From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This illustrious introduction to the Battle of Trafalgar from an archeologist and historian is one of the best in generations for the nonseafaring reader curious about the nautical epic, and it also handsomely rewards those whose study of the battle goes back a generation or two. The battle itself and its aftermath form most of the narrative, interspersed with details of gunnery, ship handling, discipline, construction, damage control and shipboard health and medicine (not for the weak of stomach). The author gives full credit to the heroism of both sides—the dismasted Spanish flagship Santa Ana
; the crew of the British Belleisle,
also reduced to a wreck; and the aptly named French Redoubtable
, from whose tops a stray bullet killed Nelson. Also given in more than usual detail is the weeks-long aftermath of storms, which sank most of the British prizes and during which the British further distinguished themselves by rescuing and landing enemy survivors. "If blood be the price of Admiralty, Lord God we ha' paid in full," Kipling wrote decades later, and this narrative of one of the bloodier occasions in winning that Admiralty is fully worthy of its subject. (On sale Aug. 22)
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Adkins' account focuses on the day of the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805, commenting upon the technology and tactics of sailing-ship navies and the readiness of the particular fleets that met at Trafalgar. An explanation of the strategic situation of France's threatened invasion of Britain frames the center stage of the narrative, a broadside-by-broadside description of which ship was where during the battle. Amid this structure, Adkins incorporates excerpts from survivors' accounts, which retain their gory power to appall. Trafalgar was a slaughter, a consequence of the near impossibility of sinking a wooden ship-of-the-line; hence, the British commander's decision to gain victory by closing with and killing enemy gunners. Writing in the traditional way about Nelson, Adkins knowledgeably narrates events for readers just discovering the blood-and-guts chronology of Trafalgar.
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