The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Horatio Nelson
By: Roger Knight
Let me start by saying that there are a lot of Horatio Nelson biographies out there. Like, a whole slew of them. But I have to agree with a lot of the reviewers out there who mentioned that this was the book if you want to read about Horatio Nelson. Roger Knight is clearly an authority when it comes to discussing the life and achievements of Horatio Nelson. It’s very detailed and you can tell that he has poured over different types of source material to gain as clear of an image as possible of Nelson’s life, his thoughts, his situation, his motives, etc. The picture he paints of Nelson is surprisingly human, someone you can relate to, someone who has experienced not only victorious moments of character and capability but also moments of trial and hardship. We all know Nelson to be a renown admiral, a risk-taker, a capable seaman. But he also had his fair share of foul-ups, which was surprising as I hardly knew much of his life before the infamous Trafalgar. You have a glimpse, through this book, of Nelson’s path towards fame and renown, of what he learned along the way and the people who came in and out of his life. And not only does Prof. Roger put forth Nelson’s life in this book, but also the situation of Britain and the Navy during the period in which he lived, the politics surrounding the activities of the Navy and the threat from a volatile France and how it ultimately affected Nelson and his career. The book is neatly divided into periods of his life, concluding with how Nelson’s life had impacted the Navy, how it was portrayed by people in subsequent generations and what appears to be a mild form of historiography. Overall, Roger did an impeccable job at not only making it readable but also of bringing Nelson back to life so to speak. I cannot recommend this book enough; it’s a great read and also extremely informative and revealing of Nelson’s character.
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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.
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The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
By: Strobe Talbott
Okay, I normally do not read memoirs or autobiographies unless they are really really interesting (prior to picking this book up, I had a grand total of maybe three books that are considered memoirs/biographies). In fact, I initially did not bother picking up this book despite my interest in Russian history and politics but after reading the reviews for this book and the fact that my bookstore was recommending it, I decided to check it out. Strobe Talbott is a very impressive man; his academic credentials, his experience prior to becoming deputy-Secretary of State…very interesting indeed. And he wrote a very concise and clear memoir about his time as deputy-Secretary of State and his hand in Russian-American diplomacy during the Clinton Administration (perhaps another reason why I didn’t want to pick this book up originally). He does give a very interesting look at not only Clinton’s way of handling foreign leaders and relationships and about Yeltsin’s political tactics but he also showed a very interesting and rather detailed glimpse as to how foreign policy is conducted through these summits and visits. He also gives an interesting take on how American-Russian relations were during this period and how important it was especially since they had entered a “post-Cold War” period. The only issue I had about the book was the narrative in Chapter 15; Mr. Talbott had written the narrative chronologically but in Chapter 15, there was a bit of a fling back to the late Cold War period and then the dealings with the nuclear program problems and failed treaties in the 1990s. It’s a bit jarring since the rest of the book proceeded in a relatively well pace and chronologically. Otherwise, a great read, very fascinating and useful if you’re into Russian history, Russian politics and international relations.
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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
By: Malcolm Gladwell
I never read books at the time when it gets real popular and everyone’s reading it. I always wait until the initial craze has died down (I did this with Harry Potter). When this book hit paperback like a month ago, I decided to check it out at long last, see what the craze was all about. The intial concept sounded interesting, th idea that our minds make snap judgements without even completely processing it consciously and in a rational manner. The author goes on to explain that there needs to be a balance, that sometimes this technique doesn’t work in our favour. But it does happen and the author explains it through various examples.
I was really intrigued by the concept (the fact that another writer wrote a book, Think, to rebuke this book shows just how profound Gladwell’s argument is). However, after the first two chapters, the enthusiasm weared off; as interesting as the examples were, it seemed like the concepts Gladwell are trying to support through these examples had become repetitive and that some of the concepts used to explain his overarching argument are just too simple to even need 10 pages worth of examples to back it up. I guess my expectations for this book was too high; I was expecting some profound revelation from all these smaller concepts, but in the end, it was just way too simple (I’m not a psychology major and I managed to pick it up 1/4 into the book). The book is interesting in that it does discuss about studies that have been conducted and about specialists who are capable of making such quick decisions. Otherwise, the structure and the argument is simple and straightforward with nothing ultra-unique to add to the idea.
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