From Publishers Weekly
Dense and demanding, this book requires some background in naval history but will be a feast for qualified readers. A distinguished historian, Palmer offers a valuable addition to naval history with this study of the problems of how to lead a fleet into battle, revising many previous conclusions and offering superb battle narratives. From the 16th century on, Palmer shows, the goal was to train the maximum of one's own firepower on the enemy without getting too close. Over the centuries, with improvements in signaling techniques, centralized command took on more and more of the decisions that were once left to subordinates in the thick of things (although Palmer argues persuasively that centralized command never gained the stranglehold on tactics that was once believed). The primary exponent of centralization, he shows, was Nelson, last of the great commanders under sail. By WWI, radio had created whole new possibilities for centralized command and for communicating intelligence—which radio's unreliability kept from being realized. Palmer's coverage of WWII and its aftermath is broader, but his case throughout is that centralized control leads to micromanagement, slow responses and loss of initiative by subordinates, not to mention having one's communications intercepted by the enemy. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Palmer's descriptions of certain key elements of command during sea battles are more welcoming to readers than one may think. Starting in the sixteenth century, improvements in shipbuilding and ordnance made the development of sea-based tactics possible and necessary. Palmer plausibly argues that naval command has since veered between two schools of thought. One favors centralization--micromanagement from the top--the other more independence, establishing a clear objective but allowing subordinates considerable freedom in achieving it. Palmer illustrates his argument with narratives of battles from four centuries and shows how developments in communications tended to favor the centralizers. He unabashedly propounds looser command structure, contending that the "fog of war" on land and, especially, at sea requires initiative of commanders at all levels. Although the book is heavy with detail on tactics and technology, Palmer's style makes it accessible to general as well as academic readers. Frieda MurrayCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved