Join
Log in

Book Reviews

  • February 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    John Banister of Newport: The Life and Accounts of a Colonial Merchant

    Marian Mathison Desrosiers

    Marian Desrosiers interprets a qualitative assessment of newly found ledgers in John Banister of Newport. These ledgers detail everyday expenditures for one of the most active merchants of Newport, Rhode Island between 1746–1749 CE. Meticulous entries denote quantities, purchasing and selling prices, origins and destinations, along with specific ships used for the import or export of goods. Luxuries, everyday necessities, food staples, naval stores, cloth, building supplies, and enslaved persons are shown in these ledgers. The entries provide an assessment of shipments through Rhode Island during this period of economic expansion.

    Desrosiers demonstrates the shrewdness of Banister as a merchant, arguing that Banister was a philanthropist, who diversified his holdings, quickly learned from contentious investments, and became an economic force through employing many residents to expand and shape Newport in ways still evident today. Moreover, the expenditures of the Banister family are within these ledgers and reflect the lifestyle of a merchant rising in social standing. In an ironic twist, Desrosiers argues that, despite being an accomplished international producer, Banister was concomitantly a major consumer.

    Banister made several donations to his church, orphans, the community, and educational institutions, impacting the community more than himself. Public records show Banister built and rented properties, a shipyard, and a wharf. After low returns on investments in privateer and Letter of Marque ships, he abandoned future ventures. A transition from businessman to the gentry lifestyle can be seen when he buys and moves into a countryside manor. Additionally, family expenditures reflect opulence, luxury goods common to the social elite, and a Harvard education for one of his sons.

    Many of the arguments put forth by Desrosiers are logical and transparent in historical records. The ledgers themselves show a drastic increase in net worth for those years. Social networking through marriages and business partnerships placed Banister in the presence of wealthy social elites, many of whom consumed his goods or elicited his services to export theirs. On the topic of slavery and the slave trade, it appears Desrosiers tries to address the topic but not condemn Banister’s participation. To denigrate Banister is contrary to Desrosiers’ aim to applaud him and his accomplishments. Avoidance serves only to vitiate the discussion of how influential and pivotal icons that participated in enslavement should be perceived. 

    Overall, this book provides insight into everyday transactions of colonial merchants. Research covers the entire life, business, and legacy of John Banister with a focus on the 1746–1749 CE ledgers. The statistics are straightforward and contain just enough detail to show relevance but not affect readability. Notes, bibliography, and index are thorough and resourceful. Page and print size are large, a pleasant deterrent to eye strain. Desrosiers’ writing style is best summarized as congenial and reflect his distinguished writing of history.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, xii + 234 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95

    Reviewed by Stephen Lacy, East Carolina University

  • February 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianolaand Tuscumbia

    Myron J. Smith, Jr.

    In Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: the USS Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia, Myron J. Smith, Jr. provides a thorough analysis of one man’s contribution to the Civil War. The author gives the story of Joseph Brown’s life as one of the most successful but virtually unknown contractors of the war. He also describes the construction of each of the three ironclads built by Brown, telling of their strengths, weaknesses, and participation in various river actions. Finally, the author endeavors to clarify a part of the story of fighting on the Western rivers that was not addressed in some of his previous works.

    Smith makes excellent use of primary sources throughout his work despite the fact that Brown himself did not leave any personal papers. Instead, Smith pieces together the details of Brown’s life using numerous newspaper articles and the writings of other prominent individuals. He begins the book with an account of Brown’s life before the war as a local politician, steamboat captain, and businessman, emphasizing the federal connections that would later help him land the contracts for his ironclads. Smith then delves into the intricate process by which each ship was built, mentioning the various subcontractors and naval personalities and listing the contributions of each person. Smith also foreshadows the problems that each ironclad would eventually encounter by describing the many design flaws and scheduling problems that occurred.

    After dealing with Brown and his ironclads, Smith describes the service of each of the three ships during the war. In doing so, he provides an in-depth look at several battles that took place during the 1863 Vicksburg campaign. The Chillicothe, Indianola, and Tuscumbiawere all involved in this campaign to some extent. The organization of this section of the book is strictly chronological, helping to relieve the confusion caused by such a detailed analysis of the battles. The author does an excellent job of relating each little aspect of numerous small river actions to the overall context of both the fighting on the Western rivers and the Civil War as a whole. He does this, in part, by including the tactics that various commanders used to determine the ways in which ships would be utilized.

    After telling the story of each ironclad and the people who manned them, Smith relates the story of Brown’s life after the war as an influential St. Louis politician and businessman. Smith delves into Brown’s personal life, business transactions, and political policies in exhaustive detail. He thus adds more dimension to the short biography given in the beginning of the book.

    Overall, this book is extremely well-researched, with extensive use and quotation of primary sources. It is also logically organized into coherent sections, each containing a variety of maps and illustrations. Smith successfully creates a balanced and nuanced portrait of Joseph Brown, the ironclads that he built, and their contributions to the Western river fighting of the Civil War.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, x + 384 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9780786495764

    Reviewed by Emily Dibiase, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Knickerbocker Commodore: The Life and Times of John Drake Sloat, 1781-1867

    Bruce A. Castleman

    Sloat’s work, which focuses on an often overlooked but important military figure, is superb. Commodore John Drake Sloat was an important naval officer from the time of the United States Navy’s inception during John Adams’s administration until the Mexican-American War, or for nearly one-half a century. During that time, his rise in the ranks involved him in military actions, political intrigue and important diplomatic maneuverings.

    Castleman criticizes Sloat’s lone other biographer, noting that the biography is quite dated and hagiographic. Thus, Castleman seeks to fill a gap in the literature by presenting a balanced account of Sloat. This he does; although Castleman’s book is on the whole laudatory of Sloat, he does not shy away from including primary source evidence that Sloat acted dishonestly when it suited his purposes. For example, Sloat falsely claimed, in a report to the State Department, to have hosted Simon Bolivar on a trip to South America to improve his hopes of being reimbursed for actually having feted lesser-known figures. There are other instances in the book where Castleman criticizes Sloat's military tactics.

    Castleman’s work is enhanced by his own combination of naval experience (he was a naval commander with twenty-four years’ service) and academic training. He explains cogently and clearly concepts that might otherwise escape a reader who lacks military training or experience. His background makes him an ideal author for Sloat’s biography, for the work is really a history of the United States Navy in its first several decades. Castleman takes seriously his mandate to tell of Sloat’s “life and times.” Thus the reader learns much about the history and methods of ship-building, the politics involved in advancing in the Navy’s officer ranks, of a Naval officer’s career path when he was not aboard ship, and the effects of political decisions like the 1808 Embargo to John Fremont’s exploration of California amongst others.

    Sloat's career had political aspects as well. He served, for example, as the Commandant of the Portsmouth Naval Yard in between assignments at sea and developed his own administrative and political skills in that capacity. In the course of tracing Sloat’s career, the author introduces the reader to several other leading figures of the day, naval and otherwise, including Fremont, Matthew Perry, Stephen Decatur, and Simon Bolivar.

    Castleman’s use and evaluation of the primary source material culled from the Navy’s archives, as well as Sloat’s own correspondence, is excellent. Moreover, his command of the secondary source material is impressive. He refers aptly and easily to numerous other biographies of virtually every other major naval and political figure of the time.

    Finally, Castleman’s prose is direct, forceful and a pleasure to read, without the academic or specialized obscurity that mars so many specialized historical works. The story is an important one, spanning from the formation of the United States Navy to the War of 1812 to the Mexican-American War, and Castleman tells it with skill. This is an important work, quite well done and worth reading.

    •  Albany: Excelsior Editions, 2016
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xii + 325 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781438461519

    Reviewed by Douglas Mock, University of West Florida

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie

    Jerry Kuntz

    In his work, The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie, Jerry Kuntz focuses on the evolution of diving in the United States from 1820-1891 with a particular focus on Lake Erie. He breaks the book into three main sections called The Pioneers (1820s-1852), The Heroic Age of Diving (July 1852-1856), and The Aftermath (1857-1891). Each section can be read on its own and stand-alone which is refreshing to see, but the reader receives the big picture through reading it in its entirety.

    Kuntz begins his work by discussing William Hanis Taylor and the evolution of his invention of Submarine Armor. This Submarine Armor included a cylindrical helmet and had the arms, legs, and torso covered in protective hoops of plate metal. Upon administrative changes in the company, which left William’s brother George W. Taylor in charge of the company, George joined with the Goodyear Brothers’s India rubber business. This then led to the replacing of the plate metal hoops with flexible coils of copper, over which rubber trousers would be pulled. They also composed a case of copper “for the head and shoulders, with India rubber arms attached. In front [of the helmet] is a small glass about three inches in diameter, to enable the operator to distinguish objects in the water.” These changes gave the diver more freedom to see and move around. The book moves on to discuss various wrecks that occurred on Lake Erie and the efforts involved to recover them.

    Of particular interest to Kuntz are the recovery efforts of the wrecks as he argues that the salvage voyages were instrumental in the development of diving equipment because of the trial and error the divers faced below the surface. For example, during the salvage of the steamer, The Erie, divers confronted many challenges such as high winds, the depth of the wreck, and equipment breaking. The book continues on to investigate pearl diving, submarines during the Civil War, and even describes an expedition to kill a monster in Silver Lake, New York. Each topic is interesting in its own right and is well presented. It is an excellent example of a popular history and who does not like a story about salvaging and searching for treasure?

    Kuntz begins the book acknowledging that he is neither a diver nor a naval historian, thus he frequently relied on other’s experience and expertise. He says he did this by approaching thirty-nine people who have knowledge and expertise of the subject to gain knowledge for this book.Kuntz also consulted a number of period newspaper articles, letters, and personal writings by some of the diver’s themselves such as Diving or, Submarine Explorations: Being the Life and Adventures of J. B. Green. Kuntz also uses some less reliable sources, such as Ancestry.com

    To conclude, the book is an interesting read, but it is likely to be better used as a good jumping off point for further research and not as concrete fact. It is more geared towards the general public who enjoy popular history as it lacks some scholarly detail, but flows well and is an enjoyable read.

    •  Albany, Excelsior Editions, 2016
    • 5-1/2” x 8-1/2”, softcover, xi + 196 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $19.95
    • ISBN: 9781438459622

    Reviewed by Ashley M. Thomas, University of West Florida

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Polaris: The Chief Scientist’s Recollections of the American North Pole Expedition, 1871-73

    Translated & edited by William Barr

    Arctic exploration has been marred with tragedy since much before the voyage made by Polarisin 1871. In the spirit of exploration, fear of misfortune was cast aside and Captain George Hall persuaded the United States Government to fund an expedition to the North once more. German scientist Emil Bessels joined this expedition as chief scientist and medical officer with hopes of expanding the knowledge found in previous expeditions.Polarissuffered its fair share of problems. In Polaris: The Chief Scientist’s recollections of the American North Pole Expedition. 1871-73, Bessels provided an extensive account of the expedition. He includes details of flora, fauna, geology, and even anthropological observations of the Inuit that are not found in any other account. William Barr translates this account to English for the first time, adding his own expertise to the story.

    Bessels provides information specific to the history of the Polaris’journey and those that preceded it. To create a cohesive narrative, he uses sources from his fellow crew members to fill in missing information. When writing from his own memory, Bessels paints a beautiful picture which allows a peek at his otherwise absent personal feelings. As a scientist, the author provides extraordinary detail to discoveries made in the frozen North which are not present in other accounts.

    Bessels’ style of writing is interesting because it can be very vague or beautifully detailed depending on his emotion toward a subject. Due to this fluctuating nature, sometimes transitions between topics can seem rather abrupt. Often, details are simply absent. For example, Bessels is surrounded in controversy over the sudden death of Hall, the medic who aided him. As the accused, it seems reasonable that he would have details surrounding the mystery. Unfortunately, the fog surrounding the events of Hall’s death are not cleared within this account. It may seem slightly suspect that he omitted these details but, as a scientist, Bessels tries to write a narrative unimpeded by drama.

    Barr has done a fantastic job of translating this account. The footnotes provided by Barr help to clarify details a modern or lay reader may not understand. A complaint could be made about bias introduced in some of Barr’s comments. Examples of this can be found in various footnotes added by Barr as well as well as in the Preface.

    Emil Bessels is not widely remembered for his scientific achievements. That is unfortunate as the passion that he had for this journey is indisputable in his writing. Bessels, assisted by Barr, provides an account not to be missed by those fascinated with the voyage made byPolaris.

    •  Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, xxvii + 643 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781552388754

    Reviewed by Teresa Ellen Will, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Priestley’s Progress: The Life of Sir Raymond Priestley, Antarctic Explorer, Scientist, Soldier, Academician

    Mike Bullock

    Priestley’s Progress, by Mike Bullock, is an examination of Sir Raymond Priestley’s eclectic life, from his early childhood to numerous expeditions and World War I service, all lending to life examples he brought to his teachings throughout his academic career. Targeted towards academics, explorers, and historians, Bullock presents the book in a chronological context that aims to provide examples of the impact made by Priestley in the areas of exploration, science, and academia during the early twentieth century.

    Born in Tewkesbury, England in 1886, Raymond Priestly grew up amongst many siblings with educated parents, his father being a headmaster. Striving towards a similar goal, Priestley attended University College, Bristol during which he was sought after by Sir Ernest Shackleton, an explorer based in London. With some hesitation, Priestley agreed and began his career as an Antarctic explorer, during which time he would have many life endangering experiences full of adventure and excitement. From 1907 to 1909, Raymond Priestley traveled on Nimrod, studying geographical features of the Antarctic. During this exploration, the crew was plagued by lack of food, extreme temperatures, and loss of navigation, making their goal of reaching the pole an initial failure. In 1910, Priestley began his second exploration, this time aboard Terra Novaalongside Robert Scott, and was met by many more successes.

    Priestley also had accomplishments during his military career. Entering World War I in the British Army Signal Service, Priestley joined the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps in 1913. Here, he utilized the first wireless telegraph set to communicate until the end of his career in 1919, during which he was presented with a Military Cross for gallantry. After the war, Priestley returned to London and began a more narrowed focus on academia, teaching at Cambridge, Melbourne, and Birmingham; however, the passion for exploration ignited once again during his retirement. Priestley traveled on Wyandotwith the Duke of Edinburgh for the American Deep Freeze IV Expedition in 1958 and his work there nominated him to become the President of the Royal Geographic Society. Priestly passed away of natural causes on June 24, 1974 at the age of eighty-eight.

    Bullock’s biographical depiction of Priestley’s life is one of the first representations of this extraordinary man and his achievements.Priestley’s Progress presents a chronological outline of this explorer’s life, while Bullock condenses vast knowledge into a format that both informs readers and provokes curiosity for further detail. While the overall timeline is impressive, the book is filled with short descriptions of events and sporadic reminders of dates, time frames, and ages for Priestley during his adventures. Furthermore, the Preface references accounts and direct testimonies made by friends and family that would lend immensely to the appeal of a biographical work, yet citations remain sparse throughout the text and leave readers wanting to know more of the background story to Priestley’s accomplishments.

    Overall, Bullock offers a biographical exploration of Raymond Priestley that encompasses his full lifetime in a concise manner. The book is enjoyable and thought provoking, and may well encourage readers to seekadditional material on both Priestly and the exploration of Antarctica. 

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, ix + 259 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9780786478057
    Reviewed by Kelsey Dwyer, East Carolina University
  • May 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable

    Heather Noel-Smith & Lorna M. Campbell

    In Heather Noel- Smith and Lorna Campbell’s work Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable the reader is presented with a detailed history of Captain Sir Edward Pellew’s rise through the ranks. The authors also provide brief, but detailed, summaries of seventeen of Pellew’s midshipmen who worked under him during his successful career. The authors take great care to present their audience with personable and accurate descriptions of the crew members. They depict both Pellew and his shipmates in such a way that the reader feels like they know the men and are also familiar with the culture and atmosphere of the ship at large. This is a credit to the comprehensive research and writing style of the authors.

    The authors’ extensive research is clear from the first page. Their in-depth use of both primary and secondary sources gives the reader a clear picture of life, across ranks, in the British Royal Navy in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Noel- Smith and Campbell include excerpts from some of Pellew’s personal correspondence throughout his life-time including his time in the Navy, passages from his journals and naval documents attached to Captain Sir Edward Pellew during his time in the service.

    The book presents a well-balanced and comprehensive study of Edward Pellew, not omitting the less savory aspects of his character, nor over embellishing his accomplishments. For example, the authors acknowledge how Pellew and his wife Susan Frowd Pellew went above and beyond supporting emotionally, physically and sometimes even financially, many different young men from all different stations of life. At the same time, they show how Pellew put the agenda of his sons, Pownoll and Fleetwood, ahead of the good of those serving the British Royal Navy under Pownoll and Fleetwood when he promoted both of them into positions for which they were not the best candidate. In the first chapter, they claim that Pellew is both a “partisan and patriarch” and do a brilliant job showing how these two rivaling terms describe the complex man and exceptional frigate Captain Sir Edward Pellew.

    Hornblowers Historical Shipmates: The Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable takes the reader on a unique journey where they meet not only high-ranking officials of the famous Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, but also gain access to the daily routine of the nineteenth century mid shipmen. The reader will walk away with a comprehensive view of the sailor’s devotion to their nation and their strong ties to their crew and leaders. Pellew is shown to be a flawed man, but also a relatable human being in that he was a man who felt it was his duty not only to protect his crew, but also to help them develop into mature and reliable young men who would represent their crew, family and nation. The reader is able to see how Pellew’s humble beginning and early tragedies helped him to develop into a leader who was respected and loved by his crew.

    •  Woodbridge, Sussex: The Boydell Press, 2016
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 248 pages
    • Illustrations, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781783270996

    Reviewed by Jane H. Plummer, University of West Florida

  • May 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    British Expeditionary Warfare and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1793-1815

    Robert K. Sutcliffe

    The campaigns against France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were massive undertakings that required cooperation between disparate nations to achieve ultimate victory. Historians have written volumes about the various military, diplomatic, and economic endeavors required to build international coalitions and conduct military operations to face Napoleon’s martial machine. Britain’s efforts in these actions were crucial to the overall success of the coalition forces that finally brought Napoleon to heel at Waterloo. The way this was accomplished went far beyond military planning; it also required colossal logistical coordination. In British Expeditionary Warfare and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1793-1815, Robert K. Sutcliffe seeks to explain the seldom praised, behind the scenes efforts of the British military and governmental committees to coordinate the deployment and supply of the armies of Britain and its partners (in Europe and beyond) during the decades long conflict. Sutcliffe posits that these logistical efforts, despite many obstacles and setbacks, played just as much of a role as the battles themselves in securing the downfall of the man who sought to be Emperor of the World.

    The majority of Sutcliffe’s work deals with the role of Britain’s Transport Board in securing the shipping necessary to facilitate the movement of the tremendous amount of manpower and supplies necessary to sustain Britain and its allies in the field. He utilizes substantial primary source material—Parliamentary papers, organizational logs and records, committee reports, and official correspondence—to build his case of not only the scale and scope of the Board’s efforts, but the many bureaucratic and economic challenges, as well as the frequent official pushback that the Board faced in accomplishing its daunting missions. Often on short notice, faced with government and military officials who regularly planned operations of a scale that were seemingly impossible to achieve and that seldom fully understood the logistics involved, and obliged to attempt to balance the needs of the British economy with its military needs and the needs and wishes of the owners of the merchant vessels that formed the backbone of the transport fleet, the success of the Board in most of its missions is a testament to its organization and management.

    The text is filled with a dizzying array of numbers, tables, and charts that convey the immensity of the logistics involved but, coupled with Sutcliffe’s dry and matter of fact prose style, it often reads as bland as the official documents from which it is derived. There are a few moments where he is able to build excitement and drama into his prose, such as his descriptions of the British Navy’s landings in Egypt in 1801 and the campaigns along the Tagus River in Portugal during the Peninsular War, but these are few and far between. Nevertheless, British Expeditionary Warfare does indeed fill a gap in the literature of Britain’s role in the Napoleonic wars and significantly contributes to a more complete historical picture of the era.

    •  Woodbridge, Sussex: The Boydell Press, 2016
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxi + 272 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $120.00
    • ISBN: 9781843839491
    Reviewed by Eric A. Walls, East Carolina University

     

  • May 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition
    Paul Watson

    In Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition, Paul Watson revisits Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to complete a Northwest Passage through the Arctic on the ships, Erebus and Terror, with a complement of 129 men. The well-equipped voyage disappeared into the arctic landscape and despite one of the largest international search and rescue efforts in history, few traces were ever recovered. The fate of the Franklin expedition captivated people across the Victorian world and with the discovery of the expedition’s ships Erebus and Terror in 2014 and 2016, the Franklin saga was again thrust into the limelight. Watson’s book presents the next chapter in the Franklin story.

    Watson arranges his narrative chronologically while assessing historic and contemporary search efforts, archaeological research, and Inuit oral history regarding the expedition’s disappearance. The first half of the book describes the Victorian era and the circumstances and history of the Franklin Expedition, its loss, and subsequent search efforts. Watson weaves an epic “rich with the timeless contradictions of the human condition” (xxxi). In the second half of the book, he combines ethnography, Inuit ethnohistory, and historical archaeology to carry the reader beyond what is known historically, into the present day. Watson’s narrative credits the work of Louie Kamookak, a self-trained Inuit historian, as well as myriad scientists, researchers, and benefactors, whose devotion to solving the Franklin mystery led to the relocation of the expedition’s lost ships. Watson, a Pulitzer Prize winning Canadian photojournalist, was a member of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition launched by the Canadian government in a renewed effort to discover the lost Franklin ships along with any information on the fate of the expedition’s participants.

     The volume is an enjoyable read for Franklin scholars and general readers alike, not overly technical, while expanding upon the history as well as current scientific research. Watson’s discussion of previous underwater archaeological work in the region stresses the importance of preservation and conservation for research agendas. He makes an important and powerful argument for the value of provenance and systematic excavation. Focusing on the 1980 rediscovery of the Breadalbane, a Franklin era support vessel lost to the ice, Watson recounts the removal of the ship’s wheel and accentuates the methodological undercurrents of the contemporary historical and archaeological work being conducted in the region.

    A popular rather than scholarly book, Watson emphasizes the contributions of Inuit ethnohistory, but makes no mention of recent ethnographic work by scholars such as Dorothy Harley Eber, whose important volume Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers was published in 2008. Additionally, Watson mentions numerous locations in the text that are not depicted on the maps he provides, making it challenging for readers new to the Franklin saga to follow the movements of not only the Franklin expeditionaries, but also the modern-day search efforts. Despite these minor shortcomings, Watson’s tale of interconnectedness, across space, time, and cultures, as well as scientific disciplines and governmental agencies is a valuable contribution to the literature of the Franklin Expedition.

    •  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxxii + 384 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, index. $27.95
    • ISBN: 9780393249385
    Reviewed by Christina Bolte, University of West Florida
  • May 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Gun Club: U.S.S. Duncan at Cape Esperance

    Robert Fowler

    The Gun Club tells the story of USS Duncan, a short-lived Gleaves-class destroyer that participated and sank in the first planned naval action of World War II. The author’s father, the late Lieutenant (junior grade) Robert Fowler III, was a reserve officer called into action following Pearl Harbor to serve aboard Duncan. By uncovering the real events that led to Duncan’s sinking, the book seems to be an effort to do justice to the memory of Lt. Fowler and the nearly sixty other sailors who lost their lives. Fowler describes the battle as a rude awakening for the United States Navy, which had not planned and executed a large naval battle in the forty-four years leading to Cape Esperance. In his opinion, despite officers’ planning and war-gaming, the ships, commanders, and tactics of the United States Navy in early World War II were inadequate and unprepared.

    The titular “Gun Club” refers to a group of Naval Academy graduates who, by 1942, were captains and admirals eager for their first taste of action and glory. The combination of their overzealous attitude and inexperience resulted in the sinking of Duncan. Following the sinking, the Navy’s culture of protecting fellow officers resulted in carefully crafted reports that avoided laying blame for any errors in judgment and obscured the facts of the engagement.

    Fowler uses the Duncan’s logs, personal communications, and interviews with surviving crew members to reconstruct the real timeline. The book describes everything from pre-commissioning details in New Jersey to the fateful battle near Guadalcanal only ten months later and the survivors’ return home. The result is a very detailed picture of life aboard the ship. From raunchy snippets of sailors at liberty, to grisly descriptions of battle, Fowler has clearly done his research. Fowler reconstructs scenes and dialogue in ways that are far more engaging and interesting than simple description of events. The maps and diagrams of fleet maneuvers are invaluable for understanding the complicated course of events that led to Duncan coming under a barrage of friendly fire. According to Fowler and other historians, the sinking of Duncan is primarily attributed to that friendly fire, though official reports obscure and avoid mentioning the topic. Fowler evaluates the motives and decisions that influenced the wording and content of those reports. He paints a picture of the politics and partisanship in naval command that has obscured the truth of the sinking of Duncan for so long. Fowler’s analysis of command failures and coverups is unsympathetic to the pressure the authors of those reports would have faced following the loss of a brand-new destroyer.

    The Gun Club is a critical and well-researched investigation into the first planned naval action of World War II. It is a valuable source for those interested in the culture of naval command early in the war and the truth behind the loss of USS Duncan.

    •  Winthrop & Fish, 2017
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, 263 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $15.99
    • ISBN: 9780999075302

    Reviewed by Kendra Lawrence, 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.

Title

Listing Type

Filter


Listings

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software