The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649 – 1815
By: R.A.M. Rodger
First of all, if you see this book in the bookshelves of the British History section, do not be alarmed. It’s a thick book, granted, but a lot of that stuff is actually maps, portraits, appendicies filled with rates and statistics and so forth. I saw this book for the first time a few months ago and I was immediately enthralled; it certainly looked like a comprehensive book about the British Navy, even though it only covered around two centuries (this is the second book in his series; the first book is entitled Safeguard of the Sea, which I have yet to get). And after slowly getting through my reading list and finally getting around to it, it is definitely a comprehensive history of the British Navy. Each chapter focuses on a particular aspect of the Navy: Operations (the hardcore, traditional bit that talks about what the navy did when, the battles it faced, etc.), Administration (the organizational aspects of it, often linked with what was going on politically in Britain), Social History (later subdivided to the seamen and the officers; discusses where these navy officers were coming from, their lives aboard these shipsm etc.) and Ships (the actual ships themselves, the design and engineering of them). It reads like a textbook essentially but it’s not boring to go through. Rodger has really done an amazing job in researching and bringing together all these strands to present a clear and concise history of the navy and its impact on British History and its success in the world. He is correct to say that you can’t study British History without understanding the navy’s role in contributing to this rich history, just as you can’t study navy history by itself; both are intwined in this case and the stories and the events he brings forward in this book prove that this premise is certainly the case. What is also amazing about this book is that he not only discusses British History but he also brings in Russian, French, Dutch and other histories into the book, comparing Navy Admiralty systems and ship designs, which is certainly useful to draw an idea of how the British Navy was in the late 17th century and into the beginning of the 19th century. If you’re interested in the British Navy (as I am), then this book is an essential read.