Saturday, 24 March 2007

The pursuit of victory by Roger Knight

The pursuit of victory by Roger Knight

The sub-title of this book makes its content clear: ‘The life and achievement of Horatio Nelson’.

This is a monumental book, running to 874 pages. The biography itself ends on page 558, with the rest devoted to a chronology of Nelson’s life and background events, details of his ships, biographical sketches of other people, bibliography, notes and index. So it is a valuable reference book to sit on one’s shelf.

But would it gather dust? I have read it with interest, but will now rest it on my shelf, where it may indeed gather dust. There are other books to get on with.

Was it worth reading? Yes. Does it fulfil its title and sub-title? Strangely, no. In my opinion, Mr Knight, has created an unbalanced account, in his attempt to be comprehensive and dig out new things. I would have liked it to be shorter and more focused on the ‘pursuit of victory’ theme. Lots of detail about his trip to Wales or his purchase of a house in Merton is not essential. More on the battle of Trafalgar itself would be useful. Maybe Mr Knight felt all that could be said about Trafalgar had already been said. A failure of nerve on his part, maybe.

Nelson is one of those controversial characters who you could argue either was a puffed up, foolish, dangerous man or a military genius and national hero. There is enough meat in this book to take material for either case.

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