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Exactness of detail and rigor of outline make this biography of the 18th-century British admiral a pleasure to read. From his first voyage as a midshipman at age 12 to his death in the Battle of Trafalgar at 47, Nelson combined vaulting ambition with an almost childish simplicity in order to win the love and loyalty of those around him. As British journalist and Nelson-scholar Pocock (Nelson and His World, Chelsea Reach, Remember Nelson, etc.) shows in this admirably documented work, the ambition was not without its vain side (Nelson was offended when made a baron and not a viscount after victory in the Battle of the Nile), and the simplicity was inseparable from an egotism that allowed him to consider personal loyalties more important than conventional codes of morality. Nelson's almost religious worship of royalty, his bold and successful maneuvers against Napoleon's fleets, his many scars (including the loss of an arm and an eye), and his scandalous love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, however, all assured him a place in the popular imagination that peaked at the time of his death in 1805. Welding the documentary excitement of the antiquarian (including intimate quotations from recently discovered letters and journals) to the stylistic sureness of a lifelong professional writer, Pocock produces a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting biography.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf