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The Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Age - Senior Service

Mark Jessop

Pen and Sword Bopoks 2019

180 pages, hardback,

U.S $39.95 UK £19.99

Order:  https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Royal-Navy-in-the-Napoleonic-Age-Hardback/p/16787


The Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Age

This is an unusual book. The best analogy I can make is that it is like Horrible Histories mainly focusing on the British Navy during the Napoleonic period but without the comedy. If follows the relatively new concept of utilising fictional stories to 'enhance' the history but in this case taking up the entire book coupled with large information dumps. So you get an awful lot of ,'


"hey up mate hows it going.", I said as I looked at the papers describing the Nile [big description of the Nile], when finished I told him so but he told me he knew a carpenter who knows a thing about oars and said [big info dump on oars]. I looked over the bay and meditated on this until a frigate appeared which reminded me about an article about Nelson [info dump about Nelson]


For the entire book. To a certain degree it works and the information covered is rarely repetitive and in some cases struck some unexpected new ground (which is nice in a historical area I know a reasonable amount about) . I should also note that the author is a much better fictional writer than me so his actual examples are not as bad as my pretend example above.


Here is an actual example from the book



The book is more intended for a lay reader who does not have a lot of historical knowledge and wants bite sized chunks of easily digestible information. Alternately someone who is not a fan of pure history (and pure history can be extremely dry). Therefore I strongly doubt I am the intended audience also as a historian by training I dislike fiction in history intensely. 

Simply put to me without evidence it has no place in a history. The potential problems get worse because in fiction the person 'thinking' does not have to know the full picture and that is dangerous. It allows people to potentially lie and hide information in an attempt to almost re-write history as they can ignore normal historical evidence restrictions because the fictional character does not have to understand balance, reliability or truth allowing non-historical spins to be be placed on something that might be used as history. Now there is little evidence of that here though the author does spend an inordinate amount of time (in a book about the Royal Navy, two chapters out of nine) describing  US Navy victories and how the US was fighting against the press and strangely neglects to mention the Shannon, or of the actions when the Royal Navy fought successfully back (beyond a single paragraph listing some of the ships captured) or even the fact that the US primary war aim was the land conquest of Canada. Now the fictional characters reporting probably would not know (or perhaps would not care but would care about single ship losses which is another example of my main issue with fiction in history). He has read Mahan, Roosevelt and James so is presumably well aware of the various counter arguments.


Personally I tend to follow N.A.M Rodgers view of the single ship actions,  'in the case of 18-pounder frigates in action with 24 pounder ships the disparity of force is a sufficient explanation' and perhaps more interestingly ,'Contemporaries, however, and to a surprising degree subsequent historians, have tended to interpret these actions in moral rather than technical terms, as indicators of national virtue or decline, which is to load them with far more significance than they can possibly bear' [p567 and 568 The Command of the Ocean N.A.M.Rodger]. 


So 'War of 1812' digression aside if you enjoy fiction to as a way of making History more easy to understand then this is an interesting book that covers several areas of that Navy that are not usually covered in a frankly  innovative way.

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You're review seems to indicate is "historical fiction", Joss.  Yet nothing on the 'Net shows it as being such.  Weird.

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On the first question there is no tie in between the characters used to tell the story.


On the second it is not supposed to be historical fiction. It's trying to provide historical information with a fictional interpreter providing 'color'. It is certainly different to any of the standard approaches ever seen. I doubt you could quote it directly as it is never quite obvious which is which though he does give extensive foot notes so these could be used to track down the original if anyone ever wanted to re-use.


As a note of extra caution it uses secondary authors in the main text more than you would expect and direct quotes from secondary authors as opposed to referencing their arguments. In some cases (lists from James) it makes some sense (though I would prefer the list to appear and James to be footnoted) whereas in others the quote is direct. That is only because I prefer history to be the historians view and not regurgitated opinions from others (no matter how 'decent' the other is). Footnotes are Historians friends..


As an aside when I was finding that quote from Rodgers concerning the war of 1812 I also checked Latimer as I remembered one or both of them making an argument of that nature. I found it in both but was surprised that the words used were almost identical. Since Rodgers wrote three years earlier and Latimer references the relevant work in his bibliography I just used Rodgers but did wonder if Latimer realised he was essentially re-using Rodgers comment (without reference). Perhaps he agreed so deeply it was a co-incidence but it looks like the same re-written with slightly different words. Just a curiosity. Perhaps I missed the acknowledgement..



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I thought the author's name sounded familiar. I reviewed one of his books here. I had the same reaction to the use of fictional characters for providing historical context -- rather off-putting, in spite of some otherwise valuable content.

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