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Book Review, NRJ 59.4

November 15, 2014 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Dictionary of British Naval Battles

John D. Grainger

John D. Grainger has presented readers with a thorough and accessible reference source on British naval encounters in his book, Dictionary of British Naval Battles. Focusing on British naval encounters from the Middle Ages through modern day, Grainger offers a new resource for naval historians and those with a casual interest in naval warfare alike. Addressing not only on the major battles of British naval history but on small naval encounters as well, Grainger offers an interpretation of Britain’s naval prowess rarely covered in other accounts. In doing so, Grainger presents the development of a diverse and influential naval force that became the dominant power on the sea throughout much of history.

Grainger’s central objective is to demonstrate the breadth and multiplicity of British naval power throughout British history. Highlighting the widespread influence of Britain across the globe and its use of naval power to obtain this supremacy, Grainger aptly portrays the British navy as an active and disseminated entity almost continuously utilized. Using largely secondary sources, Grainger discusses each naval encounter in a clear and concise manor, detailing the vessels involved and their outfits, in addition to discussing the details of each event.

 Grainger organizes his work by naval vessel and individual battle, allowing him to discuss even small naval encounters largely overlooked in many British naval histories. Grainger begins his work discussing the meaning of the expressions “British”, “naval” and “dictionary”, effectively describing his definitions for the words as they pertain to the topics included in his work. Maintaining that “British” must include any navy under British rule, in one volume, Grainger effectively is able to discuss naval encounters ranging from the northern Irish attack on the Hebrides in 580 AD to Britain’s naval endeavors in the Persian Gulf. Focusing on each naval battle in turn, Grainger maintains a level of detail in each entry that surpasses many other works of the same nature.

 Grainger has produced detailed and well-crafted entries on a wide range of British naval topics, spanning from the medieval period to modern day. While his research is comprehensive, his scope remains very large, which at times can seem overwhelming. Though his general outline takes a logical and systematic approach, the wide range of topics covered has the potential to lose a reader. At times, the chronology of events is lost due to the alphabetical organization of the work, taking away from a more liminal understanding of Britain’s naval history.

Despite this, Grainger clearly addresses his organizational technique in his introduction, and provides readers with additional references at the end of each entry for those interested in learning more about specific topics. Overall, Grainger has produced a well-researched and skillfully written addition to the canon of British naval history. Grainger has developed a valuable source of knowledge on British naval events, effectively producing an important reference source on British vessels, battles, and naval warfare.

  •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 588 pages
  • Maps, glossary, bibliography, index. $90.00

Reviewed by Caitlin Zant, East Carolina University

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