April 12, 2007

Gratuitous Llama Royal Navy Geekery Book Review

Frigates Foremasts.jpg

Frigates And Foremasts: The North American Squadron In Nova Scotia Waters, 1745-1815 by Julian Gwynn.

Friends, I have to be honest and tell you that I've finally come across a naval history book I honestly do not like and which I'm only finishing out of a sense of obligation.

It isn't that I don't enjoy the topic. As regular readers know, this sort of thing is right up my alley and even so arcane a subsection of the history of the Royal Navy in the waters off the arse end of Maine and Canada is of interest.

No, instead it's the fact that this book is utterly lifeless, a bare recitation of facts and figures that makes even Teddy Roosevelt's history of the Naval War of 1812 look good by comparison. Long, long sections detail the movements of frigates, sloops and gunboats up and down the coasts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in bland "The squadron sailed for the Bay of Fundy. Then it sailed back." fashion. Also, lots of attention is given to where individual ships were hauled up for careening, wintered, watered and so on. Yet interesting detail points - battles won and lost, prizes captured or given up, ships lost in storms with all hands - get barely a mention. We also get, at best, very cursory character sketches of the men involved. I believe the author's intent was to stay clear of such matters, instead using the historical record in a sort of pointillist fashion to paint an evolving picture of the overall strategic situation, but I'm afraid his style makes for very dull reading.

And confusing reading, as well. I know a thing or two about this period and this area. I know about the Siege of Louisburg, the ongoing privateer wars, the Battle of the Virginia Capes between De Grasse's French fleet and the Brits that led to the surrender at Yorktown, the incident between the Leopard and the Chesapeake and the latter's subsequent capture by the Shannon. But I barely recognize them as described here.

Having never written a history myself, I recognize I'm armchair authoring, but it strikes me that if one is going for a Big Picture treatment, it's a mistake to try and present it in this manner. On the other hand, if one's focus is to be on the details, one needs to flesh them out much more than the author has here.

Posted by Robert at April 12, 2007 12:48 PM | TrackBack

Have you read "The Last STand of the Tin Can Sailors?"

Great book about the maritime battle off of Samar, WWII.

Posted by: Vic Barry at April 13, 2007 07:27 AM

I have not, but the story of Taffy-3 is truly amazing. I've a history written a while back by Thomas Cutler simply called The Battle of Leyte Gulf.

This always reminds me of that line in The Hunt for Red October where Alec Baldwin tells Capt. Ramius that he's written a book about Halsey called The Fighting Sailor and Ramius says, "I know this book. Your conclusions were wrong, Ryan. Halsey acted foolishly." Damn right, of course.

Stupid Alec Baldwin.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at April 13, 2007 07:57 AM