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The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649­-1815 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393328479
ISBN-10: 0393328473
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The adjective "magisterial" is justified for this colossal second volume of a complete history of British sea power, which began with The Safeguard of the Sea (1998); the author of the classic 18th-century British naval history, The Wooden World, has surpassed himself here. The book opens with the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1649; for its duration there were two British navies, the Commonwealth Navy (which laid the foundations for a professional officer corps and fought the First Dutch War of 1652–1654) and a semipiratical Royalist Navy-in-Exile. After the Restoration, we quickly find the diarist Samuel Pepys exercising less literary but more permanent influence as secretary (or chief administrative officer) of the admiralty. The book offers colossal amounts of information (organized sometimes thematically, sometimes chronologically) right through to its endpoint of 1815, accompanied by a formidable set of notes and bibliography, as well as 24 pages of illustrations. The author not only avoids a hagiography of famous admirals but displays psychological insight in his portraits of, for example, the trio of Lord St. Vincent, his protégé Nelson and Nelson's indispensable second, Collingwood. Rodger also demonstrates a firm grasp of the relationship of technical subjects (the amount of tar caulking a ship needed) to British strategy (keeping the Baltic sources of tar accessible). Readers without an intense interest in the subject may be daunted; readers without some background knowledge in British social history may be somewhat at sea in the author's discussion of the officer corps and the recruitment of sailors (usually through the press-gang). Serious students of naval history, however, will find this absolutely indispensable; this is the place to find out whence the navy of Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower came.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“As Mr. Rodger demonstrates on almost every page, if you do not understand the importance of British maritime history, you can never fully understand Britain.” (The Economist)

“Rodger illuminates the world of Nelson and Hardy and its portrayal by C. F. Forrester in the Hornblower novels and Patrick O’Brian in the Aubrey and Maturin cycle . . . to understand the Royal Navy at its peak, Rodger’s account is indispensable” (Washington Post Book World)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393328473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393328479
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,377,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This volume continues the author's brilliant elucidation of the history of the British navy, so ably begun with The Safeguard of the Sea. The author addresses the navy as a multi-faceted institution, influencing and being influenced by the evolution of politics, taxation, government finance, trade and bureaucracy. Though focused upon the British navy, the book includes a collateral and comparative consideration of naval institutions in France, Spain and Holland.

The author serves up a generally savory mixture of impeccable scholarship and pungent opinion. Nevertheless, American readers may find distasteful his dismissive attitude toward the outcomes of the American Revolution (the "American War") and the War of 1812, and their implications for British naval policy.

Like its predecessor, this volume is chaptered by theme within broad time periods. The thematic structure facilitates the development of theses concerning social organization, finance and the like. The book also includes a Glossory (invaluable)and statistical appendices (valuable, but not priceless).

I await with interest a further volume in this series -- when the author will have to come to terms with the ascendancy of the United States Navy, and modify his thusfar appropriate Euro-centrism. Yankee pride aside, this is an absolutely marvelous book.
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Format: Hardcover
NAM Rodger's name is already well-known to students of the Royal Navy during the great age of sail, particularly for his "The Wooden World". His "The Command of the Ocean" is a superlative history of the Royal Navy during its rise to dominance at sea and of its period of greatest achievement and glory -- the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars when it was Britain's primary weapon in the struggle with France. Besides being a compelling narrative of more than a century and a half of naval history, Rodger's book is also a compendium of detailed information about the Royal Navy as an institution. Fans of the nautical novels of O'Brian and Forester would do well to read "The Command of the Ocean" for a more complete understanding of the world in which their fictional heroes lived.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rodger has written an excellent book that details why the Royal Navy triumphed over the French in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to Rodger the reasons for British naval superiority were better maintanence, superior ship design, more effective officer training, and improved health measures. The British were able to keep their ships afloat because they invested a great deal of money in buiding docks that were able to fix ships of the line as opposed to the French, who sacrificed dock building in favor of making new ships. The British also had rugged ships that with bronze plating could outrun their French counterparts that were of a lighter design. British officer training was more practical since it was aboard ships as opposed to the classroom eduction of the French officers. Finally the British were able to triumph over the French because they were able to keep their sailors healthy by a better diet than their French counterparts, and constantly cleaning the interiors of the ships as opposed to the French, who neglected these health measures.The main weakness of Rodger's book is that he seems to gloss over British naval operations, but despite this weakness, Rodger gives credible reason why the Royal Navy defeated the French on consistent basis.
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Format: Hardcover
As a integrated history of the British Navy, this book is unsurpassed. I couldn't possibly add anything meaningful to the praise by experts more qualified than me.

However, I can't give this book 5 stars because it has a very serious problem that might not be recognized by readers who are unfamiliar with the very complex political history of Britain from ~1620 to ~1780. Whenever Prof. Rodger has to discuss this topic, he cites minority views by revisionist historians that literally made my head spin. And these views always seem to be ultra-conservative opinions, even by the standard of those times.

Now this may be a welcome relief from the usual Marxist claptrap that passes for academic history these days, but it is just as far from reality. For instance, Rodger treats the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as though it were just another Anglo-Dutch War in which William of Orange just happened to invade and conquer Britain due to a lucky wind shift and the inexplicable cowardice of King James II. The deep-seated loathing of the English people for James' Catholicism is hardly mentioned, except as an irrational prejudice that was fanned by clever propaganda. I guess Prof. Rodger never heard of the Inquisition, or the hordes of Hugenot refugees that had crossed the Channel from France only three years before.

His description of the issues involved in the American Revolution is even more fantastic. Did anyone outside of Bedlam Asylum really think that men like Jefferson and Franklin were "aligning themselves with absolutism and Jacobitism"?

So my advice is: buy the book, read the book, but be very skeptical of anything it says about England outside the dockyard walls.
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Format: Paperback
Generally I think the negative reviews of this book can be lumped together as the product of a rather triumphantilist strain of American History teaching that treats the Glorious Revolution, the American War of Independence etc. as a glorious chain of events in the march of liberty that are not only undoubtedly good and of immense import, but also predestined. This strain of pedagogy ignores the great deal of ambiguity that existed about these events as they happened and in the process distorts our vision of history by making it decidedly one-sided.

To answer a few objections offhand: The War of 1812 was not important for anyone that didn't live in North America. Period. The only British subjects for which that conflict was of great importance were the Canadians, and that's because in the war of 1812 we Americans tried and failed to invade their country for the last time. A few frigate actions do not make the creation of a great naval power--that would take the Spanish-American War and a couple of World Wars to do, and furthermore it is not the American Navy's history that is being recorded in the chapters in question, nor the history of the war of 1812 as such, but the history of the Royal Navy during the period, and for the Royal navy battles of scratch-built boats on lakes, however courageously fought, or frigate-duels, however inspiring, were not particularly important compared to Napolean.

The same can be said of the War of Independence: the actions of John Paul Jones were courageous and inspiring, but how important were they or anything else the Continental Navy's rather paltry fleet did in comparison to the thirty some ships of the line that were ready to invade England? Or the fact that by 1781 Britain was at war with every major naval power in Europe?
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