The Line Upon a Wind: the Great War at Sea, 1793-1815 (by Noel Mostert: Nonfiction) c. 2008

Summary: For 22 years, off and on, war raged between Britain and France. Ultimately, the war would see the ambitions of the greatest soldier the world had ever seen, Napoleon Bonaparte, thwarted by the efforts of those he never faced in battle: Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy.

Review: At 774 pages, this is not a quick read, but is a very worthwhile one. The writing is balanced, with the efforts of the French and Spanish navies playing more than just the part of the foil, and Nelson drawn as an all too human leader rather than the godlike figure he became postmortem. The book also does an admirable job of showing the effects on the war in both countries, the effects of naval actions on land campaigns and the changing nature of war both at sea and on land. A 700+ page book is definitely a time investment, but like Shelby Foote’s 3,000 page chronicle of the Civil War, this is readable, comprehensive and worth the effort for those willing to put in the time.

Read-a-likes: For two very different fictional takes on the era, The Barbary Pirates by William Dietrich and The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland are worth a look. For more on Napoleon and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, try Napoleon Bonaparte by Alan Schom, Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern or Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March by Adam Zamoyski.

Availability: This item is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book. Click here to check on the availability.

Review by Eric.


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