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Main page » Non-Fiction » The Nelson Touch: The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson

The Nelson Touch: The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson


From Publishers Weekly
Veteran British historian Coleman (Going to America) now tackles the life of Horatio Nelson, Britain's most celebrated naval hero. Admiral Nelson (1758-1805), whose glory was sealed with his death at the battle of Trafalgar, has been celebrated in various hagiographies, and his dashingly carried-off love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton has been Hollywood fodder. Coleman offers 27 short, solid chapters with lively headings like "I Shall Come Laughing Back," "Fiddlers, Poets, Whores, and Scoundrels," "Natural Born Predator" and "Well Then, I Will Be a Hero," making Nelson's Romantic renown seem deserved, but he also lays bare the admiral's faults, concluding "that Nelson was often ruthless, there is no doubt." (On one voyage he had fully half of the crew flogged, some of them merely for "mutinous language.") The book's title refers to Nelson's description of his special approach or talent for winning battles, a bit of self-praise that was deserved, even if immodest. Without seeming to have a scholarly axe to grind, Coleman offers a useful corrective to writers so enamored of maritime history and its heroes that they lose sight of the importance of accuracy. There are clearly written analyses of the major battles, as well as the admiral's complex private life, such as his dumping of his wife, Fanny, although supporting her for the rest of his life and retaining her affection. His passion for the wife of a nobleman, Sir William Hamilton, was less well received by the snobby Brit society of his day, but perhaps least popular of all was Nelson's endless careerism and appetite for honors. Coleman points out Nelson's bravery in the face of wounds that would have retired many a lesser sailor, including the loss of an eye and an arm. Nelson, who was always convinced he would be a famous man, would certainly be pleased by this renewed attention. (Apr.)Forecast: Certainly surpassing previous attempts such as Horatio Hornblower novelist C.S. Forester's life, this book is particularly notable for its rich recreations of late-18th-century British public life. Academic attention could lead to a belated American edition of Coleman's valuable 1965 study of the 19th-century laborers who built the British railway system, The Railway Navvies.

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Tags: Nelson, naval, readers, genius, greatest, Horatio, Touch, novelist