Gregory Fremont-Barnes,
Nelson's Officers & Midshipmen
(Osprey, 2009)

I love reading novels about the British navy during the Age of Sail -- whether they're humiliating the French, Spanish and Dutch at sea in an ongoing series of wars or, pardon my national pride, having their hats handed to them by the USS Constitution in 1812.

But books of that nature necessarily assume readers have a working knowledge of the ships and the men who sailed them. I've picked up quite a bit about sails, rigging and the various types of ships of that era; Nelson's Officers & Midshipmen tells me more about the men in blue who kept them sailing.

Part of the Warrior series of books from Osprey Publishing, Officers & Midshipmen is a companion to an earlier volume, Nelson's Sailors, which I hope to lay my hands on soon. This book, as its name indicates, describes the various layers of command, from the lowly mids who came aboard at an early age to learn their trade, through the various levels of lieutenant, captain and admiral.

It's a scholarly work that necessarily reads like a textbook. Fremont-Barnes crams a ton of information into some 60 pages, and you'll come out the other side with a far greater understanding of the structure of naval command, as well as the various duties and responsibilities at every level and some of the personalities involved at the time.

The book is densely illustrated, featuring both original works by Steve Noon and a variety of paintings and illustrations from contemporary sources. The artwork brings the narrative alive and helps make sense of the text.

While less fun to read than, say, a Hornblower or Aubrey novel, Officers & Midshipmen is a useful and educational experience, well worth the brief time it takes to read it.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 April 2013

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