Bolitho a role model,
This review is from: Command a King's Ship (The Bolitho Novels) (Volume 6) (Paperback)Years ago, when I served as a Chaplain for the 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead) in Frankfurt Germany, Dan, my Chaplain Assistant encouraged me to read the naval fiction of Alexander Kent. I had no interest in the British Navy, but Dan's enthusiasm, along with previous recommendations which had been on the mark, encouraged me to give Kent's books a try.
I began to read about the remarkable life of Richard Bolitho, whose life spanned from 1756 to 1815. In the course of 22 books we see Bolitho from his days as a lowly Midshipman (at the age of twelve) to his death as a knighted Rear Admiral during battle. Kent has even continued past Bolitho's death with a novel focused his nephew Adam, captain of a frigate, who appears throughout the saga.
I've since read C.S. Forester's books on Hornblower and have tried O'Brien's, but the lesser-known Kent outshines all in his fiction. He brings the hardships of the period to life, drawing the reader into the harsh world of the seaman, telling compelling, epic tales of courage.
Throughout Kent's books one finds impressive lessons regarding leadership and commitment to country and one's shipmates. Along with the sea battles, we learn of the press gangs, the in-fighting politics of the Admiralty, ethical dilemmas, the uneasy alliances among nations, and especially the human reaction to an irresistible yet severe life. Bolitho earns the respect and devotion of his sailors and officers through his bravery, fairness, tactical brilliance, and because he chooses to become personally involved in their lives and takes care of his men. Bolitho is not a remote, aloof or harsh leader. He is stern, yet compassionate. He is charming and complicated. On every ship he immediately learns the names and backgrounds of his men, and they find out quickly that he is committed to them. He is also flawed; Kent does not make him out to be a cardboard hero.
The many battle scenes are magnificent and horrible in their depiction of the tactics and awful bloodshed in close engagements. Heated shot, fire ships, risky maneuvering and grappling the sides of enemy ships for hand-to-hand combat mark this kind of war and determine the victor. Sometimes mutinous seaman, brutal weather, or cruel leaders become the enemy as well. Kent has exhaustively, in epic fashion, crafted the minute details of life at sea. In the process he tells compelling stories of the courage and cowardice. The brotherhood of seaman, "we happy few", as they quote the Bard, fight with and for each other. Kent even manages to get on land occasionally, and brings in some romance. But the bulk of the action involves the unique struggles of those in the warships.
In the course of his writing, Kent allows us to also see the American Revolution from a British perspective. Bolitho's brother deserts to the colonists' cause, which brings grief and disgrace to Sir Richard. Kent treats the Revolution as unfortunate and inevitable.
I want to pass on the favor Dan gave me by encouraging you to explore the unique world Alexander Kent has so meticulously and masterfully detailed. You will care about the people in these books, and in each you will find parables of leadership.