Seize the Fire

Seize the Fire

Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar

Book - 2005
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In Seize the Fire, Adam Nicolson, author of the widely acclaimed God's Secretaries, takes the great naval battle of Trafalgar, fought between the British and Franco-Spanish fleets in October 1805, and uses it to examine our idea of heroism and the heroic. Is violence a necessary aspect of the hero? And daring? Why did the cult of the hero flower in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in a way it hadn't for two hundred years? Was the figure of Nelson--intemperate, charming, theatrical, anxious, impetuous, considerate, indifferent to death and danger, inspirational to those around him, and, above all, fixed on attack and victory--an aberration in Enlightenment England? Or was the greatest of all English military heroes simply the product of his time, "the conjurer of violence" that England, at some level, deeply needed?

It is a story rich with modern resonance. This was a battle fought for the control of a global commercial empire. It was won by the emerging British world power, which was widely condemned on the continent of Europe as "the arrogant usurper of the freedom of the seas." Seize the Fire not only vividly describes the brutal realities of battle but enters the hearts and minds of the men who were there; it is a portrait of a moment, a close and passionately engaged depiction of a frame of mind at a turning point in world history.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, 2005.
ISBN: 9780060753610
0060753617
Characteristics: xxiv, 341 pages : illustrated

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Jun 27, 2011

Note that the term “Battle of Trafalgar” comes last in this title. Cannon fire, dismasted ships, exploding magazines and decks awash with blood don’t fill page one. It’s not like that at all.
According to Nicolson, the victor of Trafalgar is the result of so many things. A British tradition of seamanship wherein new sailors press-ganged into the navy are actually trained to become sailors; a structure of command where officers are promoted from the rank after demonstrating their competence at a wide variety of seamanship skills; a massive ongoing expenditure of revenue by the British government to build, and even more costly, to maintain this fleet. Britain saw a strong navy as synonymous with a strong economy, vibrant, dependent on trade with many other parts of the globe. Trade, that in part, provided the British navy with a vast supply of war materiel.
Add to that the attitude that all his majesties sailors will do their best. They will all fight to exterminate the enemy and you have a potent brew for success.
The French fleet, on the other hand, has suffered from neglect. The French Revolution devalued the expertise of ships’ captains --- they had to kow-tow to the revolutions cadres. As a result, about one third of the navy’s officers had gone missing. The navy was inadequately provisioned: the men had not been paid. They wore rags for clothes. Their sailors were poorly trained. And instead of growing their fleet, the French fleet was actually contracting as a result of the lack of maintenance. Initiative was discouraged. Battle plans were kept secret till the last possible moment. Micromanagement was the order of the day. Ultimately, Napoleon, that land animals simply did not value a navy. As he saw it, the war was to be won by armies, on land.
Circumstances among the Spanish fleet were even worse. Promotion in rank had nothing to do with competence but was determined entirely by rank in the nobility. Some leading admirals, in fact, never even set foot aboard their ships.
So there is the prelude to the Battle of Trafalgar.
How does the Battle go? Just as it has in any other Battle of Trafalgar.
But then I’ll leave you to read it for yourself, if you can make it to the end. Although I'm and avid reader of History, this book is simply to dense and unreadable to hold my interest. I gave it a good try. But after page 125 it became time to man the lifeboats.

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