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on 17 July 2017
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on 5 January 2013
This is one of the most thrilling books I have ever read. A pity the maps are rather perfunctory - and they could have ranged far wider. But that's the only complaint I have.

Everyone, of course, has heard of Nelson - and others such as Codrington. But who has heard of Edward Pellew? No one that I know. However, his name is doubtless well-known in Falmouth. Stepen Taylor's excellent book puts this right with a terrific flourish and every trainee officer in the Royal Navy should read it.

What helps the story is that the author writes with verve and panache which makes his well-researched material sparkle and gives it pace. Moreover, his terseness and concise sentences add authority and aid comprehension.

The subject of the book, Edward Pellew, is truly awe-inspiring. He was both a talented seaman and breathtakingly courageous in all aspects of the savage battles his ships were involved in. Fit and tough, even in his 40s he swung up aloft to read the weather conditions or the lie of enemy shipping in the interests of making a better battle appreciation. The scope of his achievements over 30 years at sea was magnificent. To his lifelong chagrin he was not at Trafalgar.

Frigate captains, it seems, had very considerable independence and fought many ship-to-ship battles separate to actions involving the fleet. Prize money from successful encounters was mind-boggling and Sir Edward found that his activities produced toothsome results.

I thought that the most rivetting naval action commanded by Pellew was the last. Meticulously planned and bravely fought, the bombardment of Algiers tamed the Corsairs on the Barbary coast to discourage the little-known practise of the enslavement of Christians - though this appalling trade took further measures to eradicate.

If indeed he was the inspiration for Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, then he is indeed a worthy figure.

A splendid book.
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on 10 June 2014
Again a very good book by Stephen Taylor. It seems that Taylor's research on one book prompts him to dive into 'sidelines' and develop those into other books. I very much enjoyed his '1809' which deals with the fight for the Indian Ocean during the Napoleonic Wars, and has got loads of good stuff about the East India Company & a number of shipwrecks suffered by that Company. 'Caliban shore' sidesteps more into one particularly interesting wreck around 1780 when a ship hit South Africa's 'Wild Coast' and the crew and passengers tried to walk all the way to Cape Town.
'Commander' deals with another 'sideline' of 1809, namely the life and career of Edward Pellew. Pellew worked his way up the ranks, becoming a highly succesful frigate captain. When moving further up the chain he was not as succesful perhaps, but lucky for him his career ended on a very high note when he stopped the Barbary slave trade by intimidating Tripoli and Tunis, and shooting Algiers to pieces. Good stuff!
As his other books, this one is exceedingly well written, Taylor really is one of the best. I liked 1809 and Caliban Shore even better, mainly because they were more original (there are already so many books about the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars) - but still, excellent book.
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on 14 September 2012
I downloaded this after reading a review in the Telegraph which gave it 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Taylor's book.
If you have watched the Hornblower series or read the books and watched the film , Master and Commander with Russell Crowe, you will see resemblances with the protagonist in this book. The frigate captain in Stephen Taylor's book became Viscount Exmouth after a lifetime in the Royal Navy, serving at the same time as Nelson. His exploits show him to have been a rare example of a brilliant seaman, ideally suited to the job.
If anyone is interested in Naval history read this book. It is well researched yet highly readable.
It inspired me to read the Caliban Shore by the same author!
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on 14 November 2012
The title of this review pretty much says it all. It is astounding that a worthy and inspirational figure like Edward Pellew has found only one previous biographer in modern times (if 1934 counts as such). Accordingly, Mr Taylor's well-researched and well written and sympathetic (but not slavishly so) account is as welcome as it is long overdue. Additionally, the writer's style is what I might term 'effortless', i.e. polished and highly readable such that the pages fairly flash by. Indeed, I regretted finishing the book and could have happily 'done' with more - particularly a longer 'Epilogue' about Pellew's well-earned retirement in the bosom of his large family in his beloved West Country. But that is to raise a very minor cavil.

A slightly more substantial caveat is that in his researches the author seems to have accepted the inflated claims of Cornish nationalist propagandists. He considers it likely (p65) that Pellew and many of his Cornish recruited crew spoke the Cornish language which, he claims in a footnote, only died out in the 1890s. That is to extend the life of the language (as far as fluent speakers are concerned, as opposed to individuals knowing odd words or phrases) by a good century and a half. The impenetrable 'jargon' of his Cornish miner recruits can probably be attributed to just that: a close-knit mining community's slang and work-terms. However, I almost feel bad in mentioning the above: it is the only false note in the entire book and hardly detracts from the overall achievement.

One other recommendation: readers not acquainted with the period or naval matters need not fear bewilderment. Mr Taylor explains all that needs to be be explained without labouring points or impeding the narrative thrust.

In summary, this highly readable 'life and times' of a likeable, humane and heroic English naval hero is highly recommended to general reader and period/subject specialist alike.
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on 9 January 2013
Congratulations to Mr Taylor for a great book and for returning Edward Pellew back to the forefront of British Naval history along side Pellew's contemporary, Horatio Nelson. The worst part of reading Mr Taylor's authorative book was knowing that it is likely to be sometime before I find another book nearly as good.
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on 25 January 2013
I confess to being slightly put off by the title, as there are many heroic claims put forward for outstanding seamen of the Napoleonic Wars.

Yet this is one of the best books I have read for years - in the barely able to put it down category. Set in a time when the very best of our seamen rose to the surface and national acclaim, as they fought & prevailed fearlessly against impossible odds, Stephen Taylor's painstakingly comprehensive research has highlighted the place that Edward Pellew deserves amongst his illustrious peer group.

If the full detail of some of the battles that Edward Pellew fought & won were known, it would probably appear to be a work of complete fiction. A warrior in the great British tradition, completely fearless & totally musket-ball proof. A great read.
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on 28 October 2012
I sat down to read this with real anticipation. Maybe my expectations were too high. Somehow he has taken a really fascinating figure and time and made it rather dull. He does not have the gift of properly explaining the period in which the action is set. The war with America just happens. There is no context. He doesn't really explain the systems of promotion and patronage in the Navy or explain why they existed and to what purpose. And his writing can be poor. I enjoyed for example 'As Pellew himself had reflected over years of pacing various quarterdecks . . . ' I don't know how the author knew his reflections took place on the quarterdeck. He doesn't limit himself to one quarterdeck of course but to 'various'. But apparently not his cabin or anywhere else. He is all too fond of cliched writing like this.

Maybe I am quibling I suppose. It is an interesting story. But to see how this kind of thing should be done take a look at Cochrane by Donald Thomas.
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on 24 October 2012
This is a quite brilliant biography of a remarkable man - at one time far more famous than his contemporary Nelson. I would commend it to anyone interested in the Navy over this period and its commanders.

However, I must point out that it is wrong for one reviewer on the back cover of the book to equate him to O'Brien, who writes excitingly, often based on real campaigns. For example, his coverage of the taking of the French Venus in the Mauritus Campaign (in which my GGGrandfather took part as 1st Lt on HMS Bodicea and was awarded a medal for the action) is great stuff. The official report and logs are pretty dry and unemotional!

It is said that Pellew was used as the model for Captain Jack Aubrey, and that I can well believe. In that respect it is a pity that he did not write a novel or two about his early days in 1812 on the Great Lakes.

Looking at his remarkable life and exploits he could well have been a character from fiction, but the biography, readable as it is, is not written as a work of fiction
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on 10 December 2013
A fascinating account of a man who started off on the very bottom rung of the Royal Navy and who eventually achieved flag rank due to his exceptional fighting abilities, albeit somewhat held back by his less than successful political activities. Whilst held high in the public eye, he could never 'compete' with his contemporary Nelson who would always somehow steal the limelight during a period of a considerable cadre of truly exceptional captains and admirals throughout the Napoleonic wars. Thoroughly recommended.
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