In the late 18th century, it was widely thought that to be a sailor was little better than to be a slave. "No man will be a sailor," wrote Samuel Johnson
, "who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail. A man in jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company."
If that were true, historian Nathan Miller suggests, then the record of sailing in the age of tall ships would likely be distinguished by few heroes and fewer grand narratives. He counters that in the regular navies of England, the fledgling United States, and most other nations, brutal captains and thuggish crewmen were rare, and professionalism was the order of the day. It was their high standard of service that made those naval forces such powerful, even indispensable arms of the land-based military. Miller's great hero throughout this fine history is Horatio Nelson, whose valor was exemplary throughout countless battles around the world. But he writes with equal admiration of lesser-known figures, such as Lambert Wickes, Pierre de Villeneuve, Juan de Cordova, and "Foul Weather Jack" Byron, who served their nations and fellow sailors well, and often heroically.
Broadsides is an entertaining, illuminating history sure to please fans of Patrick O'Brian and C. S. Forester. --Gregory McNamee
Praise for Nathan Miller's Theodore Roosevelt: A Life: "An excellent portrayal."