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  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Arctic Mission: 90 North by Airship and Submarine

    William F. Althoff

    In 1957 the race for dominance in the Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union Although a demonstration of the viability of satellites to explore our upper atmosphere, the event was considered a national humiliation for the United States, which increased Cold War tensions. In an effort to demonstrate technological prowess, the echelons of the United States government ordered a top-secret transit of the Arctic Ocean from Pacific to Atlantic via the North Pole. The nuclear submarine Nautilus (SSN-571) would (hopefully) reaffirm American technological capabilities through an under-ice transit of the Arctic Basin. In conjunction, the Office of Naval Research initiated a second project: to assess whether non-rigid airships, or blimps, could support field parties in the Arctic. Arctic Mission, recounts the American penetrations of the Arctic in 1958, utilizing interviews, naval reports, and journal excerpts.

    Althoff presents a detailed, visual history of this epic artic. At first, he seems to get lost in the geophysical explanations of the Arctic environment; this may be a natural inclination given his professional background, but on first read it detracts from the main purpose and thesis of the volume. Granted, it is important to understand the complexity of the Arctic environment, but this is not the focus of the book. Additionally, Althoff shortly focuses on an unspoken argument between Canada and the United States for the dominance of the North American continent, making the first chapter difficult to follow and ,to be honest, leaving the reader at a loss for words.

    However, after this initial confusion, Althoff provides a thorough examination of Cold War history, including the fight for Arctic sovereignty, and the stages of technological development and exploration. He provides excellent visual and documentary support for each stage of development, from ships plans and route maps, to personal photos and confidential correspondence. Sometimes the details are overwhelming and occasionally off subject, but Althoff’s investigation into the complex realm of false starts, new directions, environmental complications, solitude, and fraternity provides an intriguing picture of an unknown chapter of Cold War history. 

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011
    • 9” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, xvii + 264 pages
    • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781612610101 

    Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    From Guiding Lights to Beacons for Business: The Many Lives of Maine’s Lighthouses

    Richard Cheek

    From the moment one’s hand touches this book, one begins an adventure of tactile and visual uniqueness. The pages are extra thick, making the reader examine each one when turning it, to be sure two are not stuck together. There is a certain glossiness to the paper that catches one’s attention as well. Colors are more intense, making panoramas more real to the senses.

    Essentially, this is a collection of ten essays about lighthouses along the coast of Maine. Readers will find a range of images from architect's plans, to historic photos, to modern pictures. Cheek has positioned each essay to carry the reader through the histories of selected Maine lighthouses, while displaying hundreds of ways in which these historic structures have been used in the world's marketplace.

    Many hundreds of bright, colorful images are highlighted by the ten essays. Readers are entertained by the collection of historic and contemporary views of all things "lighthouse" while being introduced to the alluring stories from Maine's own maritime history. The various writers have truly searched the oceans and the continents to bring together such a superlative group of images to accompany these essays. They are not just pictures of the lights, these images are of covers from famous novels, front pages of newspapers, postcards, matchbooks, sheet music, magazine covers, an uncountable amount of advertising, art from famous painters, road maps, coffee tins, liquor bottles, shoe boxes, and insurance company advertisements. As the reader works through the fascinating essays, he or she is continually exposed to an extraordinary array of manufactured goods, souvenir items, patriotic material, and promotional prints which, taken as a whole, are quite pleasantly overwhelming. One is astonished to see that so much has come from our national love of lighthouses, that so very many products have reached the American consumer through use of the lighthouse as a sales tool, and as a national symbol.

    Readers will find a rich resource of links and references in the back of the book which can lead one to a wide range of source material on each of the photographs. There is also a superlative section of notes which provide a wealth of additional information. A traditional reference section will provide supportive readings, and the editor has also provided a standard index section to help locating specific topics.

    Books of this type are familiar to us as "coffee table books." They are specimens of the exotic places to which we have been, or places we imagine we will visit someday. In other venues they are seen as "trophy editions" or "hotel collections," placed in waiting rooms or in lobbies of grand hotels so that patrons can share in the adventures they portray. They are designed to be evocative and exciting in their subject matter, and in the quality of their materials. They impart a weightiness to the viewer, saying, in as much, that the people here have command of these resources, that they have been to these places and move in high social strata, that they expect to be treated with deference and good manners, that business conducted here is serious. Along with that, trophy edition books can be great books to simply fill one's time.

    There is something in lighthouses that all Americans share in their genetic heritage. With Guiding Lights, Cheek has done justice to every facet of the genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book to browse and to own. This is a book for "old salts", and "Down-Easters", and for anyone with a love of the sea in their hearts.

    • Boston: Historic New England, 2012
    • 8-1/4” x 11”, softcover, 240 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9780884483380
    • Distributed by Tilbury House, Publishers, Gardiner, Maine

    Reviewed by Bob Rutledge, University of West Florida

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy

    Walter E. Wilson and Gary L. McKay

    For all that has been written about the American Civil War, this is the first full-length biography of James D. Bulloch. Walter Wilson and Gary McKay have a produced a fine biography that will leave little room for any further work on this important Confederate naval agent. Most anyone who has studied the war, particularly the naval aspects of it, will have heard of Bulloch. What name recognition he has among today’s readership is through his connection to the famous Confederate cruisers CSS Florida, Alabama, and Shenandoah. But Bulloch’s story is much deeper, broader, and more shadowy than casual Civil War buffs would recognize, and the authors do a commendable job of telling the whole story of Bulloch’s life.

    In the first three chapters the authors detail Bulloch’s life prior to the war. Born of a fairly well-situated Georgia family, Bulloch became connected through marriage to some of America’s foremost families, most notably the Roosevelts. He was the favorite uncle and mentor of future president Theodore Roosevelt. Bulloch served proudly in the United States Navy and later became captain of a mail steamer, a position he would leave to offer his services to the new Confederate States Navy.

    Secretary Stephen R. Mallory sent Bulloch to England as an agent for the Confederate Navy and Bulloch very quickly immersed himself in his work. From the moment he arrived, he was under constant surveillance by both United States and British officials. All of his work had to be done very discreetly, if not in complete secrecy. His intelligence and demeanor suited him well for this type of duty, even though he yearned to command a vessel at sea. Though he is best known for his work in getting the aforementioned cruisers to sea, he was also involved in acquiring or building blockade runners and other vessels. His attempt to have two seagoing ironclads built in England, commonly known as the “Laird rams,” was his biggest failure. The most shadowy part of his career was his involvement in intelligence and espionage work, an area that the authors explore to the best of their ability, but one that remains somewhat mysterious.

    At war’s end, Bulloch and his family remained in England and Bulloch eventually gained British citizenship. hey never returned permanently to the United States. Later chapters tell of Bulloch’s life as a businessman after the war and of the lengthy legal battle between the United States and Great Britain over the Alabama Claims. Bulloch lived a long and very successful postwar life, maintaining his family connections and entertaining members of the Roosevelt family on numerous European visits. All of these events are placed within in the context of late nineteenth-century European history and politics.

    The final chapter is a summary of Bulloch’s wartime activities and nicely supports the argument for Bulloch’s often overlooked importance to the Confederacy. Two appendices list “Bulloch’s Family, Friends, and Foes” and the ships he was responsible for building or acquiring. Both are very handy references. There are numerous photographs throughout the book, helping put faces to the names in the text. The book is extensively researched and well-written. As with most books from this publisher, the price will be prohibitive for many buyers, which is a shame because this fine biography deserves a wide readership. 

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2012
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, 362 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $55.00
    • ISBN: 9780786466597

    Reviewed by Andrew Duppstadt, North Carolina State Historic Sites

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Man Who Thought Like a Ship

    Loren C. Steffy

    Like many of the first nautical archaeologists, J. Richard “Dick” Steffy came from an unexpected background. His son’s memoir, The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, recounts Steffy’s journey from an electrician in a landlocked Pennsylvania town to an ancient ship reconstructor with the Kyrenia Project on the island of Cyprus and, finally, to a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and college professor at Texas A&M University. As its title suggests, the book does not focus on the ship but rather the man looking at it, bringing a humanizing side to the story of the emergence of nautical archaeology as a discipline. The author brings Steffy’s entire family into the story, including his family’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, with the child Dick Steffy making model boats of paper strips and flour paste provided by his mother. Later, his burgeoning interest in ship archaeology was cultivated by his wife. With a young family of two sons and a successful business as an electrician, Steffy took a risk and joined a team of young archaeologists investigating a shipwreck on the island of Cyprus, as a ship reconstructor. The project would eventually take years but also laid the groundwork for Steffy’s theories on hull remains and reconstructions having a place in the study of ancient ships. Eventually, Steffy was offered a professorship at Texas A&M University with a few of his colleagues, a department which has investigated hundreds of shipwrecks and produced a body of strong academic work. For those who are familiar with Steffy’s work, the book allows a glimpse behind the lines drawings at the man who made them.

    The book makes no claims to be an authoritative discussion of the origins of the nautical archaeology discipline, but does provide enough background research to illuminate its early years. Loren Steffy tells his father’s story in light prose, making it easy to read, but incorporates numerous footnotes, ensuring that the facts he presents—from the technology of ancient ship construction to the political turmoil in Cyprus in the 1970s—are accurate. His footnotes also provide a base from which engaged readers can learn more about the technical side of ship archaeology, read more about the specific projects mentioned, or delve deeper into the stories of some of the supporting players—mostly noteworthy archaeologists themselves.

    The Man Who Thought Like a Ship is slowly paced as it covers the early years and fateful decisions that led Dick Steffy to attend academic lectures, begin building ship models in his home and finally to approach formal archaeologists with his own ideas and observations. Building suspense, the pace quickens as we move through Steffy’s life, meeting more varied individuals and bringing Steffy’s young family—and the reader—along for the ride. For those unfamiliar with the cadre of archaeologists involved with the Institute for Nautical Archaeology or with Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program, the characters may need greater introduction. To those familiar with them already, the book reads like a reunion with old acquaintances. A short section of photos in the early chapters helps visually introduce the young Dick Steffy, and provides good images to accompany the Kyrenia ship—which plays a major role in the narrative. One of its strongest points is in illustrating the loving relationship between Dick and Lucille Steffy, his wife. This relationship forms the emotional backbone of the story and illustrate’s Lucille’s contributions—from typing and filing to feeding and educating their sons while in Cyprus—and their significance as well.

    Nautical Archaeology Program, the characters may need greater introduction. To those familiar with them already, the book reads like a reunion with old acquaintances. A short section of photos in the early chapters helps visually introduce the young Dick Steffy, and provides good images to accompany the Kyrenia ship—which plays a major role in the narrative. One of its strongest points is in illustrating the loving relationship between Dick and Lucille Steffy, his wife. This relationship forms the emotional backbone of the story and illustrate’s Lucille’s contributions—from typing and filing to feeding and educating their sons while in Cyprus—and their significance as well.

    This reviewer’s biggest difficulty with the book was Loren Steffy’s own place in his narration—he refers to his main character alternately as “Dick” and “my father.” The effect was that this reviewer felt almost simultaneously pulled into the story and pushed away from its center. The addition of a few maps showing the locations of Denver, Pennsylvania and Kyrenia, on the island of Cyprus, would have aided those unfamiliar with those areas and emphasized the significance of Steffy’s early landlocked home and the political situation in Cyprus that threatened his ship reconstruction work. Nevertheless, it is a refreshingly non-academic work that is at once easy to read and enlightening. 

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 196 pages
    • Photographs, notes, glossary, bibliography, index. $35.00
    • ISBN: 9781603446648

    Reviewed by LeeAnne Gordon,  Alexandria, Virginia

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Roles of the Sea in Medieval England

    Richard Gorski

    For the British, perhaps no other subject has been as studied or as linked to national pride as the history of their nation at sea. Particularly in the Victorian era—the great age of Nelson himself—British historians looked to their nautical past in order to define themselves and explain their Empire’s successes. Even now, the study of England’s maritime history (especially through the lens of nautical archaeology or as part of the rising field of Atlantic World history) continues unabated. The study of sea power and maritime history in the Middle Ages, however, has received comparatively little focus. In a new collection of essays, Roles of the Sea in Medieval England, editor Richard Gorski and a wide range of other scholars seek to address this imbalance.

    The result of a conference held at Rye in October 2008, the essays in this collection cover a broad range of topics and a wide background of historical fields. Richard Unger’s essay, for instance, is entitled “Changes in Ship Design and Construction: England in the European Mould,” but is not simply an archaeological examination of riggings and sails. Rather, it includes sections on the economic reasons for changes in ship design, the role of religion in the process, and a particularly useful section on “Play, Curiosity, and Human Aspects” of changing ship designs, following the work of Huizinga. Other essays focus on the economics of the Cinque Ports, an examination of England’s admirals in the late fourteenth century, and, in two later essays, England’s relations with the Hanseatic League and Ireland. The final essay, Friel’s “How Much Did the Sea Matter in Medieval England (c.1200-c.1500)?” provides an excellent closing chapter for the collection, concluding that “the sea and its uses mattered enormously to medieval England,” even if the majority of the common population was unaware of the fact. 

    The most useful section of the book is Gorski’s own introduction, “Roles of the Sea: Views from the Shore.” The essay serves not only as an introduction to the various other topics, but also as a primer on the field of maritime history in general. For the non-specialist, it offers a brief overview of the historiography and particular features and problems of studying maritime and naval history, while specialists are given much to think about regarding, for instance, the sea itself as an actor in the historical record. Gorski, along with all of the other authors in the collection, provides extensive footnotes, drawn prodigiously from both primary sources and secondary sources in English and other languages. A single minor complaint that can be made is that the book’s title may be somewhat misleading: “medieval England” is a broad period of time that includes a large swath of history, from circa AD 400 to 1200, that this book mostly ignores. As a collection of essays on England and the sea in the High Middle Ages, however, Roles of the Sea is a welcome addition to any maritime or English history shelf.

    • Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, x + 194 pages
    • Map, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $90.00
    • ISBN: 9781843837015

    Reviewed by Ryan T. Goodman, East Carolina University

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps

    Chet van Duzer

    Chet Van Duzer's study of the wild sea monsters adorning European maps from the tenth through the sixteenth centuries is a lavish survey of the panoply of monsters, whales, hybrids, and bizarre creatures occupying the middles and the margins of old oceans and newly-charted seas. Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps follows the transformation of these creatures from imaginative emblems of the dangerous seas to the common whales harvested in the high north of sixteenth-century Spitsbergen and Newfoundland. After noting that most early European maps do not feature sea monsters or whales, Van Duzer clearly and convincingly shows that depictions of sea monsters can represent transforming notions of the sea and its dangers, but also highlight the playful imaginations of artists and mapmakers of medieval and renaissance Europe.

    Van Duzer has written an unparalleled study on a wondrous and often overlooked medieval and renaissance artistic tradition. The closest related work is perhaps James Sweeney's 1972 Pictorial History of Sea Monsters and Other Dangerous Marine Life. The sea monsters depicted throughout Van Duzer's beautifully illustrated British Library volume strike absolute wonder in the reader today, and the author provides valuable insight into what medieval and renaissance viewers must have made of these sinewy, silly, horned, fanged, and fearsome creatures. The choice to include images of marine monsters on maps was typically that of the patron, and mapmakers had a wide array of models, observations or imaginations to guide their depictions. The rationale of the patrons and artists, though, in the placement, character, and quantity of monsters on maps could be multifaceted. Van Duzer's study helps to explain which, where, and why monsters appear. He accomplishes this through a chronological and descriptive survey of key maps in the sea monster canon, always cross-referencing relevant maps to create a genealogy of images. These sea creatures served as geographical warnings for sailors of dangerous or unexplored areas, as simple decorations, as moral cautions, or even as horror vacui fillers. Among the book's most engaging sections are the comparative ‘Pictorial Excursus,’ which focus on whimsical and dangerous sea monsters and the ‘cartographic career of the walrus.’ These brief digressions are particularly successful in their choice comparisons of illustrations, underscoring transformations of certain themes and images from early to later maps. 

    If any critiques are to be made of this incomparable book, one could point to the potential benefits of a more synthetic conclusion that could bookend the brief but immensely useful introduction. Having witnessed the transformations of various creatures throughout Van Duzer's survey, a synthesis of outcomes could underscore the changing roles these images played in the minds of audiences from medieval Europe and beyond.

    Scholars will appreciate the twenty-two useful pages of endnotes and the index of manuscripts. These accompany a somewhat less useful two-page index. More importantly, scholars gain a ready, chronological hand list of maritime imagery upon famous and less famous early European maps and globes. General readers will delight in the detailed look at the animals and outskirts of medieval geographies. Finally, Van Duzer reminds scholars that it sometimes helps to let the eye wander to the margins, to get a different historical perspective of medieval perspectives of their surrounding seas. This critical analysis of a hitherto ignored cartographic trope adds much-needed depth to our understanding of medieval and later perceptions of the sea and its mysterious creatures. 

    • London: The British Library, 2013
    • 9” x 9-3/4”, hardcover, 144 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00
    • ISBN: 9780712358903

    Reviewed by Vicki Ellen Szabo, Western Carolina University

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    The Ship That Would Not Die: USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper

    Stephen Curley

    The bond between man and machine is often a strange and unexplainable relationship that spans distance and time. From construction to its final resting place on the ocean floor, Stephen Curley provides a meticulously written and researched account of the ship known as USS Queens, SS Excambion, and USTS Texas Clipper. The format plays a crucial role in the development of the story, as each portion opens and ends one of the lives of “the ship that would not die.” As Queens, the ship made its debut near the end of World War II and became one of five attack transports that survived the war while building an impressive career, including service at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima. The converted Excambion cruised for sixty-eight voyages, the majority of which garnished a sterling reputation for not only the ship itself, but also for American Export Lines. After being retired due to a decline in its reputation and changes in sea based shipping, Excambion was laid up until the Texas Maritime Academy purchased the ship and ushered in its final floating chapter. Texas Clipper served as a floating classroom for over thirty years, educating many young seamen. Now an artificial reef, this ship continues to live an “unending” life. The Ship that Would not Die is not just an historical account of this wondrous vessel, but a testament to the relationship that involves man, machine, and sea.

    Each facet of the ship’s life is masterfully documented in both a technical and common parlance. Curley provides a rich and detailed context that places the reader directly on board the vessel. Whether during its important support role in World War II, its height of swank while earning a reputation for being a party ship, or during its years as a teaching vessel, one cannot help but feel a part of the ship. Curley creates a virtual walk-through of the ship by his use of engaging text, well placed context points, and personal accounts that allow the reader to connect with the past crew and ship. To call this tome an “account” is an understatement. 

    The technical information and staggering amount of information compiled in this book is impressive in and of itself. The true brilliance found throughout the pages of The Ship that Would not Die are the narratives and details provided by previous ship’s crew and others whose lives have been in one way or another connected to this machine. In complement with the anecdotes, Curley provides the reader with over a hundred photographs that are seamlessly woven throughout the text. From its construction as Queens, its voyages as a cargo-passenger liner, its many hours of service as a classroom, and its final function as home to hundreds of types of marine life, this ship will never truly die. Stephen Curley has captured the essence of the vessel known by hundreds of crewmembers, passengers, students, and divers that truly, as he concludes, “encapsulates so much of America’s dream.”

    • College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011
    • 9-1/4” x 10-1/4”, hardcover, xv + 235 pages
    • Photographs, maps, diagrams, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9781603444279

    Reviewed by Benjamin Wells, University of West Florida

  • November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    War at Sea: A Naval Atlas 1939-1945

    Marcus Faulkner

    Written by Marcus Faulkner, and introduced by naval historian Andrew Lambert, War at Sea: A Naval Atlas 1939-1945 is a nearly comprehensive visual and narrative account of the naval actions of the Second World War. The text breaks away from the familiar large campaign focus of traditional naval historiography, and instead presents a balanced view of the surface engagements, amphibious landings, air campaigns, operational movements, and minor skirmishes of the water-borne conflict through a series of detailed color maps and brief narrative entries.

    The atlas, as discussed by Faulkner in the preface, is designed to serve two functions. The first is as an overall history of the conflict. The chronological organization of the text offers a systemic view of the naval war in the seas around Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and successfully illustrates the fluid and often overlapping nature of naval combat. The second function is that of a reference point from which to further analyze specific campaigns or operations. In most cases, the larger operations, such as the Battle of the Atlantic or the raid on Pearl Harbor, are allotted two pages, whereas the smaller events, such as Operation Pamphlet or the Battle of Savo Island, are allotted one page. Owing to the predominantly visual nature of the text, each map contains a geographic reference point, a breakdown of relevant Allied and Axis forces, and a color-coded order of movements in order to provide a detailed, complete picture of the event. 

    War at Sea: A Naval Atlas 1939-1945 is a well-balanced, extensive examination of the major and minor occurrences of the naval portion of World War II. The author presents the material in a concise, easy to read format, and the wealth of visual information and accompanying explanations, complemented by the use of color, symbols, and a glossary of terms and abbreviations, allow even a lay reader to follow and understand the text. The complementary organization and thorough account of primary and secondary source material make this a must have reference for scholars and armchair historians alike.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012
    • 9-1/2” x 13”, hardcover, xii + 275 pages
    • Maps, bibliography, index. $89.95
    • ISBN: 9781581145608 

    Reviewed by Nicole Silverblatt, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    Able Seamen: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy 1850-1939

    Brian Lavery

    As in the two other volumes of this series, Lavery frames his work chronologically with care to address the historical processes of the time. His section on World War II, for example, details the training of recruits and the changing structure of the navy but is not centered on the great battles or engagements of this epic “people’s war.” This book is not a standard treatment of the British navy in war and peace. Other works will offer this perspective. Of course, Lavery does address conflict in Palestine, the Cold War, the Falklands, the Gulf Wars as well as terrorism and piracy. But these important engagements and issues provide the structure and not the content of his work.

    Earlier in this review I suggested that these books would be welcomed by both general readers and scholars alike. They can be read from cover to cover or used as a reference to provide details of naval life during a particular period or to understand changes in the navy from its uniforms to ranks. More important are the extensive glossaries and bibliographies provided with each book. Both advanced scholars and general readers will benefit from his extensive lists of naval histories, memoirs, biographies, manuscripts, annuals, official publications, newspapers and even television series. These and other important sources will help guide future students of maritime and naval history to build on Lavery’s important work.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 352 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, appendices, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $41.95
    • ISBN: 9781844861408

    Reviewed by Donald S. Parkerson, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

    All Hands: The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy Since 1939 to the Present Day

    Brian Lavery

    Matched with his first volume that focused on the common seamen in the Royal Navy from the ninth to mid-nineteenth centuries (Royal Tars: the Lower Deck of the Royal Navy, 875 – 1850, 2010) these two important volumes provide readers with an encyclopedic perspective on the seamen who helped to make the Royal Navy great.

    A generation ago these books could not have been written. As late as the 1970s the command form of military and naval history dominated and able seamen, along with their counterparts in the marines and army, were seldom studied and rarely mentioned. It was the Admiralty and the general staff who held center stage in the historical discourse. We were still under the spell of the “great man theory of history.”

    With the emergence of the new social history however, things began to change. Historians continued to pay homage to the great men (and sometimes the great women) of the past—but the spell had been broken. Now history from the “bottom up” began to take its place in the historiography. What was once called the “new naval history” and the “new military history” is now an accepted part of the discourse, providing casual readers and serious historians alike with a broader and more comprehensive perspective on the past. Brian Lavery’s contribution to this process of historiographic change is significant. These three works represent the maturation of the “new” naval history.

    In Able Seamen, Lavery introduces us to “Jack” in 1850 as he faced the bewildering changes both in the Navy and in the world around him. Like his cousins on land who were dealing with the rapid changes in society and the economy brought on by industrialization, Jack faced a similar set of changes. The sailing line of battle ships were essentially unchanged from the time of the Spanish Armada with some minor exceptions. The sea seemed unchanging and eternal. Generations of men had gone to sea and its traditions were deep indeed. And then, within a generation, their world changed forever. First was the introduction of steam power that transformed the fundamentals of seamanship. Then came the iron clad and steel hulled vessels. Turret guns, rifled guns and torpedoes would follow. Later submarines and airplanes would become important parts of the naval arsenal. Old skills quickly become obsolete and new ones had to be acquired. Naval traditions changed quickly and a new kind of seaman with new ratings was now taking his place in the ranks of the Royal Navy.

    Lavery takes an encyclopaedic approach to describe these changes and the response of seamen to them. His ten chronological chapters address issues including recruitment, rating, pay, training, discipline and messing In addition, Jack’s social and leisure world is also discussed in some detail. This approach is both useful and a bit daunting. The casual reader interested in naval history may be overwhelmed while the specialist might want more. And yet this criticism is common among books that attempt rather complex topics. Lavery’s style of writing and his organizational skill, however, will help the reader navigate this material.

    Brian Lavery completes his study of seamen in the lower deck with his recently published All Hands, bringing the story to completion since 1939. The primary themes of change, adaptation and response developed in Able Seamen remain the centerpiece of this new work. While able seamen of the mid nineteenth century were forced to adapt to steam power, iron and steel hull vessels and breech loading artillery, the seamen of the twentieth century had newer and seemingly more dramatic challenges. Lavery demonstrates that the “jack of all trades” that dominated the Royal Navy in the earlier period was rapidly giving way to a more professionally trained group of men and women who were specialists with extensive training in engineering and computer applications. As in his earlier volumes, Lavery’s description of change allows the direct parallel to life beyond the sea. The complexity of life, the need for greater education and the technological revolution of the late twentieth century were challenges for seaman and landsman alike. While this volume spends less time discussing the social life of “Jack,” (there is a short section of the wives of seamen, and privileges afforded families in the post war period) he does discuss “ethnic minorities,” homosexuality, the Wrens, as well as the general issue of women at sea.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, 328 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $41.95
    • ISBN: 9781591140351

    Reviewed by Donald S. Parkerson, East Carolina University

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.


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