Join
Log in

Book Reviews

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   ...   Next >  Last >> 
  • November 20, 2020 12:32 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Heroes of Coastal Command: The RAF’s Maritime War 1939-1945

    Andrew D. Bird

    Andrew Bird’s latest work, Heroes of Coastal Command: The RAF’s Maritime War 1939-1945, is an excellent collection of historical narratives from members of the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command during World War II. Coastal Command’s primary task was the defense of British military interests on the ocean, such as providing protection for the Allied convoys. Bird joined the Army Reserves at the young age of 18, and later the Royal Air Force Reserves. He has presented, written, and acted as a consultant on historical documentaries, and became a member of the Society of Authors in 2003. The book follows the personal stories of different pilots and officers of the Coastal Command. Overall, the book contains nine chapters, with a centralized emphasis on the bravery of these men but does not form a single argument.

    Bird portrays service members such as Commander Jack Davenport, the only pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force to be awarded the George Medal for his heroic rescue of a pilot trapped in a burning aircraft. Another is that of Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross. Trigg’s B-24 Liberator pressed an attack on the German U-468, despite the damage to his aircraft. After dropping its depth charges on the U-boat, the Liberator crashed into the sea with no survivors. Trigg’s Victoria Cross is the only one awarded based strictly on the testimony given by an enemy combatant. Still another story is of Lieutenant Alfred ‘Ken’ Gatward and Sergeant Gilbert ‘George’ Fern. Together, the pair flew a Beaufighter from Thorney Island, east of Portsmouth, England, to Paris. Their mission was to air drop a large French flag over the Arc de Triomphe. They were also to strafe the Ministère de la Marine, and upon flying over it after a successful attack, drop a second French flag before they turned back to England. This was an attempt to boost the morale of the subjugated citizens of Paris. These are just a few examples of the extraordinary actions taken by the men and women of the Royal Air Force described in this book.

    Bird is meticulous with his facts. The book is filled with dialogue and small details that are well collected and researched. However, the chapters can be difficult for the casual reader to follow. Names, places, ranks, and abbreviations were heavily referenced, often with little to no context, making this work less comprehensible to those unfamiliar with history, the Royal Air Force, or British geography. The author is superfluous with details, which causes the overall flow of the historical narrative to be cumbersome. With the limited page count of the book, the author’s inefficient economy of words proves especially detracting.

    The critiques should not amount to a denunciation; quite the contrary. The author’s excellent sources include military documents, unpublished memoirs, private diaries, newspapers, and archival sources. However, the book is not making a historical argument; it is simply communicating a story. Thus, Bird wrote a thoroughly informative narrative of the brave heroes of Coast Command.

    • Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2019
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xii + 277 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781526710697

    Reviewed by Tyler David Mclellan, East Carolina University


  • November 20, 2020 12:31 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Feeding Nelson’s Navy: The true Story of `Food at Sea in the Georgian Era

    Janet Macdonald

    It is good to see that this fine book has been reissued and is again available. The subject is far more interesting than its bare title suggests, and the author Janet Macdonald writes in an engaging and very readable style.

    As she points out, the ‘horror story’ of ships’ crews subsisting usually and continually on just rotten meat and weevilly biscuits cannot have been the accepted norm in the navies of old; a ship’s equipment and its armament were worked exclusively by muscle-power, for which regular intakes of calories for energy were needed as well as physical health. In the navy, food was at least plentiful, nourishing and served regularly, more so than could be said for that available to many categories of workers ashore. The whole story of what the foods were, how they were supplied, how the men and the officers ate, diet in health and sickness and how other navies than the British Royal Navy ate are covered in lively fashion. For any still intrigued to investigate further, an appendix of sea recipes for food and drink closes the book, from ship’s biscuit and salt beef through sea pie and lobscouse to rum punch.

    An immense amount of research has gone into this work and the result is an account that is both entertaining and very informative to all who have an interest in the ships and seafaring of past eras.

    • London: Frontline Books, 2020
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, 224 pages
    • Illustrations, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781848327474

    Reviewed by Roger Marsh, Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland


  • November 20, 2020 12:27 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Undersea Warriors: The Untold History of the Royal Navy’s Secret Service

    Iain Ballantyne

    Most of the Cold War was not fought on terrestrial battlefields between traditional military units. Instead, the decades long conflict was predominantly conducted covertly via highly specialized and technologically advanced forces designed to track, spy, and, if necessary, destroy enemy targets. Arguably, the most advanced and secretive technology deployed during this period was the submarine. In Undersea Warriors: The Untold Story of the Royal Navy’s Secret Service, author Iain Ballantyne unveils a comprehensive narrative that details the development and utilization of the submarine and submarine forces by Britain over the course of the twentieth century and into the present. The work is particularly focused on the Cold War period that witnessed the most intense submarine developments and actions as both East and West consistently attempted to maintain an edge on the other in the struggle for global supremacy.

    Although not a traditional historian, Ballantyne has spent decades as a journalist and author writing about military affairs, particularly those of the Royal Navy. He has personally spent time embedded as a journalist on most types of naval vessels, providing intimate firsthand knowledge that highly informs his work. Ballantyne does his due diligence with the primary and secondary literature, especially in technical matters, but his writing shines the brightest when he describes the drama of high intensity underwater operations. Through personal interviews and access to the journals and diaries of several key figures, Ballantyne ably places the reader directly in the control room during some of the most perilous missions and events, many only recently declassified, experienced by British naval submariners. Most of the narrative focuses directly on these figures; men such as Tim Hale, Rob Forsyth, Doug Littlejohns, and Dan Conley, whose stories traverse the history of British submarine forces from the early days of clunky diesel-powered vessels to the height of advanced nuclear submarine technology. Ballantyne interweaves their personal biographies into a tapestry that highlights not just the larger history of British submarine forces, but the intimate experiences of the commanders and crews of the vessels that daily braved life and limb to fulfill their duties.

    Undersea Warriors does suffer, however, from a writing style that strikes an uncomfortable balance between history and journalism. Ballantyne’s writing often feels disjointed as he jumps clumsily between traditional historical narrative, which is not his strength, and his more vibrant accounts of the personal experiences of his chosen protagonists. Furthermore, while his firsthand knowledge of naval operations provides excellent detail, Ballantyne often seems to assume the reader knows as much as he and utilizes naval jargon and technical language without always providing full context and explanation.

    Despite such issues, Undersea Warriors succeeds in documenting the importance and drama of submarine warfare during the Cold War era. It maintains a comprehensive scope while simultaneously reveling in intimate detail. It should stand as an important reference point for naval scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike for years to come.

    • New York: Pegasus Books, 2019
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xiii + 482 pages
    • Photographs, map, glossary, bibliography, index. $35.00
    • ISBN: 9781643132136

    Reviewed by Eric Walls, East Carolina University


  • November 20, 2020 12:19 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    America’s Anchor: A Naval History of the Delaware River and Bay, Cradle of the United States Navy

    Kennard R. Wiggins, Jr.

    The Delaware River and Bay hold a special place in the formative history of the United States Navy, an important story that has become increasingly eclipsed as we approach the nation’s 250th anniversary. Philadelphia, as the nation’s first political capital, remains firmly fixed in popular and scholarly imagination, thanks to the twin touchstones of the Declaration and Constitution, and it is widely appreciated that Philadelphia was once America’s most populous and prosperous city. But Philadelphia as young America’s leading seaport and commercial center has largely been forgotten, all but divorcing this maritime city from its location along the Delaware River and vital linkage to the Delaware Bay and the open sea. We forget that Philadelphia was once the largest seaport in North America and probably the largest freshwater port in the world, that more than a quarter of the nation’s total exports during the Federal period passed through the city’s wharves. We forget that Philadelphia led the nation in shipbuilding, with more than twice the tonnage of any other shipbuilding center in the United States. And rarely, if ever, do we associate either Philadelphia or the Delaware River with the birthplace of the United States Navy – which holds true even for those of us who live in the area and regularly cross the Commodore Barry Bridge or drive past the looming presence of the once and mighty Philadelphia Navy Yard.

    Restoring Philadelphia’s role as early America’s leading maritime, commercial, and political center gives new meaning to the Delaware River and Bay as “the cradle of the United States Navy.” Kennard Wiggins’ naval history of the Delaware estuary—a basin that flows south from the falls at Trenton and encompasses Cape May on the New Jersey side of the bay and Cape Henlopen on the Delaware side—does that and more. Wiggins brings to life over three hundred years of a surprisingly active history, detailing the important men and ships as well as the shipbuilders and infrastructure that made the Delaware vital to the history of the United States Navy from its beginnings through the end of World War II.

    Wiggins, a retired military officer and author of five regional books on military history, lives in the Delaware Valley and knows his region well. His clear and concise writing style makes for an enjoyable read, and the book includes a vast array of interesting and insightful information about the colorful ships, men, and deeds that contributed to the progress of the United States Navy in both war and peace. The subject matter produces a sprawling story that suffers a bit from lack of seamless continuity, but the author recognizes this weakness at the outside and works to place the individual stories into larger chronological and topical patterns.

    The narrative is generously supported by fascinating and rarely seen maps, charts, drawings, and photographs, all excellently selected by the author. Four appendices provide lists and brief sketches of Delaware Valley Sailor and Marine Medal of Honor Recipients as well as vast numbers of naval vessels built in the city of Wilmington and other Delaware shipyards. The contributions made by these Wilmington shipbuilders, especially the firms of Harlan & Hollingsworth and Pusey & Jones, who led the nation in iron-hulled ship construction through much of the nineteenth century, is a welcomed inclusion and often overlooked feature of the maritime heritage of the Delaware River and Bay.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, vii + 288 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9781476671970

    Reviewed by Samuel Heed, Kalmar Nyckel Foundation


  • August 28, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    1545: Who Sank the Mary Rose?

    Peter Marsden

    There have, to date, been several published volumes focused on the sinking and archaeological excavation of Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s great warship, and a number of them have been helmed by the author of this new publication, Who Sank the Mary Rose?. This text does not fall within the line of technical volumes published by the Mary Rose Trust, but instead provides a more general summary of the history of the service career of the vessel and the final moments on board as reconstructed from the archaeology. The most significant stated goals of the book, however, are to prove that Mary Rose had one more deck than previously thought, which meant the vessel would have been more unstable than previously acknowledged, and that it was actually King Henry VIII who was responsible for the instability that resulted in the loss of the vessel.

    Who Sank the Mary Rose? provides a thorough, and easily accessible historical timeline of the lengthy thirty-plus years of service of the vessel, as well as detailed historical contexts for the shifting political and military situations of the early sixtenth century. For those readers who are not already well-versed in the history of Mary Rose, this book provides a clear overview in a handful of chronological chapters. The first half of the book is taken up by this historical overview, which for some readers might feel overburdened with details that do not contribute to the overall narrative of the sinking of the vessel, however the clear organization of the chapters into distinct historical periods make it easy for the reader to focus their attention on the desired information.\

    While Who Sank the Mary Rose? provides a detailed historical context and an archaeological summary, it is a text that is more suited to a lay audience than an archaeological professional searching for technical explanations of the theories proposed by Marsden. The author does summarize his arguments for proposing an additional deck for the vessel, but some of the supporting pieces of information for these arguments seem to be glossed over, and not given the space for the technical detail that would invite archaeological discussion, and only two appendices are included: the dimensions of the masts and spars (with no discussion of the source of the ratios that produced them), and a catalog of the skeletal remains.

    The overall conclusion of the book, that Henry VIII was ultimately responsible for the sinking of Mary Rose, feels at times like a grasp for sensationalism, tenuously connected with the rest of the narrative of the vessel. The myth of the meddling king is always a popular one, demonstrated by the specter of King Gustavus Adolphus haunting the doomed warship Vasa in many retellings of the history of that particular vessel. However, taking into account the service history of Mary Rose, and the realities regarding vessel stability (including the scientific understanding of vessel stability of the period), it is difficult to buy into the idea that the blame for the sinking of Mary Rose really does unequivocally lie at the feet of the English monarch.

    Who Sank the Mary Rose? is an excellent summary, and entertaining read, for those who wish a manageable dive into such a complex subject. With a lack of jargon, and a clear narrative, it presents a compelling tale for the lay audience interested in the great warship of one of the most famous Tudor monarchs. 

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2019
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 304 pages
    • Illustrations, drawings, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781526749352

    Reviewed by Annaliese Dempsey, Texas A&M University

  • August 28, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Arctic Mirage: The 1913-1920 Expedition in Search of Crocker Land

    Winton U. Solberg

    On explorer Robert Peary’s 1906 expedition, he looked out over the Arctic icescape and thought he discerned a large landmass to his northwest, one which he called Crocker Land after a major donor to his expedition. On his return and the publicization of his findings, the question of Crocker Land’s existence became an urgent one in Arctic-minded circles. 

    Winton Solberg’s Arctic Mirage covers the entire arc of the expedition sent to discover the reality or unreality of Crocker Land. This covers not just the difficulties and dangers of the expedition itself, but the work it took to get it together, the journeys out and home, and the aftermath. The attention paid to the institutional politics behind the voyage is one of the book’s valuable resources, showing not just the small-scale intergroup dynamics that shape the character and content of such an effort, but the larger-scale flows of money and prestige that bring it into existence in this particular form and shape how and by who it will be remembered afterward. One of the last chapters of the book, for instance, goes into detail about the troubled publication history of expedition leader Donald MacMillan’s geographical report—it was not published by the American Museum of Natural History until 1930, long after other expedition members (including MacMillan) had published narratives of their experience. Readers interested in the ecology of the polar regions will also be drawn in by extensive descriptions of polar flora and fauna, and how they were charted and described by members of the expedition.

    What the book lacks at times is a certain degree of critical or analytical distance from its source material, so that at times the reader is jerked back and forth between different attitudes toward the people involved with little authorial guidance. On page 138, for instance, American Museum of Natural History curator of geology Edmund Hovey is “a tactless, impolite person” and on page 139 he is a “poor old man,” with no clear distance or distinction between whose points of view these are. This juxtaposition of perspective could be quite interesting, but it is not fully made explicit or analyzed and thus is often confusing.

    Where this tendency becomes especially unfortunate is in the description of the Inuit. Solberg seems to take the Americans’ characterizations of them as fact, so in his prose they retain the “childlike” qualities attributed to them by the explorers. In Solberg’s own prose they are hysterical, sulky, superstitious; the Americans have to learn their “tricks” (p. 43). No attempt is made to move far beyond this framing, and later in the book expedition member Elmer Ekblaw’s screed on the racial characteristics of the “Polar Inuit” is paraphrased in long stretches as if it were pure fact. To his credit, though, Solberg treats expedition member Fitzhugh Green’s murder of accomplished Arctic guide Peeahwahto (Piugaattoq) with full seriousness, devoting an entire chapter to it, though it might perhaps be wished for this incident to be connected back to the meat of the expedition and the knowledge it attempted to produce.

    On the whole, this is an in-depth and interesting narrative of the expedition in search of an unreal place, one which should however be read with a skeptical eye.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 255 pages
    • Photographs, map, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00
    • ISBN: 9781476638096

    Reviewed by Brooke Grasberger, Brown University

  • August 28, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Preserving Maritime America: A Cultural History of the Nation’s Great Maritime Museums

    James M. Lindgren

    The origins of both United States ship preservation and maritime museums stem from the need to understand America’s symbiotic role within maritime history. Since its founding, the United States has heavily relied on the high seas, but Americans are often unaware of their impact on maritime history. Many notable global powers, such as Britain, Netherlands and other countries, have long-established national maritime museums to preserve and cultivate their seafaring traditions, while America’s maritime past has been defined by local and regional private institutions. In this unprecedented cultural history, Preserving Maritime America: A Cultural History of the Nation’s Great Maritime Museums, James M. Lindgren examines America’s rise in the nineteenth-century as a commercial power, the decline of its flagged fleet during the twentieth-century, and how museums have played a vital role in telling the story of America’s interaction with the sea. He does this by exploring six maritime museums that pioneered the way Americans experience and engage with their maritime past, which include Salem’s East India Marine Society, New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mystic’s Marine Historical Society, San Francisco Maritime Museum, New York’s South Street Seaport Museum, and the Mariner’s Museum of Newport News.

    There is much to admire in this book. If Lindgren makes one thing clear, it is that there is a need to preserve America’s maritime culture and broaden global awareness, and there has been no shortage of efforts from these six iconic institutions. With varying founding agendas, from cultural preservation, local economic redevelopment, or assertion of overseas power, these six case studies displayed the complexities, promises, and pitfalls of preserving maritime America. The future of these museums came into question when faced with conflicting policymaking, chronic financial shortfalls, and the general public’s underappreciation of the nation’s formative interrelationship with the sea. They had to reevaluate and assess the missions of their institutions. Should they revolve around people, artifacts, research, the environment, social issues, economic development, community building, or a blend of these choices? Each chapter provides an in-depth view of how its respective institution handled the wavering seas and shifted their course to remain relevant. Not holding back on the unvarnished stories, Lindgren created six forceful dramas peppered with behind-the-scenes accounts coupled with descriptions of bureaucratic maneuverings. The level of research is comprehensive and impressive, providing impeccable insight for further maritime preservation efforts. By portraying the debates, conflicts, and intentions that shaped these museums, Lindgren leaves the reader with a sense of how precious these preservation efforts are for understanding America’s maritime past. These museums are fortunate to profit from Lindgren’s scholarly endeavors, in that this book will have a profound impact on the communities that these museums serve.

    For many reasons, Preserving Maritime America serves as the important link between an interested, but often unknowledgeable, public and professionally trained historians and curators about what it means to be a maritime nation, the importance of preservation, and the role museums play in bridging this divide.

    • Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2019
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, xi + 341 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, index. $28.95
    • ISBN: 9781625344632

    Reviewed by Kristin Jøsvoll, Texas A&M University at Galveston

  • August 28, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Sailing Under John Paul Jones: The Memoir of Continental Navy Midshipman Nathaniel Fanning, 1778-1783

    Edited by Louis Arthur Norton


    Nathaniel Fanning's memoir, masterfully edited by Louis Arthur Norton, recounts the adventures of Nathaniel Fanning. Fanning followed a unique journey by first becoming a privateer and then serving as a midshipman in the Continental Navy. After sailing under John Paul Jones on Bonhomme Richard, Fanning commanded privateer vessels out of French ports and served for a short time as an officer in the French navy. His story includes descriptions of shipboard life, Bonhomme Richard’s battle with HMS Serapis, conditions in the British prisoner of war camps, and French society during and after the American Revolution.

    At the beginning of the book, Norton provides biographical information about Nathaniel Fanning and his family during the Revolution. He provides context about Fanning's upbringing and background. The text begins with the birth of Nathaniel Fanning and then his decision to become a privateer at the age of twenty-three. The chapters then correspond to significant events, including being captured, his time on Bonhomme Richard and its battle with HMS Serapis, the aftermath, Fanning's time as a French privateer, and the aftermath of the Revolutionary War in France. The book also includes illustrations and portraits of battles and people. Fanning also includes a full character sketch of John Paul Jones that describes his personality, his command style, and his character flaws.

    The author does an appreciable job of keeping the text as close to the original as possible while editing it, so it is understandable to the modern reader. The book is easy to read and understand because of the updated language. However, it does expect the reader to have background knowledge of sailing terms, naval history, and the difference between a navy and privateers.

    The book's title focuses on when Nathaniel Fanning was a midshipman on Bonhomme Richard. There are three chapters dedicated to the events before, during, and after the engagement with HMS Serapis. The book also has a detailed overview of the battle from the editor and a biographical sketch of John Paul Jones. While this is a significant event in Fanning's memoirs, there is much more to his story, including his time as a British prisoner of war and a French privateer and naval officer. These recollections provide a broader narrative of the naval war during the American Revolution by describing the life and the war on the European side of the conflict from an American perspective. The book also provides a look into French society a few years before the start of the French Revolution. This description is useful because it shows the radical changes to French society during the Revolution.

    Overall, the book does an excellent job of relating Fanning's memoir in language that is easier to understand while staying true to Fanning's writing. This text is insightful and valuable for readers interested in the eighteenth-century privateer and naval life. Norton does a beautiful job conveying his story to a modern audience while staying true to Fanning's words and writing. With only two hundred pages, it is a quick and edifying read.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019 
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, viii + 171 pages 
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95 
    • ISBN: 9781476679600

    Reviewed by Ryan Miranda, East Carolina University

  • May 18, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Capture of the USS Pueblo: The Incident, the Aftermath and the Motives of North Korea

     James Duermeyer

    For me, as a 33-year intelligence officer. this book was fascinating in its detail and documentation, Commander Duermeyer did a great job of clearing the mist of intelligence and the military argot in the introduction and first chapter. He did an outstanding lay out of the interaction between the Navy and the National Security Agency (NSA). which greatly helped in understanding how and why the capture was carried off without support from our military.

    Fallowing the groundwork explanation of the Intelligence issues, Duermeyer goes into a detailed discussion of leadership and risk assessment. He is very critical of both the Navy and NSA analysis of risk plus the failure of leadership. He is spot on with his comments and assessment from the President on down the chain of command. Despite numerous incursions and continued low intensity conflict perpetrated by North Korea (NOKO). the Navy and NSA continued to rely on the “12-mile” credo and assessed Pueblo’s risk at low. This was true throughout both chains of command. A true failure to face the reality of risk in order to maintain the Republic of Korea (ROK) forces then fighting with the United States in Viet Nam and not open a second front with Korea. Weltpolitik dominated the decision makers thinking.

    Duermeyer does an excellent job of analyzing the reactions of Pueblo’s crew and its captain, Commander Bucher. Also examined are the intelligence community, South Korea, and the Washington arena (White House situation room); all put into the historic context of the Johnson era and Viet Nam, then the reactions of Congress; all well documented. Congressional reaction was predictably hawkish on one side and cautious to the point of inaction on the other side; the result was no real leadership. In summary, President Johnson is rightfully marked as the top decision maker who failed Pueblo and its crew. Of course, Viet Nam was the ten-ton gorilla in the room throughout the eleven-month period of captivity.

    The most interesting and relevant chapter was on why NOKO captured Pueblo. It provides an insight into the issues involved with today’s negotiations with Kim Il-Un. His father, Kim Il-sung, instituted the harsh imposition of juche, a doctrine meaning North Korea must be regarded by the world powers as being equal or superior to them and that North and South Korea had to be reunited under the North’s dictatorship. This doctrine was and is imposed on the mind and souls of all NOKO citizens and those that did not or do not bent to the Greater Good of the country are tortured into submission or executed. Torture was used on the entire crew in the belief that they could be turned to the communist way. The more torture the more the crew turned to God and country; in the end Kim’s propaganda and mistreatment failed. Though NOKO thought they had humbled the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency, they failed. The doctrine of juche is still very much in the mind and actions of Kim Il-un and, therefore, all of the current negotiations need to take this into account. This book is one that I highly recommend to all scholars and political historians.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, x + 199 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781476675404

    Reviewed by Edward E. Quan, Greenwood Village, Colorado

  • May 18, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Man Who Discovered Antarctica: Edward Bransfield Explained

    Sheila Bransfield

    A young Irish sailor pressed into the Royal Navy at the outset of the Napoleonic Wars might not be an expected candidate for achieving exploratory milestones in the service. This is, however, exactly the story that Sheila Bransfield seeks to bring to life in The Man Who Discovered Antarctica, a work which tracks this young man—Edward Bransfield—from the turn of the century Ireland across the seas of the globe, from ship to ship, and into their furthest southern reaches.

    This book belongs to a genre which seeks to restore to the collective memory someone who has dropped out of it, and Bransfield the author is uniquely qualified to do so—she has not just written about him but has also aided in other efforts to restore knowledge of his life, as in her efforts at preserving his grave. The book is bursting with information about the world through which Bransfield the subject moved, making it not just the narrative of an individual but of a life in and through time. This also makes it an interesting read for people with all levels of understanding around nineteenth-century maritime history, as the narrative is not confined just to him and does not assume vast knowledge on the part of the reader.

    The abovementioned strengths of the book—following the trail of an important but also ordinary man through the upheavals of the first half of the nineteenth century—can at times also be its weakness. This is especially apparent in the first few chapters, which write on Bransfield’s early years in the Navy. Bransfield himself disappears from the text at times, subsumed under the actions of captains and commanders. A reading of this period his life as it might have been experienced by Bransfield himself, from the lower deck, might tie the context and the individual more closely. Sometimes contextual information may feel disjointed, as when a single paragraph about the abolition of the slave trade appears in the midst of describing HMS Royal Sovereign’s patrol of Cadiz, and might have been better suited for a note.

    Where The Man who Discovered Antarctica truly picks up strength is around chapter 9 or 10, as Edward Bransfield begins to rise through the ranks of the navy and his life and the contextual information become more securely intertwined. Chapter 19, which covers Bransfield’s journey to the Antarctic aboard the two-masted brig Williams, is particularly rich. On the whole the book is a fast-paced and far-ranging narrative, expansive as the environment and person who together create the narrative. Bransfield the author’s absorption in her source material is apparent in more than just the information presented; at times the text takes on the cadence of a logbook, making the rhythm of seafaring life felt and not just learned through the course of the book.

    Beginning with impressment and closing with his return to England following his Antarctic expedition, Edward Bransfield’s naval career is a fascinating story, and Sheila Bransfield’s book is the definitive treatment of his life.

    •  Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2019
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xviii + 318 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781526752635

    Reviewed by Brooke Grasberger, Brown University

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   4   5   ...   Next >  Last >> 

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.

Title

Listing Type

Filter


Listings

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software