Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nelson: Britannia’s God of War

I bought a book about Horatio Nelson after seeing the HMS Victory in Portsmouth on my way home from France. I have written a review in Amazon, the text of the review is posted below:

I recently visited Portsmouth Historic Naval Dockyard and was fascinated in particular by HMS Victory – Nelson’s flagship. In the dockyard bookshop I bought Andrew Lambert’s Nelson: Britannia’s God of War. This book is described as a “thrilling new appraisal of Horatio Nelson”. I haven’t read any previous books about Nelson, so I can’t vouch for the “new” part of this, but it is definitely a “thrilling” read. Nelson is most famous for the Battle of Trafalgar and the manner in which he died – but there was more to him than Trafalgar.

Lambert expertly describes Nelson’s early life without going into too much detail. The book deliberately avoids going into too much detail about his private life and there is little detail about his wife or mistress other than references to his letters. The book concentrates on Nelson as a navy man – how he lead from the front, was fearless, devoted to his God, and certain of his own abilities. The descriptions of naval battles and Nelson’s activities ashore are well done – again without too much detail to overload readers who are not looking for in-depth descriptions.

There is no doubt that Nelson was (and still is) a hero to many generations of British people. It is very obvious that Nelson is very much a hero to Lambert, who defends him and his actions almost without question. For him, Nelson could do no wrong. Much of the book is taken up with events after Nelson died (page 307 of 446 in the book) and how he has been interpreted since.

One can’t help be inspired by the dedication to duty, leadership qualities, and professionalism of Nelson. Lambert captures the essence of this expertly and leaves the reader with a sense of awe at how one man could be so complete. Had he survived Trafalgar, I’m sure that he could have had a long career in politics like the Duke of Wellington (they once met briefly). There are descriptions of other books written about Nelson and while this is good as a reference point and for analysing the legacy of Nelson – I feel that this is overdone a little. Definitely overdone are the descriptions of paintings and monuments to Nelson – without pictures or drawings in the text, these are mostly meaningless unless you have seen them separately. While some are reproduced in the centre section, others should have been included for the reader unfamiliar with them. Perhaps there were cost reasons for omitting them.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, it does assume that the reader already possesses a lot of knowledge about people and events in Europe during this period of history. There are several duplications (we are told twice about the IRA blowing up the Pillar in Dublin in 1966), and annoying introduction of irrelevant material. For example, the reference on page 332 to Captain Pell having “lost his leg in battle” comes out of the blue – who is Captain Pell, he was not mentioned before or after this section. I suspect sloppy editorial work here.

Overall, a very worthwhile read that makes the reader want to know more about Nelson and the events of the late 18th and early 19th century.

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