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Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Stephen Taylor

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Member:tony100
Title:Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain
Authors:Stephen Taylor
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2012), Edition: 1st Edition, 1st Printing, Hardcover, 368 pages
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Commander: The Life and Exploits of The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain by Stephen Taylor (2012)

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At the conclusion of 'Commander', Stephen Taylor asserts that Edward Pellew, later Lord Exmouth, was 'the First Seaman of the Age'. Pellew was a contemporary of Nelson and served in the British Navy at a time when its actions were establishing Britain as the dominant naval force on the surface of the planet. It's a bold assertion.

It's true.

The full title of this remarkable, gripping book is 'Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain', not 'Life and Times', 'Life and Exploits'. It's 'Exploits' that is important here, 'Times' are what happen to people, 'Exploits' are what Pellew did, very often to others on the high seas, at close range and in the face of considerable danger.

The age of conflict at sea, when a small wooden ship in an immensity of ocean was an extension of Britain's reach across the world and expected to take on not just wild elements but wild foreigners armed to the teeth with cannons and very firm opinions about which county various important bits of land should belong to, where ships would engage in broadsides at point blank range until the detail of battle was lost in the smoke, a literal fog of war, where not just the cannonball, but the wooden rain of debris that it created, were deadly and where men were away from home of months and years at a time, is brilliantly conveyed by Taylor, who has not just written the biography of a remarkable man, but a thrilling adventure story.

Here is action, here is adventure, here is drama. Pellew was an exceptional man, who came from a Cornish seafaring background and was very much a commoner but who rose through the ranks to become a favorite of the press, the people and the King, eventually taking the title of Lord Exmouth.

As well as being a superb tactician and the greatest ship-to-ship combat commander of the age, he was an officer and a gentleman who was able to discharge any task he asked of a crewman, including going aloft in a howling storm to trim the sails. Taylor explores the world of naval discipline of the age, which could be summed up as 'the lash', which Pellew disliked, preferring instead to build a community of officers and seamen for his ship, an end he was not above poaching crews from other ships or even Cornish tin miners to achieve. Perhaps most impressive of all, throughout his career he was able to 'keep a good table' when at sea, in order to entertain brother officers. Just how good is illustrated by a tactical plan of an action that bears what look suspiciously like red wine stains. Certainly, after reading this book, you will be amazed that anyone ever sailed into combat sober.

So compelling is the story that after finishing the prologue, which sees Pellew, now Lord Exmouth, tasked with taking a fleet to Algiers, avenging the massacre of 200 innocent fishermen and demanding the release of all Christian slaves and an end to Barbary piracy and slavery forever, a noble cause that would see the wooden walls of his fleet go up against the stone defenses and fearsome coastal batteries of the city, that when presented with a cliffhanger introduction I skipped to the end of the book and read how the battle turned out before going back and reading the remainder of the book sequentially.

Pellew was heroic, no doubt about it. He considered his greatest achievement not one of the many battles he won on the seas from Portsmouth to the Indian Ocean, but the saving of lives from a shipwreck.

He made lifelong fiends of the enemy captains that he vanquished and lifelong enemies of powerful figures in the Admiralty. He is a fascinating subject for a thrilling book, in which Taylor also conveys the world of the navy at the time, where patronage and privilege were often the route to faster advancement than talent, where riches and glory were waiting over the horizon, along with unimaginable danger.

And naturally, any book where the word 'topgallants' is used frequently but never gratutiously has to be admired.

A remarkable man. An excellent book. ( )
  macnabbs | May 4, 2013 |
According to Stephen Taylor's splendid Commander, [Edward] Pellew was "the greatest frigate captain in the age of sail" and a model for novelist Patrick O'Brian's hero Jack Aubrey, with whom he shares a number of traits: "damn-your-eyes swagger," magnanimity in victory, a knack for annoying superiors and, in particular, a passion for gunnery.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Henrik Bering (Nov 12, 2012)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Taylorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cumptich, Roberto de Vicq deCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, Sir ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Luny, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393071642, Hardcover)

An incomparable seaman, ferociously combative yet chivalrous, Edward Pellew might have served as the model for Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey.

Edward Pellew, captain of the legendary Indefatigable, was quite simply the greatest British frigate captain in the age of sail. Left fatherless at age eight, with a penniless mother and five siblings, Pellew fought his way from the very bottom of the navy to fleet command. Victories and eye-catching feats won him a public following. Yet he had a gift for antagonizing his better-born peers, and he made powerful enemies. Redemption came with his last command, when he set off to do battle with the Barbary States and free thousands of European slaves. Opinion held this to be an impossible mission, and Pellew himself, leading from the front in the style of his contemporary Nelson, did not expect to survive.

Pellew’s humanity, fondness for subordinates, and blind love for his family, and the warmth and intimacy of his letters, make him a hugely engaging figure. Stephen Taylor gives him at last the biography he deserves. 10 color plates, 3 black-and-white illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:34 -0400)

Edward Pellew, captain of the legendary Indefatigable, was quite simply the greatest British frigate captain in the age of sail. Left fatherless at age eight, with a penniless mother and five siblings, Pellew fought his way from the very bottom of the navy to fleet command. Victories and eye-catching feats won him a public following. Yet he had a gift for antagonizing his better-born peers, and he made powerful enemies. Redemption came with his last command, when he set off to do battle with the Barbary States and free thousands of European slaves. Opinion held this to be an impossible mission, and Pellew himself, leading from the front in the style of his contemporary Nelson, did not expect to survive. Pellew's humanity, fondness for subordinates, and blind love for his family, and the warmth and intimacy of his letters, make him a hugely engaging figure. Stephen Taylor gives him at last the biography he deserves.--Publisher description.… (more)

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