Thursday, June 4, 2009


I've completed the latest in my morning reading program. It seems now that I don't have to drop my son off at school on the way in to work, I have an extra 15 minutes or so each day so my morning reading productivity has picked up a notch. Nelson, the Man and the Legend by Terry Coleman is the latest and it is a biography of Lord Horatio Nelson, legendary, almost godlike British admiral of the Napoleonic era. As usual I tried to do some research on this book and author prior to discussing it here but this time it was very odd because I could not find it listed anywhere. I did find another book entitled, The Nelson Touch, The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson, also by Terry Coleman and then the light dawned on me. I had purchased this book while in London two years ago. No doubt the name had been changed for publication in the US. At least that is a plausible explanation because the Amazon description seemed perfectly suited to the book I had just read.

Anyway, this is one of my "travel" books. That is to say it's not one I meant to read while traveling nor is it some sort of travelogue. Rather, every time I travel (and I do that fairly often) I buy a book to add to my library, usually nonfiction and if possible, relevant to the place I am visiting. This time it was London and during the city tour I kept hearing about Lord Nelson, saw the monuments, statues, etc. and realized I really knew very little about the man. It certainly seemed like Londoners revere him like people in my country revere George Washington. So I purchased this book. It also helped that I was reading (and have now completed) all 11 Horatio Hornblower books, about a fictional character with more than a passing resemblance to Nelson. My interest was high.

Mr Coleman goes out of his way to demystify Lord Nelson in this book; indeed even to go far toward the other side of his legend and present him as a much more human character, suffering from a large ego and power hungry for more and faster self promotions than most people believe. The very first chapter calls out predecessor biographers as falling for the propoganda that was put out at the time of Nelson's death at Trafalgar and producing haphazard facts based on sloppy research. Mr Coleman, who has a journalistic background,I understand, claims to use all available documents including letters in and among senior British Navy personnel, personal letters between Nelson's relatives including between he and his wife, etc. And to give him credit, he includes a lengthy bibliography to support his depiction for those that may want to check his sources.

But Coleman doesn't "trash" Nelson. He takes pains to also point out instances where Nelson backed underlings despite risking his own reputation and he is shown several times taking care of his crew and foregoing standard punishments for his men such as flogging or hanging. That's not to say that he never did that but rather he seems to have taken into account all angles of a situation before issuing orders. There is no doubt that Nelson had one of the largest impacts on the history of sea warfare that we know. And there is no doubt that he achieved some remarkable successes. This book however spends less time on the military engagements and more on the motivation of the man himself. After all, a sea captain/admiral who gave up eyesight in one eye, lost one arm, incurred a possible skull fracture, and ultimately gave his life in the name of doing his duty, is certainly to be admired. Surely his bravery is beyond question. Nor does Coleman question it other than to suggest his bravery was unnecessarily foolhardy. His death at Trafalgar, for example, seems as if it could easily have been avoided. I've read biographies of other great military men and it seems that trait is a common thread whether we are talking about Nelson, or Custer, or Crazy Horse.

I learned a lot, as expected, about Lord Nelson in this book and now feel I have a much greater understanding of him, his life, his loves, his very essence. I'm sure Nelson enthusiasts would prefer I read other works to get other opinions on his life but this is probably enough for me. I plan to read a couple of non-biographies next during my mornings before returning to more great lives.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire