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  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Voyage of The Slave Ship: J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context

    Stephen J. May

    In the preface and introduction of The Voyage of The Slave Ship: J.M.W. Turner’s Masterpiece in Historical Context, Stephen J. May declares his intent to evaluate the background, history, previous reviews and his own opinion of Turner’s painting The Slave Ship. In the following chapters, he does just that, exceeding expectations with a copious amount of detail. He immediately catches the reader in the preface and deftly guides them through the first few chapters with a colorful historical background, setting the scene for the introduction of the painting, Turner, and the major players involved in the fate of the painting.

    May goes on to chronical the life of Turner and the painting. In the evaluation of the creation of the painting, he makes strong, declared postulations based on historical connections between those involved in the abolition movement and Turner. This gives a district life to the painting that would otherwise be missing. However, at times, May makes certain declarative statements without clear evidence or a disclaimer, such as his belief that The Slave Ship portrayed the savage acts aboard the slaver Zong, due to the extensive news coverage of the trail and, therefore, Turner’s enviable knowledge of the tale. Yet, May did not provide any hard evidence that Turner was absolutely aware of the incident or that he was directly influenced by it. While this is a fair conclusion given the facts, it is not certain.

    The discussion of the composition of the painting is sprinkled throughout the book, there is no one chapter dedicated to the content, brushwork or technique. Nor is there any discussion of the painting from a technical standpoint. This does not detract from the book, as May’s intent is not a simple discussion of the artistic qualities of the painting. Rather than throwing around confusing artistic terms, May choses to focus on the painting as a whole, such as how a laymen would see it, making the painting a more accessible experience for the reader.

    May does an exceedingly thorough job of explaining and examining everyone who had any influence on the fate of the paining; some might argue too thorough of an examination in some cases. Occasionally, he provides such an intense level of information about an individual other than Turner it begins to pass from supporting dialog into unneeded information, leaving the reader slightly confused about how the additional biographical facts connect to Turner or the painting. Some trimming of this excess may help streamline the points and connections May is trying to make. However, in many of the examples, the author’s digressions, as lengthy as they are, circle back around to make a point about the painting or Turner, such as in the case of his discussion of the sublime; which at first seems like an over explained idea, but then consistently reemerges throughout the examination of the life and players of the painting.

    Although at times May can delve a little too in-depth for the average reader, overall, he provides an accessible evaluation of the history and life of J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship and those men directly connected to it, that even the most historically or artistically challenged reader can relate to, enjoy, and understand.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2014
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, vii + 206 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786479894

    Reviewed by Michele Panico, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street

    Warren C. Riess with Sheli O. Smith

     In January 1982 a backhoe digging a trench at a New York City construction site uncovered the remains of a buried ship—an old one. The trench, one of four, was part of an archeological survey prior to clearing the site for the foundations of a thirty-story office building in Manhattan’s financial district.           

    It was soon apparent the ship likely dated from the early eighteenth century. It offered insights on a little-understood period of naval architecture. Construction could be delayed for only a short time. Any study or recovery of the ship in situ had to be completed by March 1.

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street, by Warren C. Riess with Sheli O. Smith, tells what happened next. It reveals the story of a month-long sprint to unearth the ship and the decades-long marathon to unlock the secrets of the find.

    The book opens describing the 28-day site dig. Riess relates an urban adventure worthy of an Indiana Jones movie. The excavation took place in February in pre-Giuliani New York City. The archeologists not only had to fight time and February weather, they had to contend with picket lines and gang violence. (Local community activists protested the lack of minority workers at the dig site until they learned the diggers were low-paid archeologists, not high-paid construction workers. A street gang attempted to fire-bomb the ship for reasons still unknown.)

    This is followed by a section describing preservation of artifacts and explains what was chosen for preservation and why. It provides a clear, understandable introduction to the science behind stabilizing fragile timber and artifacts.

    Riess next unravels the identity of the ship uncovered by construction. The chapter reads like a first-rate mystery novel, as Reiss pieces clues together. Evidence as diverse as the design of the ship, the timber used in construction, and even the species of shipworm which attacked the hull provided critical data. Combined with archival research, it allowed a tentative identification of the ship.

    For those most interested in sailing era naval architecture, this is likely the most fascinating chapter. The ship is revealed as a transitional design, a cross between the Dutch fluyte (or flyboat) and British merchant frigate. It was significant find.

    After developing the probable career of the ship, Riess explains how and why this ship ended up buried one-tenth of a mile from Manhattan’s present coast. To do this he examines the history of early eighteenth-century New York City. He takes readers into the commercial life of the city, and introduces them to the individuals who developed the lot in the 1740s and 1750s.

    The Ship that Held Up Wall Street is a delightful book on several levels. In addition to adventure, mystery, and history, Riess introduces touches of comedy and tragedy describing missteps, near-catastrophe, and dropped opportunities occurring in every effort with tight deadlines and many participants.

    The only real disappointment—for model-makers—is a lack of technical detail about the ship’s design and construction. Riess promises that in a second book about the ship, one he is currently preparing. The Ship that Held Up Wall Street will hold model-makers until then.

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014
    • 8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, 112 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, sketch maps, notes, glossary, index. $29.00
    • ISBN: 9781623491888
    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas
  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Gathering Storm: The Naval War in Northern Europe, September 1939-April 1940

    Geirr H. Haarr

    Haar’s book covers the initial naval conflict in the European theater of World War Two. The writing covers important developments prior to the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939. Events relating to submarine, merchant marine, surface navy, and naval aviation are described. The author presents Allied, Axis, and neutral actions during the period. Geographically, attention focuses on the Baltic and North seas. Some global events and expeditions are covered as they relate to events under discussion.

    Several key themes are contained within this book. Contrary to popular opinion, Haar presents the opening months of the war as anything but a ‘phony war.’ The British Royal Navy’s experience is described as a painful rebirth. Finally, the image of Germany’s Kriegsmarine is constantly presented as efficient, if still imperfect.

    Detailed descriptions of important events in the opening months of World War Two help debunk the image of a ‘phony war’ during this time. Extreme detail is provided for the most important occurrences, like the Altmark incident. A great level of detail is provided for more general developments as well. Diaries, war records, correspondence, official reports, and radio logs all help paint an intricate picture of a very active theater of war. As mentioned in Haar’s work, hostilities commenced within hours of war being declared and continued virtually unabated for the entire period under consideration.

    The British Royal Navy experienced a painful and difficult rebirth in the opening months of the Second World War. The Admiralty failed to adjust to new developments like advanced submarines and naval aviation. Warnings about German aggression were not heeded and a rapid mobilization of reserve naval forces took time the British could ill afford to waste. Adjusting to advanced submarine tactics cost the British dearly. Many merchantmen and several warships, including the aircraft carrier Courageous and the battleship Royal Oak, were lost. Increased defenses against aggressive German U-Boat tactics could have prevented this. British submarine actions and naval intelligence left a great deal to be desired. Hard earned lessons were rapidly taken to heart, however, and the British soon worked hard to regain naval supremacy in Northern Europe.

    Germany’s Kriegsmarine was well prepared for war with disciplined and well trained crews and officers. Personnel were proficient and familiar with modern technologies, tactics, and strategies. However, inadequate testing of German naval technologies, most notably submarine torpedoes, resulted in several missed opportunities to further cripple British naval might early in the war. Adolf Hitler’s policy of restricted submarine warfare at the outset of war, however, limited offensive capabilities. If this policy had been lifted, Germany could have crippled British naval might early in the war.

    Haar presents a balanced and well researched picture of the opening months of the naval conflict during World War Two. He presents convincing arguments without bias. A vast collection of photographs and other archival material help complete the image Haar creates. Information in the appendices is thoroughly researched and supports Haar’s arguments. All though a great deal of detail is presented, Haar does not lose site of the larger argument and constantly references back to his key arguments.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, x + 550 pages
    • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $52.95
    • ISBN: 9781591143314

    Reviewed by Ivor R. Mollema, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The US Navy and the War in Europe

    Robert S. Stern

    Robert C. Stern endeavors to bring attention to the efforts of the Atlantic campaigns of the United States Navy during World War Two in the book, The US Navy and the War in Europe. Believed to be overshadowed by the grand naval battles of the Pacific, Stern describes the efforts of thousands of ordinary men working in the Atlantic to ultimately achieve victory over Nazi Germany. Stern details the importance of the United States Navy to overcome vast shortages of resources in the Atlantic, as well as manage an allied partnership that was often strained, to achieve victory in Europe. These accomplishments, although often perceived by many as not being as renowned as those in the Pacific, are examples provided by Stern as he emphasizes the strategic importance of the United States Navy in the Atlantic to bringing about victory and the end of World War Two.

    The US Navy and the War in Europe is well developed in both research and structure. Stern manages to incorporate a vast array of resources to develop a chronological history of the ever changing role of the United States Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic and the war in Europe. Those unfamiliar with the history of this period will appreciate detailed events and important individuals involved throughout the course of the war, allowing for a broader understanding of the issues as they unfold. Presented information and references are cited throughout, albeit unconventionally, but are clearly identified within a detailed listing of the numerous sources and appendixes, allowing access for further research. Photographs and maps provide a sense of context, assisting the reader to better understand the involvement of the various individuals and vessels fighting in this theater.

    Stern has provided a quality resource for a general understanding of the United States Navy and its involvement in the Atlantic during World War Two. Although the resources are vast, the information presented sometimes leaves the reader wanting more. At times, certain events are detailed much more in depth than others, for example, when detailing the early struggles of the Navy to acquire vessels following the attack on Pearl Harbor. This aspect separates Stern’s work from being a general history of United States Naval involvement in the Atlantic from truly presenting and differentiating this war from that of the war in the Pacific. Stern’s goal was to amplify the discussion of the work of the United States Navy in the European theater, but it ultimately fails to meet this mark. Stern detracts from his intentions by not expanding upon available information and not capitalizing on the opportunity to present the incredible effort expended by so many that was necessary to turn the tide against Germany. Even so, Stern has still put together a very well researched and resourced historical piece that should appeal to general readers interested in the naval war in Europe.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 306 pages
    • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $55.95
    • ISBN: 9781591148968

    Reviewed by William S. Sassorossi, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Ships of Scapa Flow

    Campbell McCutcheon

    There are special places in the world that, due to the very nature of their geography, have stood witness to some of the most significant events in human history. Scapa Flow, nestled in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, is just such a place. As a natural deep-water harbor bounded by islands and strategically located at the entrance to the North Sea, Scapa Flow lends itself well to the historical roles it has played as an important naval base in both world wars and throughout the twentieth century.

    In The Ships of Scapa Flow, author Campbell McCutcheon employs historic photographs and postcards to take the reader on a visual tour of this special place in the North Atlantic. Through nearly 150 sepia-toned images, dozens of twentieth century vessels come to life, as do the hundreds of sailors who manned them.

    McCutcheon loosely follows chronological order as he examines and explains the situations that brought both German and British ships to Scapa. Whether disastrously sunk, deliberately scuttled, or diligently salvaged, the stories of these vessels shed light on a complex time in twentieth century naval history. Through well-chosen images and fairly thorough captions, McCutcheon details some of the major actions that define Scapa: the disastrous loss of the 804 men aboard HMS Vanguard, the legendary phantom fleets of World War I, and the vital salvage operations that continue today.

    McCutcheon does allude to Scapa Flow’s current status as a world-class diving destination; however, visual aids and input from the diving community is entirely absent and would have fleshed out a more complete character of Scapa Flow, not to mention improving the book as a resource for divers. Underwater imagery would have also strengthened and enhanced what is the beginning of an interesting study of the entire life of a ship. But even without such visuals, McCutcheon has offered some insight into the different scenarios that await modern vessels at the end of their primary service. The Ships of Scapa Flow demonstrates the ingenuity that humans are capable of when it comes to salvaging vessels in the cold, dark waters of Scapa Flow.

    Lacking an index, readers of The Ships of Scapa Flow can expect to refer back and forth in the text to keep up with the different ships’ accounts. A simple table, list, or timeline would have been welcome, particularly with the number of ships reviewed. And, although McCutcheon does credit postcard photographers throughout, the lack of a bibliography is a bit disappointing and limits (not eliminates) the book’s usefulness as a resource for researchers of Scapa Flow.

    Overall, The Ships of Scapa Flow is a good collection of compelling and historic photographs, augmented by brief narratives that tell some of the most interesting and unique histories of the area. Not a stand-alone resource, the book rather serves as an excellent introduction to the area’s rich maritime seascape.

    • Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, softcover, 96 pages
    • Extensive photographs. $22.95
    • ISBN: 9781445633862
    • Distributed in the United States by Casemate Publishers, Havertown, Pennsylvania

    Reviewed by Stephanie Gandulla, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary


  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Royal Australian Navy in Vietnam 1965-1972

    John R. Carroll

    John Carroll’s volume on the Royal Australian Navy’s support of Australian troops in Vietnam is welcome as a study of seaborne logistics—an area too frequently neglected for the tracers and blood that fascinates most readers. The author, a naval veteran of the conflict himself, traces the Royal Australian Navy from its initial commitment in 1965 to the last voyages home in March 1972. At the heart of his narrative lies HMAS Sydney, a Majestic-class carrier modified to serve as a troop transport, and her frequent escorts: the light carrier Melbourne and half-a-dozen destroyers and frigates.

    An appendix, with line drawings for each vessel, describes the ships, names their captains, and lists the deployments in which each vessel participated. Numerous photographs, many snapped by crew during their tours, enliven the pages. Several good quality maps support the narrative, as do three additional appendices. The bulk of the narrative builds upon frequent primary source quotations that often illustrate the potential danger, especially while unloading in ports, offered by underwater sappers, shore to river ambushes, and mines. Carroll stresses the difficulty of maintaining both security and alertness, insisting (quite correctly) that, even though the Royal Australian Navy avoided damage or losses, it did operate in a most dangerous environment.

    Carroll concludes with lengthy examinations of two issues that outlasted the war itself: herbicide exposure (the Agent Orange issue in the United States) and the Australian government’s refusal to allow benefits and entitlements to the crews involved in the Royal Australian Navy sealift. The struggle by veterans to achieve fiscal recognition is worth the study, especially in comparison to similar incidents in American history.

    Books dealing with seaborne logistics are in short supply, especially as related to long campaigns or wars. With Australia’s small commitment to Vietnam (relative to that of the United States, at any rate), Carroll managed to offer a rather complete examination of naval logistical operations. This makes Out of Sight, Out of Mind well worth perusing by those scholars of the maritime world who recall the old saw that amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics.

    • Doral Center: Rosenberg Publishing, 2013
    • 8-1/4” x 11-1/4”, softcover, 216 pages
    • Photographs, diagrams, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9781922013491
    • Distributed in the United States by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, Oregon
    Reviewed by Wade G. Dudley, East Carolina University
  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    East Anglia and its North Sea World in the Middle Ages

    Edited by David Bates and Robert Liddiard

    For much of the Middle Ages, England was not yet unified. Instead, it was made up of several smaller kingdoms, one of which was East Anglia, now made up of Norfolk and Suffolk counties. East Anglia, unlike the rest of its English neighbors, had strong connections and cultural ties to other kingdoms along the North Sea, making it part of the North Sea world. In this book, editors Bates and Liddiard not only explore East Anglia in particular, but also successfully introduce how the North Sea can be studied in much the same way as the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds.

    The book is based off papers from the 2010 East Anglia and the North Sea World Conference. The goal of the conference was to establish that the North Sea world, including the Baltic Sea to the east, could be studied using a similar model to studies from the Mediterranean and Atlantic Worlds. Northern Europe differed greatly from southern Europe in character and identity. Thus, studies specific to the Mediterranean world give no particular insight into the world of northern Europe. As Atlantic world studies continue, their focus is geared toward colonial and post-colonial effects in Europe, West Africa, and the Americas.

    This book introduces the North Sea as having a separate regional identity from the rest of Europe. Using the Annales approach, the editors examine how East Anglia fits in and represents the broader regional context. The chapters of the book offer an interdisciplinary look at East Anglia. Though history and archaeology are represented more than others, the fields of geography, art history, and architectural history are also represented. The book is divided into three parts which deal with overviews of East Anglia in the North Sea world, trade and economy, and cultural influences and links, respectively. From brooches and burials to churches and manuscripts, the chapters offer detailed and persuasive arguments, taking the micro to the macro and showing the connections East Anglia had to a broader North Sea character and identity.

    One large weakness the book suffers from is the lack of a general or political map of East Anglia. The maps that are present are chapter specific and, without any prior knowledge of East Anglia, readers can quickly become mired in the place names. Perhaps the largest weakness of the book is that the editors assume the reader already has some knowledge of northern European and East Anglian history during the Middle Ages. Thus, readers who are new students to the subject will find this text more confusing than helpful. For researchers and knowledgeable students, however, the book offers a wealth of cases studies specific to East Anglia.

    The book represents an interesting model of looking at East Anglia and the North Sea world, despite gaps in the early documentary and archaeological records. Researchers and students can hope that more studies like this will be published in the future, to further examine how the North Sea had its own identity and how East Anglia may have influenced other kingdoms in northern Europe.

    • Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2013
    • 7” x 10”, hardcover, xi + 349 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, index. $99.00
    • ISBN: 9781843838463

    Reviewed by Adam K. Parker, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918

    Shawn T. Grimes

    Shawn T. Grimes’ Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918 examines previous historical attempts to study the Royal Navy’s development from 1887 to 1918, finding that many have neglected Great Britain’s strategic policy in the pre-war period. Grimes’ research reveals that previous Admiralty studies have focused mainly on the work of Admiral of the Fleet, Lord John A. Fisher, the man credited with initiating and overseeing the modern transformation of the Service as First Sea Lord prior to and during World War I. Grimes also illustrates that the focus of previous studies has been on the British rivalry with the Dual Alliance and the events of World War I, diminishing the Navy’s strategic transformation and technological evolution from the 1887 establishment of the Naval Intelligence Department up to Admiral Fisher’s appointment in 1904.

    Grimes extensively examines the Royal Navy’s evolution through multiple stages of strategic planning, illustrating that a visible transformation occurred from 1887, with the creation of the Naval Intelligence Department, to the end of World War I. He demonstrates that the Admiralty never neglected to examine the strategic, technological, and diplomatic conditions relevant to Great Britain’s naval design plans. Grimes confirms that the offensive planning trend, which began at the height of the Dual Alliance rivalry, played a key role in the overall development of British strategy. His research reveals that the Naval Intelligence Department took the lead in these plans, and that it is clear that Britain’s plans for waging a naval war were far from unorganized.

    In spite of prior criticism by historians of Britain’s ability to develop these plans, Grimes demonstrates that the accomplishments of Admiral Fisher and others associated with the Royal Navy’s strategic development are proof that for thirty years Britain’s war planning was legitimate and innovative; their leaders well aware of the potential of their sea defenses in the protection of Great Britain. In order to assess the quality and relevance of the Navy’s operational plans, Grimes evaluates the technological advances in ship design and strategy and the extensive testing that was carried out to authenticate the usefulness of new naval technology in a potential war with Germany. He argues that between 1905 and 1909, the original strategies that developed did not neglect strategic, diplomatic, technological, and operational realities, and in fact implemented naval maneuvers and exercises to test and evaluate new and developing strategies.

    Grimes’ examination of the inter-relationship between war plans and maneuvers in the British Navy reveals that the Admiralty recognized the importance of strategic operational planning under the direction of intellectual strategist George Ballard and Admiral Fisher in the 1887-1918 period. The Naval Intelligence Division, the Admiralty, and Admiral Fisher’s development of a strategic policy involved a unique strategy. This began with a planning trend initiated post-1888, saw construction in the late 1890s, and evolved in the event of a possible war with Germany in 1902. Grimes’ research demonstrates that this plan was strategically in place by 1912, two years earlier than many historians previously thought. As such, this book will appeal to anyone interested in naval or military history, as well as students and scholars of the British Navy.

    • Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 263 pages
    • Maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
    • ISBN: 9781843836988

    Reviewed by Ericha Sappington, University of West Florida

  • 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

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

    America’s Black Sea Fleet: The U.S. Navy Amidst War and Revolution, 1919-1921

    Robert Shenk

    America’s Black Sea Fleet: The U.S. Navy Amidst War and Revolution, 1919- 1923, by Robert Shenk, offers a rare glimpse of the American naval presence in post- World War I Europe and Western Asia. His holistic representation of the events surrounding the fleet’s activities, from relief work to back-door diplomacy, allows readers to immerse themselves fully in this often-overlooked segment of world history. In particular, Shenk succeeds in his goal of presenting an overarching, non-biased view of American-Turkish relations during this time, particularly concerning the Armenian genocides. In such a heated debate, it is a breath of fresh air to see Admiral Bristol represented, not as a singular ideal, but as a man, capable of good deeds even with his shortcomings.

    Shenk has certainly proven himself as an historical researcher. In writing this book, he utilized a variety of public and private source material in his attempt to present a well-rounded interpretation, including diaries, ship logs, correspondence, archival collections, photographs, and more. This enterprising appetite for published and unpublished source material is impressive. In particular, his extensive use of the Mark L. Bristol papers for the good of the overall scholarly argument, rather than as propaganda for a one-sided attack, is certainly commendable. His endnotes allow ease for both the casual reader and the serious historian, as the background information and sources are present, but do not interfere with the general flow of the work.

     Shenk’s organizational scheme, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Though most social histories are thematic, this one tends to jump across years, continents, and ships, with little to no respect for the reader. Additionally, Shenk discusses individual naval movements without giving them an appropriate context in the history of the area, though he states this as one of his goals in the preface. This is true for the end of World War I as well as the immediate after-effects in Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, and particularly post-revolutionary Russia. A more detailed account of the situation, as well as maps to orient the reader, would have been extremely helpful. Both casual readers and naval historians alike might suffer from the lack of historical context. Additionally, the writing was awkward and disjointed in many places. Decisions in word choice, phrasing, and punctuation, should have worked for the storyline, rather than against it. The overuse of parenthetic remarks was particularly frustrating. If the purpose of the endnotes was to allow for readability, Shenk could have also avoided the prolific use of parentheses, most of which he could have worked into the text or relegated to the notes section.

    This book is certainly more than a naval history. While it examines naval officers, operations, and vessels, it also gives a brief insight into the society of post-World War I Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Shenk focuses on individual ships, but also on the basic human condition during this tumultuous era. This work perhaps would have benefitted from more time in the editing process. It stands, however, as a good example of primary source research and is an excellent addition to the subject literature.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xviii + 366 pages
    • Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    •  ISBN: 9781612510538

    Reviewed by Chelsea Freeland, East Carolina University

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.

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