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Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the…
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Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar

by Adam Nicolson

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To understand Trafalgar this author analyzes the state of Society, the fears and beliefs of each of the belligerents. The ship of the line functioning and the mindset of Nelson are narrated with great style. This is what a history book should be. Not only impeccable research but a narrative that is not dry and questions the reader to think about the society he lives in.

Adam Nicolson also gives the big strategic picture of this battle by explaining with supporting map how the Spanish/French combined fleet undertook a manoeuvre sur les derrières — maneuvering on Nelson's communications with a west hook on the Caribbean which humbugged Nelson in the same fashion as Wellington was humbugged at Waterloo. The execution of such maneuver however was considering the state of the fleet, impossible, but once again Napoleon's thinking at Trafalgar was flawless and this battle should have logically been won by the combined fleet enabling the Grande Armee to quickly make England surrender.

I am at a loss to explain why the famous "manoeuvre sur les derriere" can be translated in English as a "Manoeuvre sur la Derriere". Only the most subtle strategic thinkers will be able to answer. Please contact us if you can explain this linguistic difference.

Another very well developed chapter is on the British navy's conception of honor and how it made or broke an officer's naval career. At lot of the heroism is explained by the way the officers who did not own titles and large country estates used a battle's spoils to get set for life in a country cottage. The exact opposite of the type of life their super-ego aspired to.
It also explained why certain officers were reluctant to join the insane slaughter of a naval battle fought for several hours by opposite gunships not further than 5 feet apart.

A chapter I would have liked to see more developed is the link between Nelson and the West Indies plantation barons, specifically William Thomas Beckford the notorious owner of the ever collapsing Fonthill Abbey which Nelson visits with Lady Hamilton in 1800, but of course this was a book about the battle and not a Nelson biography. ( )
1 vote Artymedon | Jan 25, 2014 |
A different sort of history of Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. Does a sort of historical psychoanalysis of Nelson, the culture of the British Navy, and its opponents, and how that explains why they won, and why Nelson was idealized. That, of course, set Britain up with an incomplete understanding of warfare which lead in some way to the traumatic disaster of World War I. One of the most interesting books I read in 2007. ( )
  louistb | Jun 29, 2013 |
There is a reason "the Battle of Trafalgar" is listed after "Heroism" and "Duty" in the title. This book uses the battle as a framework to examine many of the psycological and sociological motivations of the participants in the battle and the English, French, and Spanish societies as a whole. I felt like the author wanted to fill up as many pages as possible. I often found myself beginning to skim. The actual discussion of the events of the battle is a fairly insignificant portion of the book. Truthfully, there me more written about Samuel Taylor Coleridge in this book than about the acutal battle. This book gives an excellent perspective of influences on the participants of the battle, which is insightful. There is just to much. ( )
  ASBiskey | Mar 25, 2011 |
Also in Audio CD
Book Cover Art and end papers are integral.
  trexm5qp7 | Mar 5, 2011 |
Nicolson takes a unique view of the strategy that the English used to win the Battle of Trafalgar. He contrasted the individuality prized by English culture, vs. the traditional feudalistic view of Spanish and French Culture. He holds that this difference was what allowed the English commanders the latitude to make decisions in the heat of battle that the French and Spanish couldn't. He praises the British Navy for the tradition of forcing boys that would become officers into starting at the bottom rung and experiencing the hardships of the common seaman. This experience and its commensurate knowlege gave the British Navy a distinct advantage. ( )
  nycxile | Jan 14, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060753617, Unknown Binding)

On October 21, 1805, the British navy crushed the combined fleets of Spain and France near Spain's Cape Trafalgar, thwarting Napoleon Bonaparte's planned invasion of England and leading to a century of British maritime dominance. There are many books on the Battle of Trafalgar, but this one is different in that Adam Nicolson focuses more on "the mental landscape" of those who fought than on the battle itself. In analyzing why the British scored such an impressive victory, Nicolson looks beyond tactics to study the collective psychology of the three navies, along with the social and cultural forces at work. Part of the study revolves around the concept of the hero at the dawn of the 19th century. The men who fought at Trafalgar "looked on battle not as a necessary evil but as a moment of revelation and truth" that played into their conception of purpose, honor, and duty to king and country--with violence seen as an integral part of duty. No one fit the classic model of the hero more than Admiral Lord Nelson, the "most feared naval commander in the world"; a man who saw himself as a "prophetic agent of apocalypse and millennium" destined to lead England to global dominance. Nelson became the model of the British hero for the rest of the century and beyond.

In addition to an in-depth study of Nelson's background and psychology, Nicolson discusses the cultural differences between the three countries. For instance, in England, a non-aristocrat like Nelson was allowed to rise to the top--an occurrence that would have been impossible in both France and Spain given their strict societal codes. Each nation's motivation was different as well. Spain's social system was based on aristocratic chivalry, while France was acting according to the authoritative whim of Napoleon. Britain, however, was motivated by trade, and Nicolson discusses how England was able to finance its powerful navy by taxing the growing middle class and their seemingly limitless desire for material goods, making Trafalgar "the first great bourgeois victory of European history." Seize the Fire provides an intriguing perspective on one of the great naval battles in history. --Shawn Carkonen

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:54 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A retelling of the Battle of Trafalgar profiles Horatio Nelson as a leader with a fierce sense of honor and duty, in an account that examines the ambitions, fears, and principles that contributed to the British Mediterranean fleet's victory.

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