Coracle, curragh, and carrack, tramp and dreadnought, opium clipper and Scotch boiler--ships all, and all lovingly detailed in this shrewd encyclopedic history of seafaring (complete with a dash of danger and romance) from Woodman (author of the Captain Drinkwater novels: A Private Revenge, 1990, etc.), who spent his working life under the red ensign. Like all good surveys, this one starts at the beginning, when that earliest water-borne craft pushed beyond the horizon: perhaps, Woodman suggests, Pharaoh Sahure's marauding squadron. That first salty expression of malicious royal puissance was a harbinger of things to come, as ships came to symbolize military and political might--exploring, battling, trading, supplying the great war hosts--that has yet to be fully eclipsed. Woodman hits upon all aspects of nautical history--the search for longitude, developments in hydrography, ship design and argot, seagoing mavericks and forgotten heroes--and has saturated his book with gorgeous maps and cross-sections, color and vintage photographs, and ship portraits.