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The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo Hardcover – August 16, 2007

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Husband and wife Roy Adkins (Nelson's Trafalgar) and Lesley Adkins (Empires of the Plain) team up for this vivid account of the naval campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars (1798–1815). Contending that the wars were won at sea, the authors trace the nautical action from the Battle of the Nile (1798), where a British fleet destroyed the French fleet and stranded Napoleon's army in Egypt, to the decisive Battle of Trafalgar (1805), where the British overwhelmed a combined French and Spanish fleet supporting an invasion of Britain. The narrative concludes with an account of the protracted war of attrition that followed Trafalgar and ended with Bonaparte's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. This low-grade conflict—coastal blockades and shipping raids—caught neutral nations like the United States in the middle and ultimately led the Americans to declare war on England in 1812—a conflict that was never more than a sideshow for the British. This rollicking saga ranges from the Mediterranean to the Indies, East and West, and ends with Britain in control of the world's sea lanes—the foundation for her future empire. Meticulously researched—drawing on extensive and intimate eyewitness accounts from contemporary journals, letters and memoirs—this lively narrative will delight students and fans of nautical history. (Aug. 20)
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From Booklist

In the nineteenth century, the British created the greatest maritime-based empire in world history. That empire was made possible by the domination of the Royal Navy, which was forged in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries in the fires of the Napoleonic Wars. The Adkins, who are both historians and archaeologists, have written a narrative history of British naval conflicts from 1798 to 1815. In that span, the Royal Navy engaged almost every major naval power, including France, Spain, Holland, and even the U.S. Naturally, the Adkins describe the exploits of naval icons, including Nelson and Hood, but their account is most engrossing when they utilize eyewitness accounts of ordinary seamen to capture the intensity of battle as well as the grind of day-to-day life aboard a warship. The Adkins display such superb technological knowledge of their subject that they can be excused for their occasional delving into "Britannica Rules the Waves" enthusiasm. A superior work of maritime history that both scholars and general readers should enjoy. Freeman, Jay

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (August 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038640
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,337,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on August 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Roy Adkins has previously published a history of Trafalgar, the most famous sea battle in history. Now, with his wife Lesley, he has written "The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo". The subtitle pretty well sums up the book's scope: the Royal Navy's war against Napoleon from 1798 to 1812 (plus the War of 1812), a history of the blockade against France as well as great fleet battles and spectacular single ship actions. The narative is vividly illuminated throughout with generous excerpts from first hand accounts, making for absorbing reading. Colorful characters such as Thomas Lord Cochrane and Sir Sidney Smith, as well as many lesser known officers, abound. At times the coverage is not wholly even; the conquest of Mauritius is passed over in only two short sentences, but the disastrous expeditions to the River Plate and Walcheren are given their sorry due. If I were to offer a criticism it would be that the Adkinses could have started their history a little earlier (1793) to cover the whole of the naval war against France, including the beginnings of the continental blockade and such great sea battles as the Glorious First of June and Cape St. Vincent. Even though the book cannot lay claim to giving a history of the entire naval war against France, it nonetheless should find a welcome home on the bookshelves of almost anyone interested in the subject.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Eric F. Facer on September 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that, prior to reading this book, I knew very little about the Napoleonic Wars and the related naval campaigns. So I am not in a position to tell you whether the authors got their facts right (I'm inclined to think that they did). With that disclaimer, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is very readable and quite linear, making it easy to follow the sequence of events. In addition, the authors have several nice chapters detailing the horrors of each party's treatment of POWs and the draconian British practice of impressment. My only complaints are as follows.

First, the authors only devote a couple of pages to the Battle of Trafalgar; I think it warranted a bit more. Second, a couple of additional maps would have been nice, especially with respect to the naval campaigns fought in the East Indies. Third, although the extensive quotes from primary sources were, on the whole, quite good, at times they were a bit excessive. For example, towards the end of the book the authors include two lengthy testimonials about the compassion displayed by a British physician for American POWs captured during the War of 1812. One quote would have sufficed. (Perhaps the reason the authors felt compelled to highlight this physician's kindness is because the authors, being British themselves, wished to obscure Great Britain's otherwise shameful treatment of American POWs.)

Apart from these relatively minor quibbles, I highly recommend this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on October 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To me, history can be done well in a couple of ways. The first provides a clear point-by-point time line and narrative of how a series of events unfolded. While this book has a little of that, it isn't where it excels. This book succeeds tremendously on the second front; giving its reader a tangible sense of what the lives of British and French naval sailors and officers were like around 1800.

Adkins obviously spent a lot of time looking for first-hand accounts of each of the events in the book. He quotes from the journals and manuscripts of the people who were actually present in the battles, prisons and treaty signings to put you right into the action. You really get a feel for what it was like to be firing a cannon on a British ship as the French fired back. You understand the hesitation and the commitment of officers as they make decisions in the heat of battles.

The book really doesn't do as good a job of conveying the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic Wars, but I don't think that is its goal. Interestingly, Adkins seems to switch into that mode when he moves over from the war in Europe to the War of 1812 versus the United States. He does it quite well.

This book would need to be great on both fronts to get five stars, but I recommend it highly as a very solid four star book that will put you on board a naval vessel in 1800.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Fred Camfield on November 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The book is well researched and well written. It is the best historical account I have found for the time period in question. It provides some significant details omitted from other accounts.

The book starts with a prologue giving a description of the action between the Brig sloop Speedy, under the command of then commander Lord Cochrane, and the Spanish frigate Gamo resulting in the amazing capture of the Gamo. This is a much better account then what I found in Cochrane's own autobiography (which is surprising considering he was not known for his modesty). The book then proceeds with action starting in 1798 with Captain Sir William Sidney Smith's escape from captivity in Paris, and General Napoleon Bonaparte's descent on Egypt which resulted in the Battle of the Nile (Admiral Nelson victorious), and the defense of Acre (Captain Smith victorious - the only military setback of Napoleon on land prior to his retreat from Moscow).

The book is mainly about naval action, but includes details of some significant land campaigns starting with the aforementioned defense of Acre. It covers various actions up through 1815 including the war between England and the United States (there is a good account, for example, of the Battle of New Orleans). There is some commentary on the political situations of the time period.

There are some helpful details on other aspects of the war, including the Hot Press of 1803 when England needed to man its ships in a hurry. Men and boys were snatched off the street, out of theaters, off ships, from their jobs, etc., with no regard to their occupations, naval experience (if any) and other commitments. In some cases there were pitched battles with townsmen.

There are also some details of atrocities.
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