Until now, there has been no general history of the classic age of naval warfare—the 40 or so years between the American Revolution and the fall of Napoleon. Miller (Star-Spangled Men, 1997, etc.) has finally done the job and done it superbly.
In his thorough, often gripping tale, the author combines fast-paced narrative with clear analysis to portray the exploits of American and British fighting men at sea. (The French, Dutch, and other navies of the day, while unequal to the other two, unfortunately get less attention.) Assuming that many readers will know little of naval life, Miller carefully describes warship construction, the harsh life of the sea, and the awful realities of battle. Although he seems more admiring of the average sailors than distressed by the shipboard carnage he depicts, he goes farther than most to emphasize the courage of seaborn fighting men. American sailors get their due, but since this was the greatest age of British naval might, the book's central figures are the sailors of the North Sea. Not surprisingly, the hero of Miller's tale who knits the narrative together is Horatio Nelson, the victorious (and fatally wounded) British admiral-in-chief at Trafalgar in 1805. While Miller makes nothing of it, Nelson's rise to top command, knighthood, and undying fame reveals the porousness of Britain's rigid class society when genius showed its hand. On the American side, the absence of a long-established navy cost the nation dearly. Yet the young US force enjoyed its share of men who in their rough abilities and dogged pride were often a match for their more experienced enemies. At this distance, we can take off our hats to both sides and cheer the author of this fine work as well.
A lively history in its own right, offering an authoritative context for those hooked on the novels of Forester, O'Brian, and Kent. (4 maps, 20 illustrations, not seen)