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Maritime Supremacy & the Opening of the Western Mind: Naval Campaigns That Shaped the Modern World Hardcover – April 3, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; First Edition edition (April 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585670022
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585670024
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

This book, a kind of sequel to or refinement of Alfred T. Mahan's 19th-century classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History, begins with a standard observation: In war, naval power tends to trump land power. But Peter Padfield makes an even bolder claim: "Maritime supremacy is the key which unlocks most, if not all, large questions of modern history, certainly the puzzle of how and why we--the Western democracies--are as we are." To put it more frankly: "Our civilization (if we can lay so large a claim), our beliefs, our dominance are products not of superior minds or bravery, cunning, greed, or ruthlessness--common attributes of mankind--still less of the Christian religion, the 'Protestant work ethic,' or blind chance, but of the particular configuration of the seas and land masses that has given the advantage to powers able to use and command the seas." That may sound incredibly deterministic, but also intriguing. The resulting discussion of military and economic might on the seas begins with the Spanish Armada and concludes with the founding of the United States. It's an engaging mix that will appeal to readers who like to tackle the big questions of history, as in David S. Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations or Thomas Sowell's Conquests and Cultures. Best of all, readers need not agree with the striking thesis of Maritime Supremacy to profit from its ideas. In the end, more than a few may wind up agreeing with Padfield that "We are the heirs of maritime supremacy." --John J. Miller


Outstanding....offers up naval campaigns and sea battles as vivid as any you will find in Patrick O'Brian. -- John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy, The Wall Street Journal

[Padfield's] comprehension of the context and his natural, understandable absorption in the details are expressed in fine writing. -- Stephen Howarth, Naval History Magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Sal R. Mercogliano on June 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Peter Padfield's latest work, Maritime Supremacy and The Opening of the Western Mind is unlike many traditional naval histories, and is indicative of the innovative writing style of this accomplished author. While this work builds on many of his earlier books, in particular Guns at Sea, Tide of Empires, Rule Britannia, and Armada, Padfield has made the leap - quiet successfully - of merging the importance of naval and maritime topics with the larger picture of Western Civilization and the development of societies.
As its subtitle denotes, Maritime Supremacy examines the major naval campaigns that shaped the modern world. From the defeat of the of the Spanish Armada in 1588, to Beachy Head in 1690, to the Battle of the Saints in 1782, these are only some of the key battles that Padfield focuses on. Additionally he includes chapters that relate to the rise and fall of the key maritime nation states, including Spain, the Netherlands, England, and finally the United States.
What separates the author from his contemporaries is his ability to examine the clash of fleets and incorporate their successes, or defeats, into the larger scheme of history. He identifies nation-states as either supreme maritime or territorial powers and it is this interaction, both domestically and internationally that provides the structure for his thesis and according to him, for modern history. The book builds extensively on his two volume Tide of Empires: Decisive Naval Campaigns in the Rise of the West, but unlike this earlier work, which is nearly twenty years old, it incorporates many new historiographical sources, while still utilizing primary resources for much of his information.
The greatest drawback to Maritime Supremacy is its focus on a rather narrow time frame.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. Adamsen on October 15, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A somewhat casual reader of non-fiction, though no stranger to history or economics, my knowledge of Naval History was extremely limited. I read Padfield's description of Philip's preparations for the Armada with newfound appreciation for the historian's insights. Padfield has the rare talent of writing in a manner that brings character and personality to the individual actors involved. His descriptions of events leading to, and battles of the Armada, Quiberon Bay and Chesapeake ... are all riveting. It reinforces how preparation and decisions of individuals truly shape history. These history lessons I didn't learn in school have helped provide a greater understanding of forces guiding the decision making of the leaders of the Western World during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. It certainly leaves the reader with an appreciation for the impact of Naval power.

The book is a gripping and compelling read that is pure fun. I've read it through twice and several chapters many times. I believe it can be appreciated, and reward the reader equally by chapter or in completion.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on September 8, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
"Maritime Supremacy And The Opening Of The Western Mind" is a book that fails, although it fails for a "noble" reason: the author is overly ambitious. Mr. Padfield didn't want to write just a political/social history of the maritime powers and he didn't want to write just a naval history, either. He wanted to combine the two types of history. He also wanted to compare and contrast the maritime powers and the continental powers. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with this idea, the execution, in this case, is poor. Rather than weaving all the material together, the author alternates chapters on naval campaigns with chapters on political/social developments in Spain, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and Colonial America. This "alternating current" constantly disrupts the flow of the book: just as you have settled down to concentrate on a sea battle, the author switches to a chapter on political infighting or government financing. The problem also develops the other way around: just when you've gotten your mind set on concentrating on Lord North or William Pitt or tax-farming in pre-Revolutionary France, it's time to read about broadsides and officers pacing the decks of ships, shoe buckle deep in blood. As a result, the reader feels disconcerted: you are never comfortable and you can never get "caught-up" in the narrative. Another problem with the book is that, considering what the author wants to accomplish, it is too short. The author tries to cover approximately ten naval campaigns, while also trying to explain political/economic/social developments in five different geographical areas, covering a span of 200 years. This is just too much material to cover in less than 300 pages.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love history, and naval history is one of my favorite areas of study. I already had copies of Padfield's earlier series on the same subject, and this new trilogy is even better. It doesn't start quite as early, but it goes all the way to the modern era.

The books are about naval exploration, discovery and war, and how they influenced the development of western civilization. This first volume covers the era from the attempted Spanish invasion of England in 1588 through the uniting of the United States in 1787. Wars, especially naval wars, are fought for a variety of reasons, but tend to be more about trade than outright conquest, and the nations fighting them usually want something other than land. This book does a good job of explaining all that. It gives great detail to each campaign and battle, but its real concern is the reasons behind those campaigns and how the world's beliefs, desires and attitudes were shaped by them.

I'm not sure it's for everybody, but I like it
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More About the Author

Peter Padfield was born in British India before the Second World War, but returned to England aged seven on the death of his father. Immediately plunged into the boarding school experience of that era, he emerged with a love of cricket and a desire to go to sea - unfortunately mutually incompatible. He served some years as an officer in the P & O line, but in 1957 gained a place in the crew of the replica pilgrim bark 'Mayflower II' on her transatlantic voyage to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where she remains to this day. It was a life-changing experience. Shortly afterwards he left the sea, married and began a writing career specialising in maritime and naval history, extended later to biographies of Nazi leaders. In 2003 he was awarded the Mountbatten Maritime Prize; more recently Professor James R. Holmes of the U.S. Naval War College listed his book 'Maritime Supremacy' in the all-time top ten books about the sea, an accolade he could never have imagined when he began writing.
Recently, his account of Mayflower II's voyage, The Sea is a Magic Carpet, has been re-issued by Thistle Publishing as an e-book for Kindle; the originals of the sketches he made during the voyage can be seen on his website.
His fiction has also been re-issued in e-book form. For those who may feel the Great War was fought solely in the trenches, he suggests exposure to the naval battles in his family saga, Salt and Steel.

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