The Line Upon a Wind: An Intimate History of the Last and Greatest War Fought at Sea Under Sail, 1793–1815 by Noel Mostert; Cochrane the Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 1775–1860 by David Cordingly; Storm and Conquest: The Battle for the Indian Ocean, 1809 by Stephen Taylor - review by Nigel Jones

Nigel Jones

Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

The Line Upon a Wind: An Intimate History of the Last and Greatest War Fought at Sea Under Sail, 1793–1815

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Jonathan Cape 773pp £25 order from our bookshop

Cochrane the Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 1775–1860

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Bloomsbury 420pp £20 order from our bookshop

Storm and Conquest: The Battle for the Indian Ocean, 1809

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Faber & Faber 380pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

It took an American Admiral, A T Mahan, to point out the truism that control of the seas, and of the trade that sails upon them, is the key to the hegemony of any self-respecting superpower. Mahan, writing in the 1890s, was analysing the outcome of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, a truly global conflict that Noel Mostert, writing more than a century later, rightly calls 'the first Great War'. Britain not only won the wars, but the wooden walls of its Navy scored such an annihilating victory as to guarantee that Britannia ruled the waves – and hence the world – for another 100 years.

Mostert, a South African-born Canadian citizen and Second World War veteran, is a disciple of Mahan, but in his superb new narrative of the Anglo-French wars at sea – including the Anglo-American War of 1812 – he identifies another vital factor downplayed in Mahan's geopolitical world view: the sheer genius

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