Writing an entire book about the history of the British Navy sounds very daunting…and I bet it was, but Mr. Arthur Herman managed to do it in 644 pages…with considerable aplomb. So let’s get right into my book review of “To Rule the Waves” How the British Navy Shaped The Modern World by Arthur Herman. Coming out at 644 pages, this is a long detailed book that nearly borders on a scholarly work but reads like a fiction tale; but you just can’t make some of these facts up, they border on fantastic and fictional accounts. Many who read this book may wallow in childhood recollection of facts that they read about or heard about in school, but this book fleshes out every one of those fantastic Naval Heroes of the British Empire. The book also presents scholarly evidence and fact that directly tie the ascension of Great Britain to it’s ocean supremecy; which in turn created economic dominion and colonial dreams until rival states came on the scene during the industrial age to challenge the status quo enforced by the British Navy. The author then presents detailed evidence to support these fault lines, leading the reader all the way through the last 100 years of British Naval decline until the Falklands Island Campaign in the 1980’s, which would reawaken British Naval traditions somewhat.
I loved reading this book because it directly links so many navigational and maritime traditions directly to the British Navy and the spirit of forced invention of these tools and traditions…from which there were none previously:
May 1704- Use of Danish and British seagoing soldiers (that they called Marines) in a joint operation to capture a fortified position using Naval gunfire and shore landing parties, the capture of Gibraltar (which the British STILL own).
1720’s- Sugar has become the wealth of empires and has changed the face of the Caribbean, becoming the engine of slavery, shipping and piracy. (237)
1744- The British Warship Centurian is credited with projecting British Naval Seapower around the world for the first time with the capture of a Spanish Galleon off South America. The voyage’s high death toll from scurvy also prompts the ships doctor to start research into a cure for the first time, marking a turning point in seagoing medicine. (259-261)
1770- The Endeavour under Captain Cook “discovers” Australia and uses a new tool called a chronometer. The first watch- (304-305)
1789- Mutiny on the Bounty- one of the best documented mutinies in the British Navy…and this book presents strong evidence and explanation if you’re interested in learning more about it. (326)
1820’s- The great age of Northwest Passage Exploration by British Explorers and British Navy Ships. (430-435)
1831-1836- Voyage of the HMS Beagle, carrying Charles Darwin as one of the Naturalists on the ship and commanded by Captain Fitzroy. Charles Darwin published the third part of the scientific account of their voyage; which eventually drove Captain Fitzroy mad with grief until he killed himself. Darwin would upend parts of the religious world with the electricity of his softly written words. (436-438)
1919- The Treaty of Versailles spells the end of British Naval Supremacy…with annual budgeting after WWII doing the rest. Reliance on the nuclear arsenal and the United States would spell the permanent decline of the British Navy. (518)
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