January 11, 2005

Book Review: "Nelson: Love and Fame"

Over the holidays, I entertained myself with a biography of Lord Nelson, one of the most famous in a long line of justly celebrated English Admirals. Nelson was the most successful and winningest Admiral the English had during the Napoleonic wars, winning a great victory at the Battle of the Nile and dying at his greatest victory off of Cape Trafalgar, in Spain. This biography of him looked just the thing to take away with me to Guatemala. I must say that despite the books faults, and some were major, I enjoyed it just the same.

First, too much on his "Love". I think that the book went into too great detail about Nelson's various affairs of the heart. I remain skeptical that it was necessary to dissect all of them, again and again. It would have been enough to give us a flavor of them, I think.

Second, too many sentences that suggest that the biographer was making a guess. I would have liked a little less speculation and a bit more certainty. That said, it is impossible to really achieve certainty and I realize that. I just would have liked fewer guesses. I can't give any examples.

Third, Vincent, the author, takes the time to fight all of Nelson's personal battles for him here, even going so far as to attempt to discredit any Nelson contemporary critic who dared raise objections to Nelson's conduct. This grew tiresome after awhile and tarnished Vincent's reputation for impartiality. It can't really be true that every one of Nelson's critics was always wrong. That is the impression Vincent leaves.

Finally, and this is my biggest disappointment with the book, there really should have been a chapter about the operation of the Royal Navy and the life of the sailor and the officer. This would have provided invaluable context. Something about the role of naval tactics prior to Nelson would have been very helpful, too. I have some background here because I have read a bit in the area, but even I would have benefitted from such discussions.

So, on balance, go ahead and read it. It was not bad, had good maps of the battles, and gave a good flavor of Nelson's life, a life worth knowing something about.

Posted by Random Penseur at January 11, 2005 08:11 AM

I walked on his lovely boat in Southampton, the one with the lovely scrubbed deck that saw his demise on.

I may withold judgement on his navy intelligence and the ladies in his life but...wow...what a ship.

Posted by: Helen at January 11, 2005 08:45 AM

Nice review. Since you linked to Amazon - why don't you write a review and post it on Amazon?

There's a whole subculture of Amazon reviewers out there . . . including Newt Gingrich!!! There are also a few folks who have blogs dedicated to books and such that write a lot of reviews and then link them on the blog.

On the other hand . . .you have so many things on your blog already that it is quite presumptuous of me to make suggestions!!!

Cheers, Ivan

Posted by: ivan at January 11, 2005 02:12 PM
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