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

    Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II

    John M. Lillard

    John M. Lillard’s study of war games, aptly titled Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II, dissects the players, game processes, and phases of wargaming during the interwar period. Wargaming proved to be a useful tool for the United States Navy in preparing for the naval battles of World War II. The wargames gave the Navy an upper hand, because they could predict movements of enemy ships based on the aforementioned games. In his attempt to prove if the war games and the Naval College had any historical agency, he delves into a previously under-explored topic. To prove his thesis, Lillard examines the impact of individual games and their players on the war effort, while also assessing the overall effects of wargaming through the inter-war period. Unlike historians such as Peter Perla and Michael Vlahos, Lillard reveals the significance of the war games to the development of technology and, ultimately, to the success of the United States Navy during World War II.

    Lillard first breaks down the Naval War College’s strategies and their assessments into sections. Using an assortment of charts, graphs, and images to support his thesis Lillard delivers the most in-depth study of war gaming to date. Through Lillard’s research, he found that war games were necessary to teach decision-making skills, as well as develop technology to advance the Navy. He uses speeches, diaries, and official records from the inter-war period as a primary basis for his argument. The downfall to Lillard’s sources is the focus on popular figures, such as Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the lack of voices from enlisted personnel. He does assess the data from the graduating classes, such as the number and type. He also shows the different fictional opponents throughout the wargames and provides graphics to aid in understanding for those without a military background.

    At times, Lillard’s argument seemed long-winded. The lack of representation by other scholars in reference to the war games could be because the argument can be summed up within a few pages. But, Lillard was able to redeem his work by providing stories that piqued the reader’s interest when facts became dull. His assessment of the early phase, from 1919 to 1927, is particularly interesting, especially when he delves into one of the later exercises in 1927. The class of 1927 worked through a game that focused on both land and sea objectives, with special situations thrown at them at every turn. The class had to adapt to changes given through the games, leading to further advancements in the games.

    Because Lillard uses individual games, his monograph has a narrative quality, aiding the readability of his work. While this history would be more aptly used by a military historian, the narrative aspect and the clear visual aids allow anyone to enjoy Lillard’s book. He determines that the Naval War College deserves agency within the historical context of preparations for battle, which he sums up nicely in the conclusion. Playing War is a well-written, well-researched, and well-received monograph adding a new facet to military history and the study of naval advancements.

    •  Bethesda: Potomac Press, 2016
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, 210 pages
    • Illustrations, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781612347738
    Reviewed by Courtney Webb, University of West Florida
  • February 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors
    Ronald S. Coddington

    Photographs, and the stories they tell, are rare among Civil War literature. Faces of the Civil War Navies unearths photographs, known as cartes de visite, and offers details of their origin. Both Union and Confederate navies have a rich history, although many of their contributions are not familiar to the average historical reader. The author, Ronald S. Coddington, is a photographer by trade, although his previous books testify to his abilities as a historian. His writing style offers vital details of each individual’s life. This tactic allows the author to include more soldiers and sailors, which benefits the book. The author does not include just the name of each alongside a picture, rather he covers the key aspects of their war experience. Each cartes de visite has a unique story to tell beyond the blank stare usually seen throughout Civil War photography.

    A compelling aspect of Faces of the Civil War Navies is the author’s choice to include both navies in the book. In doing so, he displays professionalism at the highest level free of any bias. It would be easy to mention just the Union Navy given the abundance of material available compared to their counterpart. Choosing to track down both sides exemplifies the author’s dedication to the topic. He identifies more Union figures due to the lack of Confederate cartes de visite available today, but all soldiers and sailors chronicled in the book risked their lives for a cause they deemed important. Mentioning participants from both sides allows a fuller understanding of both navies during the war.

    The author’s choice to incorporate all figures of rank into his book is admirable. Listing over seventy different profiles, alongside their cartes de visite, bolsters his objective further. Finding information relating to officers, while difficult, pales in comparison to that of enlisted men. The author has managed to track enlisted men’s stories through multiple avenues proving his devotion to exhaustive research. While common in historical writing, this research is unusual given the proclivities of photographers and the author’s use of cartes de visite.

    Faces of the Civil War Navies pursues a new angle of studying sailors of both the Confederate and Union Navies. This angle is presented in the form of cartes de visite with each one being unique from another. Photography, while not widely available during the Civil War, has become integral to the study of this particular subject. Additionally, the author displays immense passion by offering personal details connected to each cartes de visite. Placing stories along with faces provides a sense of connection to every soldier or sailor. Faces of the Civil War Navies offers an enjoyable reading experience across all levels of academia.

    • Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016
    • 6” x 9”, hardcover, xxxiii + 401 pages
    • Photographs, notes, references, index. $32.95
    • ISBN: 9781421421360

    Reviewed by Daniel Krentz, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    A Tale of Two Navies: Geopolitics, Technology, and Strategy in the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, 1960-2015

    Anthony R. Wells

    Anthony R. Wells’s A Tale of Two Navies: Geopolitics, Technology, and Strategy in the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, 1960-2015 is an intriguing work that discusses the relationship between the United States Navy and the Royal Navy. He covers all aspects of this strategic relationship, focusing on several specific events including the emergence of the Soviet Navy, the Walker Spy Ring, and the Falklands Campaign of 1982. He also discusses the roles that Intelligence played in creating and furthering this relationship. Wells states that he hopes readers form their own ideas of events that transpired over this fifty-five year course of history and the ways that those events will shape the naval strategy of the future. The book is not a strict chronology, but an overview of themes and naval interactions.

    Wells’s discussion includes all aspects of the developments in technology and intelligence, the post-World War II political shifts that caused restructuring of the military, and global security issues from 1960 to 2015. He begins with an examination of the organizational changes in the navies of both nations post-World War II. While there were many changes, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy remained close, building on existing agreements and security arrangements. The author also offers his interpretation of naval strategy in the nuclear era, stressing that the Cold War remained cold due, in large part, to naval leadership of the time.

    Throughout the book, Wells challenges his reader to consider that events of the past could parallel future global military events. For example, the rise of a Chinese navy easily equates to the rise of the Soviet Navy post-World War II. Lessons can be learned from this regarding strategy and policy.

    Wells provides an engaging discussion on the strategic relationship between the United States Navy and the Royal Navy. His work is backed with an extensive bibliography, including many primary sources. This provides an excellent and useful bibliography for those interested in naval history of the Cold War period. A Tale of Two Navies is a true work of academic history, engaging readers and forcing them to think for themselves. His own service for both British and American Intelligence gives him a unique perspective on this period in history, as well as on the relationship between the two countries. 

    Overall, Wells provides an extremely well-written and researched book on his chosen topic. His discussion is convincing and concise, and his style of writing is smooth and understandable. Additionally, the book includes an excellent section of source notes bound together by the personal experiences of the author. Wells’s work is a valuable discussion on naval partnership and strategy in the modern period.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 250 pages
    • Photographs, table, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00
    • ISBN: 9781682471203

    Reviewed by Annie Wright, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    America, Sea Power, and the World

    Edited by James C. Bradford

    Although assessments of the rise of American preeminence on the seas are not few, James C. Bradford’s America, Sea Power, and the World is an impressive treatment of the important topic. Bradford, serving as editor for the work, has mustered an impressive array of naval historians for the task, and his skill as an editor has given the book a surprisingly smooth narrative quality. Most of the authors are affiliated with the United States Naval Academy, and their expertise in each chapter is clear. Across the numerous authors, one strand of argument is apparent: the course of American history is inseparably bound to the nation’s ability to innovate and project sea power. In advancing this thesis, the authors are overwhelmingly successful in providing a useful overview for experts and casual readers alike.

    Bradford lays a useful base of naval history in the first chapter of the book. Though entirely predating the emergence of the United States as a sovereign nation, this chapter makes clear the connections between political power on land and sea power around the world. Once the book proceeds to its study of American sea power in particular, these early principles reappear in the close relationship between the fortunes of the nation and its navy. As the chapters progress throughout American history, no major naval episode is neglected, giving the topic sufficient coverage, even if certain areas are not explored to a sufficient depth for a specialist’s use. One of the book’s best contributions is “Defending Imperial Interests in Asia and the Caribbean, 1898-1941.” These oft-forgotten events are an important part of America’s naval story at the turn of the twentieth century, and the chapter’s author, Aaron B. O’Connell, lends the dense topic considerable clarity.

    Bradford has dedicated more space to the American Civil War and World War II than to other American military struggles, but this understandably reflects the large body of scholarship already dedicated to these periods. America, Sea Power, and the World will work nicely in courses surveying American naval history and will appeal to students of varying levels of familiarity with the topic. One of the book’s great strengths is its readability amid technical topics, lending it a broad readership that will undoubtedly include people outside the typical scope of professional history. Some chapters also depart from the rigid chronological framework to discuss important technological trends that cross large time periods. 

    From beginning to end, America, Sea Power, and the World displays the unique history of American naval power at home and abroad. Despite the work’s breadth, each aspect of America’s naval history receives useful coverage. The book concludes with an exploration of the future of naval power in light of challenges to American hegemony. As Bradford’s book aptly proves, America must innovate in the midst of wearying change to maintain its position of leadership among ascendant powers.

    •  Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2016
    • 7-1/2: x 9-1/2”, softcover, xxiii + 379 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781118927939

    Reviewed by Austin Croom, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil, and Foreign Policy

    Bernard D. Cole

    Captain Bernard D. Cole examines the interrelationship of naval power, energy security, and foreign policy, as well as the significance these three elements have in China’s national security policy in China’s Quest for Great Power. Cole analyzes both the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) desire to maintain legitimacy, and President Xi Jinping’s domestic and foreign policies, as well as their correlation with one another, to illustrate the importance of maritime power in China’s pursuit of continued economic prosperity and energy security. Cole successfully argues that China’s drive for national security supports China’s larger goal of reestablishing itself as a central force in the Asiatic region as well as the world. 

    Cole discusses Xi Jinping’s desire to avoid “Western values” infiltrating China, and argues that the United States is China’s main strategic concern; however, he asserts that domestic concerns will overshadow foreign concerns, indubitably, as regime legitimacy of the CCP rests in Chinese society rather than issues abroad. Cole references statements and policies released by Xi as well as Beijing’s 2015 military strategy, among other military documents, to the effect that having a strong economy supersedes naval growth for China. Yet, the navy will continue to grow as maritime power ensures energy security, which is needed for continued economic growth and domestic support of the CCP. Cole asserts that, as the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s power grows, other countries will continue to grow wary of China’s mixed soft and hard policies and its focus on its own interests in the global paradigm. Growing tension will inevitably impact China’s foreign policies and continued debates on national sovereignty. 

    The biggest challenge facing Cole is the constraints of a book. Cole’s analysis ends with 2016, prior to the election in China. Though he provides an excellent analysis of China’s non-transparent policies, new editions of the book will be needed as time continues to pass and China gets closer to 2049, the year of China’s modernization goal, in order to understand the country’s policies as it continues to rise in power. Despite the time constraints, Cole does an excellent job explaining that the elements of naval power, energy security, and foreign policy will remain crucial in China’s national security policy as time progresses.

    Cole’s thorough research, paired with providing much needed attention to Xi Jinping’s periphery diplomacy and policy, results in a strong analysis of China and the country’s rise as a global force. Cole has convincing evidence in China’s words and actions to illustrate the nation’s goal in becoming a world power, though it remains focused on its domestic needs as opposed to concerns in the global paradigm. The insights provided on United States-China relations, as well as relations between China and the Asiatic region and world at large, will prove beneficial to academics; however, the style and approach will also appeal to general readers who are interested in China and China’s quest for power in the modern world.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 304 pages
    • Maps, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781612518381

    Reviewed by Kayla E. Green, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Rough Waters: Sovereignty and the American Merchant Flag

    Rodney Carlisle

    In Rough Waters, Rodney P. Carlisle studies the emotional symbolism attached to the United States flag and its merchant marine fleet. According to the author, American naval and political figures adhered to an eighteenth century gentleman’s honor code. As a result, the language, rhetoric, and values associated with the gentleman’s honor code frame the government’s approach to national and international politics. Carlisle argues that the United States flag, as an extension of American identity, embodies the emotional, symbolic, and cultural values of the nation. Consequently, the treatment of merchant ships operating under the United States flag abroad is considered a matter of national honor. Merchant vessels occasionally ignite conflict between the United States and other global powers. The appropriate response to the insult of the flag’s honor, as per the gentleman’s honor code regarding duels, is a display of force. Nevertheless, Carlisle argues, since 1939 the United States has avoided participation in a war to defend national honor due to the change in nationality of flags on American-owned merchant vessels.

    In his analysis of post-Revolutionary and Antebellum maritime history, Carlisle fails to account for the other contributing political, societal, and economic factors that led to historical maritime events and military confrontations. While the argument regarding the flag and its ties to national honor as instigators of maritime conflict is compelling, the intervention of the American military in the examples used by Carlisle can be described as a nation protecting its economic interests. As is, Carlisle’s exclusion of the numerous political, economic, and societal issues that influenced maritime events and conflicts makes his examination of post-Revolutionary and Antebellum history one-dimensional.

    Additionally, Carlisle argues that the United States was able to remain neutral at the beginning of World War II because merchant ships owned by American corporations began to fly foreign flags. As a consequence of the flag change and transfer in registries, the American flag and national honor were not at risk at sea. It was then unnecessary for the United States to interfere when American-owned foreign-flagged ships carrying cargo to the Allies were attacked. Nonetheless, as Carlisle states, there were government officials who saw the transfer of flags and registry of ships transporting cargo for the Allies as a violation of the intent of the neutrality law, and, therefore, dishonorable. The politicians who disagreed with the decision to transfer ship registries to Panama contradict Carlisle’s argument. Thus, the United States’ maritime policies regarding trade with warring nations between 1939-1941 betray the gentleman’s code of honor that Carlisle describes.

    Despite these weaknesses, Carlisle presents a thought-provoking argument regarding the symbolism and national honor of the American merchant flag in connection to maritime conflicts. The text’s most noteworthy contribution to present scholarly literature is its discussion of maritime law and the “flight” of the flag. Carlisle’s book is a comprehensive analysis of the legal basis for today’s shipping industry and registry system. His discussion of the reasons and timing for the change in national flags onboard American merchant vessels is undoubtedly useful. Rough Waters, although flawed, is a valuable addition to current scholarship dedicated to the legal side of maritime history.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 278 pages
    • Photographs, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $31.95
    • ISBN: 9781682470091

    Reviewed by Anna D’Jernes, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    God and Sea Power: The Influence of Religion on Alfred Thayer Mahan

    Suzanne Geissler

    As described by Suzanne Geissler, Alfred Thayer Mahan lived a life devoted to God and the United States’ military. Using Mahan’s letters and a journal from his service in the navy, Geissler seeks to demonstrate the influence that Christianity played in his career, providing a detailed account of the events that influenced Mahan to be a devout Christian, renowned leader, and respected writer. As a historian and theologian, Geissler tackles this biography from a less secular point of view than previous authors, critiquing previous biographies of Mahan and providing further evidence of the influence of God in his life. Her goal is to provide an understanding on Mahan’s religious faith, its developed, its influence on his thinking, and his role within the Episcopal Church.

     Mahan grew up in an environment equally influenced by God and country. His father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was a graduate of West Point, a member of the Corps of Engineers, and later in life an advocate for military scholarship. Dennis Mahan was a devoted Episcopalian his entire life. Mahan’s uncle, Milo Mahan, was not only a staunch Christian but an ordained deacon and priest. Unlike his brother, Milo Mahan devoted himself to the church, serving as a professor of ecclesiastical history for many years. Clearly, Mahan's forefathers played an important role in the sculpting of his interests.

    Mahan and his five siblings roamed the grounds of West Point as children, maintaining strict adherence to the Sabbath. Both he and his younger brothers later served in the military. As a young man, Mahan showed interest in God and in firepower. He spent his teenage years at St. James, an Episcopal boarding school in Maryland. Later, he attended school at Columbia College in New York where he became close with his religious uncle, Milo. In autumn of 1856, Mahan entered the Naval Academy and began his journey into naval history.

    Geissler carefully analyses his personal writings alongside current events, spending significant time defending Mahan’s personal righteousness. Mahan appears to be a man simply struggling with his spirituality during political and military upheaval, something Robert Seager II apparently addresses with mockery and sarcasm in his biography of Mahan. At one point in Seager’s work, he suggests that Mahan was an anti-abolitionist. According to Geissler, Mahan had not developed a definitive view on slavery during the Civil War, but did know that it had to end. Despite negative views on Mahan’s personal life, none can deny the importance his writing had on the study of naval history. Mahan’s most respected contribution to the military, The Influence of Sea Power on History, 1660-1783, continues to inspire a hundred years later.

    For readers interested in military biographies, I strongly recommend this book. Geissler provides a new perspective into the life of a very complex man whose work continues to impact our country's navy. Her account clearly outlines the influences of religion in the life of Alfred Thayer Mahan and challenges authors who disagree with Geissler’s viewpoint.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiii + 264 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9781612518435

    Reviewed by Samantha Bernard, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Embassy to the Eastern Courts: America’s Secret First Pivot Toward Asia, 1832-37

    Andrew C.A. Jampoler

    Andrew Jampoler’s Embassy to the Eastern Courts: America’s Secret First Power Pivot Toward Asia is a well written academic work about American diplomatic developments. His book follows the cruise of USS Peacock and USS Boxer from 1832-1834 and the cruise of Peacock with USS Enterprise from 1835 to 1837. In these two cruises, the ships travel to various Asian ports such as Manila, China, Siam, and Muscat.

    The first voyage marks an important diplomatic push for the United States. Edmund Quincy Roberts set sail aboard Peacock in 1832 as it was bound for Asia. His objective, however, was kept secret as then-President Andrew Jackson wanted him to attempt to secure a treaty to formalize and regularize American trade with China, Siam, and “the powers of Arabia on the Red Sea.” The concealment of his role was to prevent the British from catching wind of the somewhat nefarious scheme.

    Roberts was a merchant from New Hampshire, but his job was to present a letter to leaders of the various Asian countries that expressed the desire for a treaty to be signed to secure trade and to ensure the prosperity and flourishing of all involved economies. This was not the first time a rather informal and secret trade mission was executed under the Jackson administration, however. In years prior, Jackson quietly sent three commissioners to the Ottoman Empire to meet with the Sultan in order to gain access to the Black Sea trade routes. In typical Jacksonian manner, the United States Congress was not consulted in this endeavor, which was successful.

    Jampoler describes the voyages by various American frigates, most diplomatic in nature and all aiding in the United States’ trade endeavors. Including a general overview of the United States’ naval buildup and the qualms of Congress with regard to said buildup, the book has a very holistic approach to American diplomacy with regard to Asia. The author follows the second voyage in 1835 to Asia by Peacock and Enterprise rather closely. This voyage, which circumnavigated the globe, was plagued with misfortune, quite literally. Roberts was also aboard on this voyage, tending to more diplomatic tasks. As a result of a cholera outbreak on this ship, many of the crew died, including Roberts, which halted all diplomatic endeavors.

    Jampoler has done something that, in academic writing, can be very difficult. He has not only created a superbly researched and written account of a specific portion of American History, he has done it so well that even a lay person to the subject can follow along and enjoy the work without feeling at a loss. His prose keeps the reader on edge, as if reading a suspenseful novel. He relates these diplomatic missions to the world around them, which gives the reader scope.

    Though it reads like one, Embassy to the Eastern Courts is not a general history. More importantly, it does not suffer from common ailments that come with general histories. Jampoler has a solid thesis and ample citations, making his book an exceedingly excellent addition to academia.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xv + 236 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
    • ISBN: 9781612514161

    Reviewed by Jessica Rogers Kestler, East Carolina University

     

  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Commemorating the Seafarer: Monuments, Memorials and Memory

    Barbara Tomlinson

    Death at sea, whether through accident, or war, is often premature and unexpected. Sometimes bodies are not recovered, and people simply disappear. Although not all maritime memorials commemorate those lost at sea, perhaps this helps explain the reason, as Tomlinson notes, that maritime memorials are spread across Great Britain. According to Tomlinson, these memorials act as repositories for memory and grief, providing places for people to mourn and communicate with the dead. She also suggests that they provide information of historical and cultural importance, noting that all levels of society produced memorials affected by, and thus reflecting, such cultural forces as politics and religious as well as artistic trends.

    Tomlinson focuses on British maritime memorials from the sixteenth century through the modern era—from a time when only a small number of elite were honored in such a way to a broadening and democratization of commemoration to include the ordinary seaman. Ultimately, these memorials honored a wide range of people, including naval personnel, privateers, explorers, common seamen, and those lost in maritime disaster. Tomlinson states that her work concentrates on detailing artistically significant memorials, and the stories behind those monuments.

    Much of her study concerns naval memorials. She describes the funeral of Robert Blake, given a grand service and burial in Henry VII’s chapel in 1657. Three years later, churchmen disinterred his body, throwing it into a common grave, only to have his memory be honored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with stained glass windows at Westminster and a statue at his birth place in Somerset. In another, poignant example, she describes a wall monument in Westminster commemorating two junior officers. bodies lost at sea. Friends, both died in the Battle of Solebay in 1672. Tomlinson describes their epitaphs, on adjacent panels sharing a common cornice. The destruction of their ship, Royal James, is shown in relief. The vessel fought off two Dutch fireships, but was set aflame by a third. The father of one son paid for the memorial.

    Tomlinson also details memorials to those lost in maritime accidents. One early memorial commemorates Hugh Everard, lost, along with the entire crew of Restoration, when the vessel wrecked in 1703. Everard was only fifteen when he died. His memorial shows a sinking vessel in relief and bears the inscription Spes nulla salutis (no hope of safety). Later, Tomlinson describes memorials commemorating those lost when the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized in 1987. One, in the vessel’s homeport of Dover, includes a window showing Christ stilling the waters. A wall painting in the same city depicts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The bows of the ship appear below the figure of St. John. To Tomlinson, this shows “both death and new life through water.” She notes that sculptures of sinking ships are no longer used in memorials—they too explicitly remind people of their mortality—yet sinking ships remain a reality.

    Tomlinson’s work is a thorough and vibrant examination of British maritime memorials, providing both an enjoyable stroll through centuries of art and history, and a reminder of human mortality.

    •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 259 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $50.00
    • ISBN: 97817843839705

    Reviewed by Mark Keusenkothen, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2017 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Lascars and Indian Ocean Seafaring, 1780-1860: Shipboard Life, Unrest and Mutiny

    Aaron Jaffer

    This book is volume number twelve in a series of works on the East India Company. Aaron Jaffer draws upon several scholars who have previously studied the multitude of causes and effects, as well as the complexity, of mutinous events aboard sailing ships and compiles their evidence so as to give a broad, well-supported analysis of late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century mutinies in the Indian Ocean. The study considers both East Indiamen and private merchant ships, referred to as country ships, that operated mainly in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.

    Jaffer offers five key themes to explain mutinous events, their causes, methods, alternatives, and consequences. He makes use of an extensive list of primary sources, including private papers, court proceedings, and factory records. Jaffer also includes conclusions reached by previous scholars in similar studies and compares these conclusions with each other as well as his primary source evidence.

    A basic overview of each theme of the book is outlined, and expanded upon, throughout its respective chapter, including references to other studies and the specific primary material from which Jaffer draws his information. He includes differences in language, religion, culture, superstition, age, level of experience, and marital status in the causes for mutinous events, comparing the numerous examples of such acts and, when possible, the documented reasons. He discusses the different forms of protest and mutiny that have been documented, including desertion, hunger and work strikes, as well as the overthrow of power onboard. Sources and evidence for each of these protests abound and Jaffer’s writing makes that clear.

    Jaffer exams intermediaries aboard sailing ships and their role in events of mutiny or protest. The ranks of intermediaries included translators, overseers, arbiters, representatives of certain crew members and interest groups, and often had a hand in the finances of the ship. Each role could be, and sometimes was, easily corrupted to sway people or events for personal gain. In the event of ship seizure as the result of a mutiny or protest, of which there are many examples, the resulting status of former officers, commanders, women onboard, and the crew often fell into disorder. Jaffer acknowledges that the surviving testimonies of mutiny investigations and personal accounts are tempered with bias, skewed descriptions, and embellishments, making them difficult for historians to interpret.

    International politics had a profound effect on protests and mutinies onboard sailing ships in the Indian Ocean. Shifts in politics and diplomacy led to changes in regards to asylum, arrest, trial, and imprisonment. Those who intended to carry out a mutiny, primarily for personal gain, had to be aware of changes in geopolitics of the time in order to be successful.

    Jaffer’s work is well researched and composed, including references to other scholars’ research as well as numerous excerpts from sources close to each respective mutinous event. This volume is useful for anyone studying sailing ships and shipboard life of the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries.

    •  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 235 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
    • ISBN: 9781783270385
    Reviewed by Olivia Thomas, 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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