Book Review: The Battle of Trafalgar by Geoffrey Bennett.

The Battle of Trafalgar by Geoffrey Bennett
File Size: 809 KB
Print Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Endeavour Press (September 30, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

When looking for an exciting, dramatic and tragic book, history or fiction you can’t go wrong with Nelson and Trafalgar.
In this book Geoffrey Bennett give a good clear cut account of the most famous naval battle in British history. Filled with solid background information that traces the prior history of the Navy, anecdotal facts and a serving sea officer’s prejudice for all things nautical over things terrestrial, not least the obvious affection a British sailor holds for the Royal Navy and Nelson in comparison to the enemy. Though as always never denying the threat of defeat.
Bennett is very thorough, giving great detail in the first part of the book, everything is covered, from origins, construction of ships, makeup of crews, armament, sailing capabilities, and tactics. The lions share goes to describing the British, but he doesn’t ignore the French, or for that matter the Spanish. So by the time the campaign narrative starts the reader has a good picture in their head as to the nuts and bolts of the matter.
The nautical conduct of the Revolutionary War is given, and the actions of the Navy in thwarting the Republic’s attempts to gain the seas, expand outside of Europe and invade Britain , while at the same time giving us some highlights of Nelson’s career, including the Hamilton affair and the dramatic chase across the ocean and seas that led up to Trafalgar. I was also pleased to see an abridged version of one of his memoranda included.
The narrative of the battle is well done, full of first and accounts and is clear and concise. Conveying well the thumping mechanical grind of a sea battle at this time and the courage and bravery of the men involved that contributed to the glory of the day.
This is a great book for someone looking to start reading about the battle and indeed the Navy. It’s short, authoritative and well written. And for this week also free, so what are you waiting for. Engage the enemy more closely!

Happy reading


Book Review: Three Italian Wars titles from Osprey

Osprey publishing breaks down its books into small high quality illustrated volumes, each focusing of a specific subject within a specific series. None are over 100 pages which allows their authors to really get to grips with the minutiae of a given military unit, piece of hardware or fortification. The nice thing about this is that you can create little compound collections of the different series’ (Historical combo meals if you will) which can give a shocking level of detail to your given area of study.

I’ll give an example with three mini book reviews, each of three different Osprey Series titles.

Campaign: Fornovo 1494.51PFTCDQV4L
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (15 Sep 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1855325225
ISBN-13: 978-1855325227
Campaign books give overview, scope, maps and full colour illustrations of battle scenes. They are perfect places to build up a picture from. Osprey’s own Medieval expert David Nicolle is at the helm of this relatively little known but highly significant Renaissance battle between France and the League of Venice. Nicolle takes a professionally even handed approach to this campaign, the format of these books makes it easy to do this, however Fornovo has always been a battle in which the French have been given the better end of the stick, and the author therefore is often at pains to fully clarify and explain the Italian side. The art inside is a special thing. The late Richard Hook showed consummate skill in packing this volume full of stunning full colour images.

Men At Arms: Italian Armies 1300 1500.51KG8T18HJL
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing; First Edition edition (24 Mar 1983)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0850454778
ISBN-13: 978-0850454772
Having gotten a setting in mind, you might be more curious about that confusing array of Italian city states and their armies. Here again Nicolle gets into the nitty gritty. Men at Arms books discusses the nuts and bolts of armies and units. In this case, the progression of Italian armies from 1300 to 1500. Tactics, weaponry and a selection of choice battles (most of which will be new names to you) are included that beef out the “Opposing armies” section of the Campaign book. The excellent f

Warrior: Condottieri 1300 1500.51IeglLhQaL
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (4 July 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1846030773
ISBN-13: 978-1846030772
But what if you want more? While reading the other two you might have puzzled about the Condottieri, and how they fit into the Italian military system. This title goes deeper than the MAA, focusing on a specific type of soldier, the infamous Italian mercenary who dominated warfare on the Peninsula during the height of the renaissance, and of whom you’ll have heard allot about from the other two,. Hitting all the high points, contracts, recruitment, tactics, and life on campaign beefed up by ground already covered in Nicolle’s work, it includes a list of famous Condottieri as well.

So there’s a very short demonstration of how you can build up compounds of composite series in the Osprey line to build up a comprehensive picture of an event. You can do with three or as many as four or five. This flexibility in resources is one of the reasons (the other is the pictures) why I have always loved Osprey.

Happy reading

Italian Memories.

Elizabeth Butler’s autobiography is a wonderful book. One of the things I found interesting was her recollection of Italy as a young girl. I hope you enjoy it too.

“The war against Austria had been won. Magenta, Solferino, Montebello—dear me, how those names resounded! One day as we were running along the road in our pinafores near the Zerbino palace, above Genoa, along came Victor Emmanuel in an open carriage looking very red and blotchy in the heat, with big, ungloved hands, one of which he raised to his hat in saluting us little imps who were shouting “Long live the King of Italy!” in English with all our might. We were only a little previous (!) Then the next year came the Garibaldi enthusiasm, and we, like all the children about us, became highly exalted Garibaldians. I saw the Liberator the day before he sailed from Quarto for his historical landing in Sicily, at the Villa Spinola, in the grounds of which we were, on a visit at the English consul’s. He was sitting in a little arbour overlooking the sea, talking to the gardener. In the following autumn, when his fame had increased a thousandfold, I made a pen and ink memory sketch of him which my father told me to keep for future times. I vividly remember, though at the time not able to understand the extraordinary meaning of the words, hearing one of Garibaldi’s adoring comrades (one Colonel Vecchii) a year or two later exclaim to my father, with hands raised to heaven, “Garibaldi!! C’est le Christ le revolver à la main!”
Our life at old Albaro was resumed, and I recall the pleasant English colony at Genoa in those days, headed by the very popular consul, “Monty” Brown, and the nice Church of England chaplain, the Rev. Alfred Strettell. Ah! those primitive picnics on Porto Fino, when Mr. Strettell and our father used to read aloud to the little company, including our precocious selves, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, under the vines and olives, between whose branches, far below the cultivated terraces which we chose for our repose, appeared the deep blue waters of the Sea of seas. My early sketch books are full of incidents in Genoese peasant life: carnival revels in the streets, so suited to the child’s idea of fun; charges of Garibaldian cavalry on discomfited Neapolitan troops (the despised Borbonici), and waving of tricolours by bellicose patriots.”

Excerpt from an “An Autobiography.” Elizabeth Butler. Available on Archive.

These must have been exciting times. I wish I could find that sketch of Garibaldi.

Thanks to Materialismo Sacro for translating this post into Italian!


Book Review: The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander.

The Bitter Trade “A scurrilous tale, one which warns rather than elevates, of title without value and no noblesse”




Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Tenderfoot (12 Jun 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 099286450X
ISBN-13: 978-0992864507

Calumny Spinks. A crass, grimy unholy no-good, who by all rights should have ended up in a red coat or at the end of a noose, but by stint of his unfortunate luck, unfortunate breeding and unfortunate parentage ends up saddled as the hero of Piers Alexander’s debut novel Bitter Trade.

To say the hero is an anti-hero is to achieve high levels of understatement, if his life had not so far been a succession of cruel disappointments and calamities, so much so that he must be pitied, he would be the sort of guttersnipe true villains are made of. However I was pleased to see that the hero is accurately portrayed with some religious belief and prejudice common to the time, he’s not going to please many Catholic readers but I doubt Protestants are overjoyed with Perez Reverte’s brilliant Alatriste novels.

But as it is, his predicament is not his own doing, and it is because of this that one identifies with, him by commiserating with him. He inherits the sins of his father, whose secrets trap him as a nobody with no future, and so, angry at the world and eager to use anyone he can to become someone, he uses his smart mouth and striking looks (yes he’s irresistible to women) to cheat debt, death and ignominy. Alexander paints this likeable and unlikeable boy well, at war with the world and a mass of contradictions, he is a character well created.

The story is set against the “Glorious Revolution of 1688” and anyone who decides to set a novel in these usually overlooked times deserves a clap. Calumny and his associates are entangled in a mysterious web of intrigue and treason, the heart of which is artfully concealed, allowing for many twists and turns to keep you wondering what will happen next.

The book is a pseudo memoir, giving it immediacy, thus the language is deliberately archaic, but it is un-honeyed, threatening and hard in tone, and you shouldn’t get lost, and there are also modern plot devices to act as direction markers if you do. Coffee as you’d expect plays a central role, but its more the people who sell the bean rather than the drink itself that the book centres on.

It’s very well paced, flowing with the smoothness of java, even when things get complicated. It’s slow at first, then picks up speed and clarity, its chapter structure made it able for me to slice through chapters at a fast rate. It’s got a solid niche story, mostly rooted in history with bags of plot,  (enough to fill a coffee warehouse), lots of intrigue, grime and general sordid doings, vivid characters, and minute detail.

I think I could give a very precise guess at where one would look to find Calumny in 15 years, but I shall follow the example of so many of the shadowy characters in this book and keep it to myself. I shall look at you over my shoulder with a knowing smile and tap my nose secretively, then disappear into the shadows.

Happy reading.


Book Review: Toward the Setting Sun by David Boyle

There need to be more narrative histories of the 15th century. In my opinion Europe had not seen so much change and upheaval since the fall of Rome as it did in this turbulent time.
This was a period defined by immense change and progress, a time of cataclysmic warfare, of the Renaissance and of world changing discoveries. Few eras have such a resonating echo down to modern times, and few events such an impact as the European discovery of America.

Format: Kindle Edition618yrPfUGhL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_
File Size: 2145 KB
Print Length: 494 pages
Publisher: Endeavour Press (12 Aug 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
Language: English

In David Boyle’s “Towards the Setting Sun” you get a good narrative history that intertwines the lives and achievements of the great European explorers, Columbus, Cabot and Vespucci, with the backdrop of the rich tapestry of 15th century Europe.
Boyle tells the story well, no easy task given the state of Europe in this time, refining it down to the spheres that his three main subjects lived in. The early chapters deal with their rise and struggle for funds and patrons to finance their costly and honestly insane voyages. While reading about Columbus I was reminded of some inventor or young entrepreneur building a business plan and attempting to convince multi millionaires to back them. Not quite the Apprentice or Dragons Den, but that’s essentially what he was doing.
His vignettes of people and places are evocative and entertaining and quite witty in some places, though I would never describe Ferdinand II of Aragon as a “striking figure, tall and good looking” to me he looks more like my image of Sancho Pança, but in general I liked his style. Of the three, Vespucci comes out the best, Columbus is more glamorous and controversial and Cabot the most mysterious.
The book is separated into long chapters, each subdivided handily into 3 smaller parts, in turn separated into smaller sections. It’s unlikely to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the age of discovery or these three remarkable men, but it does put the age of discovery squarely in the context of the time, and these men’s stories in the context of each other, and it’s packed with information.
In that sense, this is a book is also about the “Scramble for America” or what some people thought was the Indies, with Portugal, Spain and England all racing west to find a shorter route to Asia, and then accurately identify the unknown west. Readers will find much more than tales of discovery, adventure and seamanship, it seems to sway backwards and forwards from the tales of the three discoverers to the courts of Europe, and I must say I actually found myself preferring the parts about the scheming plotting princes, something I didn’t expect. Doubtless others with more knowledge would challenge some of his assertions but I very much . All in all this is a good, lively account of how Europe looked west to find the east, and unexpectedly found out there was more to the world than had been hitherto thought.

Happy Reading