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Nelson: The Sword of Albion Hardcover – International Edition, October 15, 2012
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• "The last eight years of his [Nelson's] life dealt with in thrilling, monumental detail." --Sunday Times
• "John Sugden has written a splendid book about this great Christian warrior." --Paul Johnson, Tablet
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
DR. JOHN SUGDEN has pursued a busy trans-Atlantic career as a lecturer, senior research fellow and writer. He is the author of a series of acclaimed articles and books, including Sir Francis Drake, Tecumseh: A Life, which won the Distinguished Book Award of the American Society for Military History, and Blue Jacket, which won the Ohioana Award. His fascination with Nelson stems from childhood, and he decided to write a complete life of Nelson when he discovered large amounts of untapped material whilst completing his doctorate in naval and political history.
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I gave this second volume three stars because the author apparently ran out of gas. The tone and pace is often encyclopedic; of interest to Nelson buffs, but does not compete favorably with accounts advanced by other authors. The books strength is that it chronicles and analyzes many of the features of Horatio Nelson's atypical personal life. However, it adds little to our understanding of Nelson's later naval battles.
A more serious problem is the uneven pace of the narrative. Pages 630 to 730 are extraneous and should be deleted. Just as the intensity of the narrative thread began to swell around page 625 with the feint of French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve, the author interrupts the narrative with a 100 page digression that explores the character and leadership style of Admiral Nelson. I am amazed that this section made it past the scrutiny of the editor.
Before reading this second volume, I would recommend reading more concise and engaging accounts of Trafalgar such as Roy Adkins fine book, Nelson's Trafalgar.
Okay, now for the good stuff. Buried in this mountain of unnecessary detail, the author gives a well rounded view of Nelson as a person and as a naval leader. This book also is quite thorough at providing the political background for the naval conflict between England and its enemies. In the process the reader gets reminded just how primitive communications were in the early nineteenth century. Wind powered boats and ships had to keep Nelson in contact with everyone. On a good day one of these vessels reached speeds of under ten miles an hour. Since he was based in southern Italy for much of decade covered by this book, everyone who mattered was more than a thousand miles away. That meant Nelson had to make a large number of decisions, both naval and political, without waiting for instructions. His superiors had to rely on his good sense and he seldom disappointed them.
When it came to good sense, realizing that a healthy, well fed and well trained sailor was infinitely more useful than the alternative was another sign that Nelson had a great deal of it. Whatever his undertaking, he got it right more often than he got it wrong.
In the end, I recommend this book, but I also recommend that readers be prepared to skip over the material the author couldn't bring himself to throw away and concentrate on the heart of this important and fascinating story.