What is a hero, and why do we need them? Nicolson sets out to answer that question as he examines the Battle of Trafalgar, which made a hero of Admiral Lord Nelson, and compares the aristocratic backgrounds of the French and Spanish naval officers with the commercial backgrounds of the British officers. Nicolson reads his book with one voice, occasionally monotonous but usually showing his passion for his subject. When he gets to the battle itself, his quiet, even tones give it an extra air of drama. Music or a second voice might have made this production stronger, but Nicolson answers his questions well as he examines battle myth and reality.
It is a story rich with modern resonance. This was a battle fought for the control of a global commercial empire. It was won by the emerging British world power, which was widely condemned on the continent of Europe as "the arrogant usurper of the freedom of the seas." Seize the Fire not only vividly describes the brutal realities of battle but enters the hearts and minds of the men who were there; it is a portrait of a moment, a close and passionately engaged depiction of a frame of mind at a turning point in world history.
©2005 Adam Nicolson; (P)2005 HarperCollins Publishers
"So ripping I faced the classic ocean-voyage quandary. Halfway through, my supply of pages dwindling, I started to ration." (The New York Times Book Review)
I enjoyed this book and learned an enormous amount. It is not so much a blow by blow account of the battle as much as a "meta-history" of the sociological forces at play in 1805. There are long discussions of what "honor" and "duty" meant in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. There's a comparison of Wordsworth and Nelson. So in this sense it is a very academic study and sometimes falls prey to the excesses that pass for scholarly learning in some quarters-- e.g. the interpretation of King Henry's speech at Agincourt in terms of Freudian sexuality. Or the personification of Violence which runs throughout the book and leads to statements like :Paradoxically the violence of battle was a release, a calm in the midst of the storm... etc.
If your interest is in military history, this work will disappoint. If you want to learn a lot about the period from the extremely well-read author, then this work might be of interest.
Given the Nelson bicentennial, I had been yearning for a book about Trafalgar. This book did not disappoint. This is a book about the values that gave rise to the roles played by officers, and to some minor extent men, in the Royal Navy. As such, it is a fabulous work and a must read for all fans of Patrick O'Brian's books. This is the Book that O'Brian fans need in order to fill in that author’s sociological gaps. There is a considerable amount of chest thumping in the book but that is to be expected from something that is part propaganda part history.
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