Log in

Log in

Book Reviews

  • February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Home Squadron: The U.S. Navy on the North Atlantic Station

    James C. Rentfrow

    Historians have long dated the rise of the modern United States Navy to the twenty-five years between the 1883 Naval Appropriations Bill that was the genesis of the New Steel Navy and the 1907-1909 cruise of the Great White Fleet. This period witnessed a total transformation of the materiel of the Navy from wooden steam-powered cruising ships with full sail rigs to armored steel battleships and cruisers wholly dependent on their engines for mobility.

    These technical changes were so profound that, to a very great extent, historians have concentrated most of their efforts on researching, analyzing, and describing them as explaining the transition of the United States Navy from a third-rate force to a fleet of the first rank. In Home Squadron, however, Commander Rentfrow makes the case for a far more important transformation within the Navy that occurred simultaneously. The Old Navy was a force whose missions were coast defense, showing the flag around the world, and commerce raiding in wartime. The materiel of the New Navy could fulfil those missions, but creating a world-class force required developing a new operational doctrine of concentrated fleet operations that could contend with the battlefleets of the European powers.

    Rentfrow identifies the great changes in the operational perspectives of the North Atlantic (or Home) Squadron in the years just prior to the Spanish-American War as the foundation for those of the modern fleet. Even though the equipment of the squadron reflected the Navy’s transition from wooden vessels to steel warships, it was not until the late 1880s that even ad hoc concentrations of its units occurred for training and exercises. Then, between 1895 and 1897, the Home Squadron became essentially a permanently unified combat force that developed the foundational operational concepts that underlay American successes in 1898, admittedly against a less well-organized opponent.

    Stephen B. Luce and John G. Walker were the two intellectual luminaries who, more than most, drove this change. Rentfrow’s analysis of the intellectual currents of the time form an essential component of his argument.

    It is surprising that Home Squadron should represent such a transformation of the historiography of the modern United States Navy. Nevertheless, Rentfrow’s book accomplishes this feat. It illuminates the importance of coherent doctrine for military prowess and, as such, is a welcome antidote to the seduction of technological brilliance.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 218 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $54.95
    • ISBN: 9781612514475

    Reviewed by Michael O’Brien, Tampa, Florida

  • February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Shipwrecked In Paradise: Cleopatra’s Barge in Hawai’i

    Paul F. Johnston

    Cleopatra’s Barge was one of the more historically significant ships in American maritime history. Built in 1816, it was the first private seagoing yacht built in North America. In its day, it attracted the type of crowds associated with celebrities when it docked.

    Shipwrecked In Paradise: Cleopatra’s Barge in Hawai’i, by Paul F. Johnston, tells both the story of the ship and of its recovery by marine archaeologists.

    The ship was built for George Crowninshield, Jr., an eccentric Salem, Massachusetts shipping magnate who made a fortune privateering in the War of 1812. He spent some of the money gained during that war to build the then-last word in yachts. He spent a fortune building and outfitting Cleopatra’s Barge, a hermaphrodite brig intended for trans-Atlantic voyaging. He planned many visits to Europe, but died after the first, a trip to the Mediterranean (where he failed to find an Italian princess to wed).

    The heir, his brother, sold the ship to King Liholiho of Hawai’i for 8000 piculs (one million pounds) of sandalwood. It remained the Royal Hawaiian Yacht until 1824, when it wrecked in Hanalei Bay in Kaua’i Island (Liholiho was away on a trip to England). The partially-salvaged wreck eventually settled in the bay’s bottom. Paul Johnston, the curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution, was fascinated by this story. Given an opportunity to examine Cleopatra’s Barge, he took it.

    The first section of the book describes Johnston’s adventures excavating the ship. It provides an inside look at marine archeology. He includes descriptions of the dives, and the less expected (or desired) aspects. Johnston’s description of his quest to obtain excavation permits is amusing reading, but rivalled the travails of Odysseus.

    He then explores the history of the ship itself, telling of its original and subsequent owners, the society in which the ship existed, and the ship’s travels. Johnston provides an entertaining and informative tale. For those interested in maritime history of the early 1800s, this chapter makes the book worth reading.

    The next section examines Cleopatra’s Barge’s structure and equipment. It describes the ship’s appearance, including comparing Johnston’s findings to previous assumptions about the ship. Johnston discusses the materials used to build Cleopatra’s Barge, and develops a probable interior arrangement of the ship. It also covers shipbuilding techniques contemporary to Cleopatra’s Barge’s construction.

    This is followed with a chapter about what was found during the excavation, both modern and nineteenth century. Part of the challenge in an archaeological study is determining what belongs with the wreck studied, and what just drifted into the site. The contemporaneous artifacts aboard the wreck reveal much about life at that time.

    Shipwrecked in Paradise reads like a cross between a travelogue, a history book, and marine archaeology report.  It covers its topic with a thorough completeness, yet is entertaining as well. The illustrations are both attractive and informative. Those interested in ships of the period will find this a worthwhile acquisition. The general reader with find it an entertaining read.

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015
    • 8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, x + 204 pages
    • Illustrations, drawings, diagrams, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781623492830

    Reviewed by Mark N. Lardas, League City, Texas

  • February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Lion in the Bay: The British Invasion of the Chesapeake, 1813-1814

    Stanley L. Quick with Chipp Reid

    Lion in the Bay is the story of the British campaigns in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. In fact and fiction, dozens of authors, in numerous books and articles of varying depth and quality, have turned their pens to the raids of 1813 and 1814. Published posthumously, Stanley L. Quick’s Lion in the Bay, edited and completed for publication by Chipp Reid, deserves a spot at the top of the list of those publications. Built on a thorough examination of primary sources, the volume captures the desperation of the struggles at the level of the individuals involved. From leading civilian administrators, admirals, and captains to militiamen, sailors, and slaves, action frequently leaps from the pages.

    Writing of a time when supposedly civilized men often settled their differences with pistol or blade on the dueling grounds, the author captures the internal bickering common to American and British alike. Quick also notes the dangers of command from afar (a relatively short distance before telegraph, telephone, and computer), especially in regards to the American defense of the Bay and the British decisions to focus efforts therein. Coupled with inexperience in the art of war, political decisions guaranteed that Commodore Joshua Barney’s zealous attempt to delay and defeat elements of the Royal Navy would founder. As to the British assaults, they gained little for their war effort other than provisions for the fleet, loot for the officers, and graves for too many loyal sons of the Crown.

    One of the most interesting aspects of Lion in the Bay is its coverage of British dealings with escaped slaves in the region. As a source of information alone, succoring escaped slaves proved its worth time after time. Eventually, British commanders organized some 250 former slaves into the Colonial Marine Regiment. Distrusted at first, the men of the regiment soon proved their value as scouts and hard fighters. Unfortunately, the eventual fate of the regiment is not covered.

    That missing bit of information is indicative of the one weakness of the volume: it was completed by hands other than those of the man who researched, planned, and organized the book. This should take nothing away from Chipp Reid, an excellent author in his own right (Intrepid Sailors: The Legacy of Preble's Boys and the Tripoli Campaign); however, the book ends rather abruptly with the final skirmish and sailing of the last British ships. The conclusions that Stanley Quick may have reached are lost to eternity. On the other hand, Quick’s research and original writing has been preserved, much in digital form, by the Maryland State Archives for those interested in the unedited version.

    This book is highly recommended to those interested in the War of 1812. Its “side story,” captured in the prefatory pages, is as fascinating as the chapters within. Certainly, it is a most fitting memorial to Stanley L. Quick.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 266 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781612512365

    Reviewed by Wade G. Dudley, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Innocent on the Bounty: The Court-Martial and Pardon of Midshipman Peter Heywood, in Letters

    Edited by Donald A. Maxton and Rolf E. Du Rietz

    Maxton and Du Rietz’s work is an edited compilation of letters and poems corresponded between Peter Heywood, a midshipman whose first voyage took him aboard the infamous Bounty, and his sister Hester “Nessy” Heywood, who fought tirelessly to vindicate her younger brother’s conviction of mutiny.

    In the introduction, the authors carefully relate the Manxmen’s common roots and association, and a summary of the mutiny and aftermath, including the account of Heywood’s actions during and after the mutiny. The crux of the conflict lay between acting lieutenant and second-in-command Fletcher Christian and the notorious William Blight. Bligh’s disrespect for the high-born Christian ultimately led to the mutiny in April 1789, where Heywood was reportedly forced below and unable to leave with Bligh and his loyal crew members. While the mutineers and Heywood took refuge at Tahiti, Bligh managed to return to England, despite the trials of a 4,000-mile voyage. Bligh, apparently never informed of Heywood and his shipmate Stewart’s intention to depart with the captain, considered Heywood as cooperating with the leader of the mutiny, Christian.

    At 230 pages, the book is divided into seven parts. Following the introduction that provides the context for the rest of the book is a textual postscript accounting the initial organization of private letters and poems that form the basis of the book. These are presented in two parts, the first being the correspondence, the second the poems. These are followed by three appendices that address additional correspondence on Heywood’s status, a list of dramatis persona, and an account of Heywood’s naval career.

    The argument for Heywood’s innocence is smartly supported by the incomplete collection of letters and poems exchanged between Peter Heywood and his sister Nessy. The reader might take issue with the potential bias of a collection of letters first organized by an “anonymous editor” after Nessy’s death in 1793. Heywood’s insistence of innocence and Nessy’s dogged support for her brother still prove convincing.

    That said, the book remains an impressive collection of primary documents recounting the infamous mutiny and Peter and Nessy’s close relationship. It also illustrates the close-knit nature of serving as an officer in the Royal Navy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Bligh, Christian, and Heywood all hailed from the Isle of Man. Heywood was nephew to Commodore Thomas Palsey (married to Nessy and Peter’s aunt Mary Heywood)—the list of connections is quite extensive. It also harkens to the much more deliberate and intimate style of eighteenth-century correspondence and composition. Granted, a midshipman imprisoned for mutiny would have even more time on his hands to compose poetry and write letters than the average sailor, yet it is a sharp contrast to the microsecond pace of twenty-first-century communication. Well worth a read for any fan of maritime history, eighteenth-century primary documents or poetry, and, of course, anyone interested in the infamous events that inspired both a novel and an Academy Award winning movie.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, 250 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9780786472666

    Reviewed by Daniel M. Brown, University of South Carolina

  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Vinyard Shipbuilding Company: Delaware’s Only Surviving Historic Shipyard

    Joan W. Lofland

    The Vinyard Shipbuilding Company is a remarkable survivor. The restored yard still contains the original boat shed, machine shop, woodworking building, sail loft, and railways from the 1920s, and its present owners have preserved and restored three motor yachts built there, including both the first of the type (Augusta, built in 1927) and the last (Vignette, built in 1951).

    There is a considerable body of academic work relating the story of the yard.

    This book, by one of its current owners, is primarily a photographic story of the yard, illustrating its history from 1896 to the present. The sheer quantity of images she has managed to assemble is astonishing, and we also can be grateful that the quality of reproduction is commensurate.

    During the yards earlier years, its products were what one might expect for a small operation: ferries, tugboats, small traders, and military light craft (submarine chasers and Coast Guard patrol boats). From the late 1920s the business’s primary products were recreational watercraft (and more sub chasers during World War II). All receive due attention, though there is a notable preponderance of yacht images, probably because such craft attracted more contemporary attention.

    For detailed examination of the yard’s history, readers should turn to the various more academic studies. Anyone interested in the beautiful motor yachts of the 1920-1950 era will find this book a delight.

    • Milford, Delaware: The Author, 2015
    • 12-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, ix + 198 pages
    • Photographs, maps, sources. $45.00

    Reviewed by David McCann, Dover, Delaware

  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Bibliographie zur Gesicht der Navigation in deutscher Sprache

    Wolfgang Köberer

    Bibliographie zur Gesicht der Navigation in deutscher Sprache is a very valuable tool for any researcher into the art of navigation, both historically and at present. The fact that it documents only German sources does not diminish its value because its coverage is so wide.

    The study divides itself into two sections. The first is a detailed bibliography of books on navigation published in German up to 1800. There are about twenty-five such works (plus several that appear in multiple editions). The most intriguing fact that emerges from this list is that most of the books were of Dutch origin, a further testament to the vast influence of the Netherlands on shipping in the period.

    The second section documents secondary sources published in German that discuss the whole gamut of navigation and its history in the broadest possible sense. The bibliography encompasses both books and articles published from the late nineteenth century to recent years. It is organized topically, so there are descriptions of material covering the western tradition of navigation, practices in other parts of the world, charts, and navigational instruments. In all there are close to 3,400 citations. Köberer’s Bibliographie zur Gesicht der Navigation in deutscher Sprache is far from being the most exciting of reading. Nevertheless, it will be very useful, even to non-German speakers, because of the breadth of its coverage and the detail it provides for accessing the sources.

    •  Bremerhaven: Oceanum Verlag, 2011
    • 8-1/4” x 10-3/4”, hardcover, xii + 297 pages
    • Illustrations, bibliography. €49.90
    • ISBN: 9783869270074

    Reviewed by Harold G. Unwin, Chicago, Illinois


  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Ships of Howaldt and HDM, Volume 1: New and Converted Vessels Built by Kieler Howaldtswerke AG between 1945 and 1967

    Hans H. Meyer

    Howaldtswerke in Kiel is one of the oldest German shipyards building iron and steel vessels; its first commercial ship was constructed in 1865 although the company had operated from 1838 as a manufacturer of steam engines and boilers. It also has the distinction of having built the first German submarine (Brandtaucher) in 1850, and is still in this business today.

    This first volume devoted to Howaldt ships covers the company’s “golden” post-World War II years, when it was among the most productive of German shipbuilding enterprises. Between the end of the war and 1967 (when the company merged with Deutsche Werft AG of Hamburg) the Kiel yard built almost 300 new ships and undertook around 100 more major conversion projects. Meyer’s book details them all.

    The first part of the book, which covers the history of the yard during this period, is presented in both German and English. The rest of the book is in German exclusively, but, thanks to extensive use of tabulation (for which there are translations into English of headings and technical terminology), most readers with minimal knowledge of the language should be able to understand much of the information presented.

    Meyer presents a potted biography of every ship built or converted during this period—the use of tabular data, in fact, makes these very comprehensive. Most of the biographies also benefit from photographic coverage. These ship descriptions are arranged by date order, but there is a comprehensive index of ship names, which enables one to quickly locate any particular vessel’s biography.

    During this period, Howaldtswerke delivered some quite notable vessels. Among the early conversions were several for the whaling industry, both factory ships (from tankers) and catchers (from surplus British corvettes—themselves built to a design derived from a pre-war whale catcher). Possibly the most famous of its conversions was Aristotle Onassis’s yacht Christina, which started life as a Canadian River class frigate. Significant new construction types included a large series of tankers, many for Onassis, and the first new U-boats for the Federal German Navy.

    The final section of the book presents a large number of 1:1250 scale side views (all drawn by the author) of many of the yard’s products, both new builds and conversions. These are organized by type, and also are accessible via the index of ship names.

    This first volume of The Ships of Howaldt and HDM is an absolute trove of information for researchers and shipping enthusiasts, covering an important period in the history of one of the most significant German shipyards. It is highly recommended.

    •  Bremerhaven: Oceanum Verlag, 2013
    • 8-1/2” x 10-1/2”, hardcover, 446 pages
    • Photographs, diagrams, maps, tables, bibliography, index of ships. €49.90
    • ISBN: 9783869270715

    Reviewed by Paul E. Fontenoy, North Carolina Maritime Museum

  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    World War II U.S. Navy Vessels in Private Hands

    Greg H. Williams

    This is not a book that you will read by the fireside one dark and stormy night, seeking excitement and nautical entertainment. Rather, what you will find within the paper covers is an exhaustive list of United States Navy ships and boats in private (nongovernment) hands. As such, this is an encyclopedic reference that you’ll keep on the shelf for reference whenever you need information on a particular vessel. The author served four years in the U.S. Navy, several of them at sea, and was one of twenty-seven volunteers who sailed the Liberty ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien from San Francisco to Europe for the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day Normandy Invasion. He thus brings the requisite interest and background to this important work. The list of vessels run from minesweepers, coastal transports, ocean-going tugs, the many and varied types of landing craft and ships, vessels with names, vessels with only numbers, PT boats, submarine chasers, and many others. Each vessel has a “biography” that includes the builder, date of build, date of commission, the various registered owners, the current location if known, and the Official Number specific to each vessel.

    The book is printed on average quality stock, has a soft cover, and contains only two photographs, both black & white: one on the cover and one on the frontispiece. The price seems high, but it appears you are paying for the author’s extensive research rather than the quality of the book. If this is the type of reference you’ve been waiting for, then it comes recommended.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, 358 pages
    • Illustrations, glossary, index. $55.00
    • ISBN: 9780786466450

    Reviewed by Robert N. Steinbrunn, Stillwater, Minnesota


  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail: Races and Rivalries on the Nineteenth Century High Seas

    Sam Jefferson

    The title and the last two paragraphs of Chapter One advise that this book focuses on captains and is a selection of true fo’c’sle stories. The stories are illustrated with a remarkable collection of old and new art and photographs which depict the clipper ship era magnificently reproduced in color, and dominate the book. The production and manufacture of the book is to a very high standard. 

    The author, who concentrated solely on the prose and pictures, left the book devoid of any technical detail regarding the development, design, and construction of clipper ships; with the only exception being a brief outline in the first chapter. Rainbow was born from more radical Baltimore clipper designs, with no mention of e Ann McKim; the topsail and the topgallant are depicted as whole and then split; and the ships progress from wood to composite to iron, with no explanation within the book for these developments. The book focuses on the tales of the times and the art depicting the era. Not enough technical detail could be included to satisfy the typical Journal reader without detracting from the real focus of the book.

    The readers are the beneficiaries of a professional writer’s passions for the sea and clipper ships. Jefferson’s Clipper Ships is excellent story telling. The sea, ships, and crew are hard task masters, but for the right personalities, glory is to be found. However, with the loss of vigilance and the accession of untempered arrogance, failure, disaster, and death await. Concentrating on the lives of clipper captains, the author provides several of their biographies, some of whom are doomed to ultimate failure while others gracefully leave the sea or remain upon it. The book includes some of the voyages of all of the great clippers of America and Britain which begin with the necessity for speed to reach California through the domination of speed from China to London during the tea races in the 1860s.

    Jefferson really hits his stride in the telling of the Great China Tea Race of 1866 (Chapter Six) and the incredible passage of Sir Lancelot in 1869 (Chapter Seven). He succeeds in placing one on the deck of a great ship and wonderfully conveys the excitement and the anxiety of an event. For a writer of non-fiction, always a neat trick. The value of this book to a ship modeler or a researcher is that it allows one to immerse oneself in the lore of the clipper ship era. The book provides sufficiently detailed art credits to allow further research into the selection of a clipper before selecting a model to build. Do not limit yourself to Cutty Sark or Flying Cloud. A most beautiful book and an easy, short, enjoyable read.

    •  8-3/4” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, ix + 230 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, diagrams, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9781472900289

    Reviewed by Phillip A. Roach, Naples, Florida

  • November 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    War in the Chesapeake: The British Campaigns to Control the Bay, 1813-14

    Charles Patrick Neimeyer

    Charles P. Neimeyer, Director of Marines Corps History and Gray Research Center at Marines Corps University, has researched and written one of the finest studies available of British campaigns in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. His synthesis of numerous primary and secondary sources provides the vehicle for an excellent narrative that addresses the prelude to war, the stalemate on the northern frontier, and unsettled conditions around the Bay (popular unrest, a scramble for the spoils of privateering, and weakly prepared military defenses) before plunging into the nitty-gritty details of the British campaigns of 1813 and 1814. Within these campaigns hide marvelous stories of vessels large and small, heroic individuals, valiant resistance, lives sliced short, and a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that faded in the light of a dawn breaking on the waters and fields of Baltimore.

    Neimeyer focuses his efforts on several key areas: the defense of Craney Island and Norfolk, British raids ashore in 1813, American naval resistance around the Bay, and the assaults on Washington, Alexandria, and Baltimore in 1814. His treatment of the British handling of American slaves is interesting; and the author does not neglect actions outside the Bay (for example, Cockburn’s raid on the Outer Banks of North Carolina). In several instances, he illustrates the interconnectivity of the Chesapeake campaigns with other events of the war. Notably, Neimeyer ties the cruelties (by both sides) along the Canadian Frontier to the burning of civilian homes and government buildings in the Chesapeake region. War invariably grows crueler over time–the War of 1812 was no exception.

    As with all works, there is room for improvement. More maps would be welcome. Some additional analysis of the place of prize money and the drive for promotion among the Royal Navy’s officer corps (especially with the war in Europe winding to an end) would not be amiss. Similarly, the effects on the war as a whole of these massive concentrations of available British resources could have used a few more words. That noted, this is an extraordinary study that combines readability, entertainment, and the scholarly touch. It is a history for the general reader as well as the professional historian. As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 cruises to its inevitable close, Neimeyer’s study of the Chesapeake Campaigns is highly recommended and deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, x + 244 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781612518657

     Reviewed by Wade G. Dudley, 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.


Listing Type



Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software