maurice Suckling's ship. But thanks to his uncle's connections, Nelson soon mastered the skills of navigation - becoming an excellent navigator in his own right - and joins a little known Polar expedition sponsored by the Royal Navy. In the short span of slightly more than a decade, Nelson acquired extensive experience sailing in the West Indies, Arctic waters and of course, off the coasts of Great Britain and France, before assuming his first post-captain command just barely out of his teens, a frigate, during the latter years of the American Revolution.

Sugden demonstrates repeatedly the complexity of Nelson's character. He notes often how Nelson repeatedly tried to advance the careers of his subordinates, including sailors as well as commissioned officers, frequently making his case to the Admiralty Board itself by going above the heads of his superiors such as senior captains and admirals. Despite this, Nelson earned the respect and friendship of senior admirals such as Sir Samuel Hood, and especially, Sir John Jervis (Sugden notes that Jervis rebuked his flag captain, Robert Calder, for daring to criticize Nelson after Nelson's deliberate failure in obeying Jervis's order during the Battle of Cape of Saint Vincent, by noting that he would praise Calder too if Calder had disobeyed Jervis's order.). And yet Nelson was praised for his generosity towards his commanding officers and subordinates, he was also, in many respects, a rather vain, selfish person, interested in pursuing glory for its own sake; a character flaw which would lead eventually to his scandalous affair with Lady Emma Hamilton. While seeking favors from those who were his superiors in military rank and/or social status, Nelson would be blind occasionaly to their own failings, which Sugden emphasizes in Nelson's relationship with Prince William Henry, the future King William IV, while the latter was a junior frigate captain serving under Nelson's command in the West Indies.

Sugden also describes, at much length, Nelson's relationships with his "band of brothers", forming life-long friendships with fellow distinguished officers such as Rear Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Captain Thomas Troubridge, Captain Ralph Willett Miller, and Captain Benjamin Hallowell, to name merely a few, and his immense admiration and affection for the officers and crew of HMS Agamemnon, the 64 gun third rate ship-of-the-line which he regarded as his favorite command. Sugden devotes ample space not only to Nelson's service during the American Revolution - most notably his distinguished service in Central America - and the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, but more importantly, to lesser known aspects of his career as a young senior captain stationed in the West Indies immediately after the American Revolution and his amphibious campaigns on Corsica and Elba during the early phases of the wars against Revolutionary France in the 1790s. Here we get a good glimpse of Nelson's brilliance as a commander leading men both at sea and ashore, but also his failings, most notably during the aborted raid on the Canary Islands that left him seriously wounded, nearly bringing his Royal Navy career to an untimely end in 1797.
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on 30 September 2004
I read Joel Hayward's "For God and Glory" and thought it was certainly the best recent book on Nelson. I still think that, although it now has a competitor: "Nelson: A Dream of Glory", which is also quite excellent!
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on 12 August 2007
This is a rich book full of hitherto unknown detail of Nelson's exploits and character, which if I dare say it, exceeds Hibbert's earlier personal assessment. It is a rich analysis of action and introspection that is expertly and schollarly weaved into a collosal narrative that truely sheds the full specturm of light onto this man's quest, almost thirst, for glory. Past biographies have tended to portray Nelson as almost god-like with very few disparaging detractions or criticisms (unlike those heaped upon Wellington or Pitt, say) so it is very refreshing to see the Admiral with "warts an' all". I have two criticisms of this work; first the illustrations are, I feel unimaginative (being in B/W for one) and the second are the errors, of which I could only pick up two. On page 281, the author asserts Collingwood died in 1808, rather than the accepted date of March, 1810. On the very next page, the author states that Braddock's force was ambushed in 1775 when in actual fact this event took place twenty years earlier. These are excusable considering the scope of the work. One gratifying aspect was the distinct lack of orthographical errors, a trend in modern works so prevelent these days. Highly recommended and I eagerly look forwarrd to the concluding volume.
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There are possibly more books on the shelves of bookshops (certainly in England) about Nelson than any other English hero and because of the recent anniversary of Trafalgar many more have either been written or re-printed. How does the reader pick one out from the rest. Well my own recommendation would be to buy this particular volume,

In the historical time scale, Nelson lived and died in the fairly recent past, so many of the books written about him are only regurgitated facts that have never been checked properly, or may have no foundation in factual terms. John Sugden has left no stone unturned in his quest for the truth, not only about the public persona of the man, but also gives a brilliant insight into the life of the private man. His hopes, his fears, his weaknesses and his strengths.

John Sugden's writing style is both lively and stylish and does not leave the reader feeling overpowered with dull facts that he or she cannot take on board. Yes the book is a historical work, but it is written with a sensitive touch that almost makes the reader think they are reading an adventure novel. This is achieved without prostituting the historical content in any way. I enjoyed it immensely.
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on 3 December 2012
As the proud owner of 36 books on Nelson this is the best that I have read.So deeply researched it is without doubt the most comprehensive account,warts and all,not only of Nelson himself but his contemporaries and the political times of the second half of the 18th century.I am looking forward to part two of John Sugden's historical epic.
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on 29 December 2004
This is an outstanding and necessary addition to the long list of biographies of England's greatest military seaman. Sugden documents the worthiest of these and goes all the way back to 1806 for his list but future biographers need look no further than this.
Sugden has written the exemplary text book and biography of Nelson's early life, right up to the time when, on the Agamemnon, genuine fame beckoned. Nelson's traits as an everyman hell bent on achieving complete recognition are all depicted beautifully and rare insight is given into his schooling and youth. This, though new, is necessarily short: Nelson was at sea on the Raisonable by the time he was 13.
If you know something of history and of Nelson in particular this book will bring to light new and scholarly analysis. If you're not and are merely interested in finding out more - and what better time to do so with the bicentenary of Trafalgar about to begin - look no further than this. At 900+ pages, it's a daunting tome but it is immensely rewarding.
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on 21 May 2016
This is an absolutely marvellous biography that covers the early part of Nelsons career up to 1797. It excels in many areas, giving a wonderful introduction of Horatio Nelsons learning process as he developed into the leading Admiral of his day (or any other day). Sugden manages to keep the narrative flowing nicely, but also manages to intersperse the story of Nelson with insights into the day to day life in the navy and provides fascinating insights into life in Britain in the late 18th Century. The naval battles (as well as Nelsons incursions onto land) are vividly described to the point that you can almost smell the gun smoke . Sugden also manages to show the real Nelson, warts and all, and is clearly reaping the benefits of a lifelong hobby. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and can happily report that I have just started reading the second part of this epic tale.
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on 31 January 2016
This is the definitive biography of Nelson and carries on where lesser researchers leave off. I wouldn't bother with any other biography but I have to say that it isn't an easy read. It is an academic tome and some of the vocabulary is archaic. I bought it on Kindle which means that a dictionary is always at hand but occasionally the Kindle dictionary wasn't enough. If you have a real interest in Nelson this is definitely the book. If you only have a passing interest then you will probably find it a bit heavy going especially as this is only the first part! I also bought Nelson: The Sword of Albion by the same author and would say the same about that book too.
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on 17 August 2008
John Sugden's "Nelson: A Dream of Glory 1758 - 1797" is the first volume of what promises to be a two volume definitive biography on the life and career of Vice Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, the greatest admiral in the history of Western Civilization. Not only is Sugden's tome impeccably well-researched, but his prose is often as fine as Patrick O'Brian's, giving readers a compelling view of the late 18th Century Royal Navy and the wars against France as seen not only through Nelson's eyes, but indeed those of many of his friends, acquaintances, and subordinates, including sailors from the lower decks. This is quite simply the finest nonfiction book on the Royal Navy that I have read; without question, it is a far better written and researched book than Arthur Herman's recently published "To Rule the Waves", his one volume history of the Royal Navy. I wait eagerly for Sugden's second volume, which will show Nelson's genius for battle during his celebrated victories at Aboukir Bay and, of course, Trafalgar.

Sugden offers a compelling portrait of a man who was more often a sinner rather than a saint, yet still heavily revered and regarded by his subordinates and superiors such as Admiral Sir Samuel Hood and Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Earl of Saint Vincent. Sugden demonstrates how this son of an impoverished parson was able to use his important familial ties to such distinguished British families as the Walpoles in obtaining and then furthering his career in the Royal Navy, going to sea at a relatively young age as an unrated servant aboard his uncle Captain Maurice Suckling's ship. But thanks to his uncle's connections, Nelson soon mastered the skills of navigation - becoming an excellent navigator in his own right - and joins a little known Polar expedition sponsored by the Royal Navy. In the short span of slightly more than a decade, Nelson acquired extensive experience sailing in the West Indies, Arctic waters and of course, off the coasts of Great Britain and France, before assuming his first post-captain command just barely out of his teens, a frigate, during the latter years of the American Revolution.

Sugden demonstrates repeatedly the complexity of Nelson's character. He notes often how Nelson repeatedly tried to advance the careers of his subordinates, including sailors as well as commissioned officers, frequently making his case to the Admiralty Board itself by going above the heads of his superiors such as senior captains and admirals. Despite this, Nelson earned the respect and friendship of senior admirals such as Sir Samuel Hood, and especially, Sir John Jervis (Sugden notes that Jervis rebuked his flag captain, Robert Calder, for daring to criticize Nelson after Nelson's deliberate failure in obeying Jervis's order during the Battle of Cape of Saint Vincent, by noting that he would praise Calder too if Calder had disobeyed Jervis's order.). And yet Nelson was praised for his generosity towards his commanding officers and subordinates, he was also, in many respects, a rather vain, selfish person, interested in pursuing glory for its own sake; a character flaw which would lead eventually to his scandalous affair with Lady Emma Hamilton. While seeking favors from those who were his superiors in military rank and/or social status, Nelson would be blind occasionaly to their own failings, which Sugden emphasizes in Nelson's relationship with Prince William Henry, the future King William IV, while the latter was a junior frigate captain serving under Nelson's command in the West Indies.

Sugden also describes, at much length, Nelson's relationships with his "band of brothers", forming life-long friendships with fellow distinguished officers such as Rear Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Captain Thomas Troubridge, Captain Ralph Willett Miller, and Captain Benjamin Hallowell, to name merely a few, and his immense admiration and affection for the officers and crew of HMS Agamemnon, the 64 gun third rate ship-of-the-line which he regarded as his favorite command. Sugden devotes ample space not only to Nelson's service during the American Revolution - most notably his distinguished service in Central America - and the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, but more importantly, to lesser known aspects of his career as a young senior captain stationed in the West Indies immediately after the American Revolution and his amphibious campaigns on Corsica and Elba during the early phases of the wars against Revolutionary France in the 1790s. Here we get a good glimpse of Nelson's brilliance as a commander leading men both at sea and ashore, but also his failings, most notably during the aborted raid on the Canary Islands that left him seriously wounded, nearly bringing his Royal Navy career to an untimely end in 1797.
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on 12 October 2015
A wonderful tour de force,brilliantly written,not at all boring as some historical biographies can be .It is a long book but it gives fascinating insight into our greatest hero and a time when Britain ruled the seas and could be proud of her achievement s,alas long gone.This book only describes the first part of Nelson's life ,a previously neglected area,I have just downloaded the second book ,about his glory days,highly recommended!
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