I am a newcomer to the world of Aubrey and Maturin, and like a novice I have found myself somewhat overwhelmed by the overwhelming amount of nautical and naval detail contained in the book. I sought this book out because I thought it might help make that world a bit clearer. To a very large extent, this handsome though slender volume did the trick. The book provides a to-the-point introduction to the world of naval combat during the Napoleonic age, and I definitely have a clearer idea of the kinds of ships that were around at that time. I read through the book once, and I anticipate going to it again as I work my way through the rest of the Aubrey/Maturin volumes (I'm currently nearing the end of H.M.S. SURPRISE, the third book).
Despite having learned from the book, I was somewhat disappointed that it didn't cover more. I can think of two chapters that I would very much have profited from. The first would have been a chapter dealing with the "stuff" of a ship. This volume does this slightly in talking of the sailing rig of a typical boat, but I would have liked more detail. What weight was the rope used on these boats and was it hemp? Where did they store extra rope. How did they deal with the water needs of the ship's inhabitants, how much was allotted to a sailor each day, and how often did they need to resupply water and food? The second chapter that I would have liked to see would have been one on the mechanics of sailing. I am not a sailor, and have never been on a sailboat (despite living in Chicago alongside Lake Michigan). I would have benefited enormously from a chapter explaining how a ship of the British navy moved about on the water. Navigating ships is a major feature of the novels, and I would very much have loved more explanation of how this is done. I'm sure many books deal with this, but this volume's lacking this means that it is not a one-book-deals-with-all resource. I was also somewhat saddened that there wasn't some larger discussion of surgical practice on a ship, perhaps a selection of surgical instruments, though I must admit that the title refers only to Aubrey, not Maturin.
Despite the rather circumscribed subject matter of the book, this is a very helpful introduction to anyone like myself who knows little about the early 19th century British navy and would like to learn more. The book itself is very attractively done, and the illustrations are great. There is a host of great photographs of ships. I especially like the few occasions when ships were depicted that had appeared in the novels I have read so far. In short, this is a very fine little book, but I'm not sure that an Aubrey/Maturin fan couldn't do better.