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The World of the Battleship: The Design & Careers of Capital Ships of the World’s Navies 1880-1990

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The World of the Battleship: The Design & Careers of Capital Ships of the World’s Navies 1880-1990

Edited by Bruce Taylor

Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2018

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018

9-3/4” x 10-1/2”, hardcover, 440 pages

Photographs, tables, notes, bibliographies, index. $76.95

ISBN: 9781848321786

 

From the outset The World of the Battleship disconcerts, not least because the subtitle on the dustjacket—The Design & Careers of Capital Ships of the World’s Navies 1880-1990—is markedly different from that in the book itself—The Lives and Careers of Twenty-One Capital Ships from the World’s Navies, 1880-1990. The latter, in fact, far more accurately describes this book’s content than the former.

 

Almost as disconcerting is the realization that it is almost easier to determine what this book is not than to review what it accomplishes. It is not a technical history of capital ships even though it contains a considerable amount of technical data. It is not an operational history despite each of its essays including appreciable coverage of operations. It does not focus on diplomatic, strategic, or procurement policies but devotes quite some space to these concerns.

 

If The World of the Battleship is none of these, what then is it? The shorthand answer is that it is a social history of capital ships that presents the stories of the operators within the context of the technologies, military operations, and national diplomatic, strategic, and procurement objectives pertinent to each of the vessels described in this collection of essays.

 

Editor Bruce Taylor’s accomplishment is that he makes what could have been an incoherent collection of disparate stories into a compelling unified presentation of the maritime world of the capital ship. This is even more remarkable when one realizes that the essays present the perspectives of twenty-one different nations and that less than a quarter of the contributors are native English speakers.

 

Taylor’s introductory essay immediately sets the tone, bringing to the forefront both the international dimension of the capital ship’s technologies and the societal implications (financial, industrial, diplomatic, operational, and personal) of these vessels. The successive essays, even though all have very different perspective, combine to reinforce this presentation of the social history of battleships.

 

One could argue with some of Taylor’s choices. Is Scharnhorst the best platform to tell the Kriegsmarine’s story and one wonders whether Rivadavia might be a more effective representative for Argentina, especially as its rivals Brazil and Chile have dreadnoughts as their storytellers. He also admits the omission of some potential platforms; it is unfortunate that the rare opportunity to tell a part of the Royal Siamese or Royal Portuguese navies’ stories was missed. Nevertheless, The World of the Battleship is a remarkable, innovative, and compelling work whose sum brilliantly succeeds in being greater than its individual parts.

 

Christopher Conlan

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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