In the nineteenth century, the British created the greatest maritime-based empire in world history. That empire was made possible by the domination of the Royal Navy, which was forged in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries in the fires of the Napoleonic Wars. The Adkins, who are both historians and archaeologists, have written a narrative history of British naval conflicts from 1798 to 1815. In that span, the Royal Navy engaged almost every major naval power, including France, Spain, Holland, and even the U.S. Naturally, the Adkins describe the exploits of naval icons, including Nelson and Hood, but their account is most engrossing when they utilize eyewitness accounts of ordinary seamen to capture the intensity of battle as well as the grind of day-to-day life aboard a warship. The Adkins display such superb technological knowledge of their subject that they can be excused for their occasional delving into "Britannica Rules the Waves" enthusiasm. A superior work of maritime history that both scholars and general readers should enjoy. Freeman, Jay
--This text refers to an alternate
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Broad ranging history of a great sea warAug. 15 2007
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Roy Adkins has previously published a history of Trafalgar, the most famous sea battle in history. Now, with his wife Lesley, he has written "The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo". The subtitle pretty well sums up the book's scope: the Royal Navy's war against Napoleon from 1798 to 1812 (plus the War of 1812), a history of the blockade against France as well as great fleet battles and spectacular single ship actions. The narative is vividly illuminated throughout with generous excerpts from first hand accounts, making for absorbing reading. Colorful characters such as Thomas Lord Cochrane and Sir Sidney Smith, as well as many lesser known officers, abound. At times the coverage is not wholly even; the conquest of Mauritius is passed over in only two short sentences, but the disastrous expeditions to the River Plate and Walcheren are given their sorry due. If I were to offer a criticism it would be that the Adkinses could have started their history a little earlier (1793) to cover the whole of the naval war against France, including the beginnings of the continental blockade and such great sea battles as the Glorious First of June and Cape St. Vincent. Even though the book cannot lay claim to giving a history of the entire naval war against France, it nonetheless should find a welcome home on the bookshelves of almost anyone interested in the subject.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Excellent British Naval HistorySept. 6 2007
Eric F. Facer
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In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that, prior to reading this book, I knew very little about the Napoleonic Wars and the related naval campaigns. So I am not in a position to tell you whether the authors got their facts right (I'm inclined to think that they did). With that disclaimer, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is very readable and quite linear, making it easy to follow the sequence of events. In addition, the authors have several nice chapters detailing the horrors of each party's treatment of POWs and the draconian British practice of impressment. My only complaints are as follows.
First, the authors only devote a couple of pages to the Battle of Trafalgar; I think it warranted a bit more. Second, a couple of additional maps would have been nice, especially with respect to the naval campaigns fought in the East Indies. Third, although the extensive quotes from primary sources were, on the whole, quite good, at times they were a bit excessive. For example, towards the end of the book the authors include two lengthy testimonials about the compassion displayed by a British physician for American POWs captured during the War of 1812. One quote would have sufficed. (Perhaps the reason the authors felt compelled to highlight this physician's kindness is because the authors, being British themselves, wished to obscure Great Britain's otherwise shameful treatment of American POWs.)
Apart from these relatively minor quibbles, I highly recommend this book.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Gives you the feel of what it was like to be a sailor 200 years ago.Oct. 18 2007
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To me, history can be done well in a couple of ways. The first provides a clear point-by-point time line and narrative of how a series of events unfolded. While this book has a little of that, it isn't where it excels. This book succeeds tremendously on the second front; giving its reader a tangible sense of what the lives of British and French naval sailors and officers were like around 1800.
Adkins obviously spent a lot of time looking for first-hand accounts of each of the events in the book. He quotes from the journals and manuscripts of the people who were actually present in the battles, prisons and treaty signings to put you right into the action. You really get a feel for what it was like to be firing a cannon on a British ship as the French fired back. You understand the hesitation and the commitment of officers as they make decisions in the heat of battles.
The book really doesn't do as good a job of conveying the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic Wars, but I don't think that is its goal. Interestingly, Adkins seems to switch into that mode when he moves over from the war in Europe to the War of 1812 versus the United States. He does it quite well.
This book would need to be great on both fronts to get five stars, but I recommend it highly as a very solid four star book that will put you on board a naval vessel in 1800.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
An excellent historical accountNov. 20 2007
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The book is well researched and well written. It is the best historical account I have found for the time period in question. It provides some significant details omitted from other accounts.
The book starts with a prologue giving a description of the action between the Brig sloop Speedy, under the command of then commander Lord Cochrane, and the Spanish frigate Gamo resulting in the amazing capture of the Gamo. This is a much better account then what I found in Cochrane's own autobiography (which is surprising considering he was not known for his modesty). The book then proceeds with action starting in 1798 with Captain Sir William Sidney Smith's escape from captivity in Paris, and General Napoleon Bonaparte's descent on Egypt which resulted in the Battle of the Nile (Admiral Nelson victorious), and the defense of Acre (Captain Smith victorious - the only military setback of Napoleon on land prior to his retreat from Moscow).
The book is mainly about naval action, but includes details of some significant land campaigns starting with the aforementioned defense of Acre. It covers various actions up through 1815 including the war between England and the United States (there is a good account, for example, of the Battle of New Orleans). There is some commentary on the political situations of the time period.
There are some helpful details on other aspects of the war, including the Hot Press of 1803 when England needed to man its ships in a hurry. Men and boys were snatched off the street, out of theaters, off ships, from their jobs, etc., with no regard to their occupations, naval experience (if any) and other commitments. In some cases there were pitched battles with townsmen.
There are also some details of atrocities. The French advance up the coast from Alexandria was accompanied by the French massacre of Turkish prisoners. The Turks reciprocated in kind by torturing and beheading French prisoners. There is also an account of the deliberate massacre of American prisoners held in Dartmoor Prison in 1815, after the war had ended.
It might be noted that this was a time period when officers still led from the front, and many officers including Admirals and Generals were killed or wounded. When Admiral Nelson commanded the British fleet at the Nile, he was blind in one eye and missing an arm as the result of earlier actions.
There are some side discussion of interest, including the relationship between Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Overall it is a very good reference book for anyone studying the period. There are footnotes to various references, a listing of recommended reading, and an extensive bibliography at the end of the book. There is also an index, and the book contains various maps and illustrations.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
For experts onlyJuly 5 2009
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I think this book was definitely written for people who have already read two or three books about the British navy during this era and wanted to learn something new. Not because it assumed a lot of background, it didn't, but because it omitted really important subjects. I still don't really understand why the British navy was so superior. Was it because the sailors and officers were better trained? How were they trained anyway? Were there differences between the French and British ships? I really don't know- but the book does go into very great detail about the fate of some guy who got left on an island by his captain and turned out to be okay. And like other commentators here, I was baffled by how Trafalgar and the death of Nelson were practically not included.
The descriptions of the Battle of the Nile, Siege of Acre, and Lord Cochrane's exploits were excellent but after that the book dwells on minutia and repetitive primary accounts of minor battles. Bottom line: if you've already read two accounts of Trafalgar and could recite Master and Commander backwards, this really might be the best book for you. You'll learn a lot and won't have your time wasted with stuff you already know. But for the rest of us, it's not the best pick.