The Naval Miscellany – book review

A couple of weeks ago on Twitter I saw a tweet from Osprey Publishing, posted just minutes previously, offering free copies of their new publication to the first five twitterers to send them a DM (Direct Message). I did so. An hour or so later, having already forgotten about it, I received a DM back from Osprey – I had been one of the five and therefore had won! Great, I thought, I’d never won a competition before.
And the prize? A copy of Naval Miscellany by Angus Konstam.
And now I’m a proud owner of said book. And a fine book it is too for this is a miscellany that’s had some effort put into it. This is not your usual random set of did-you-know facts, and random nuggets of information, and endless lists – the Top 10 of this, the ten fastest, biggest, smallest of that. Facts that you’re fascinated to learn about one moment, and totally forgotten about the next. No, what is different about Konstam’s miscellany is that it’s a series of articles, about 114 of them, that really does, for the layperson, add to one’s knowledge of naval history. Looking at the contents for the first time I felt a rush of excitement as I couldn’t decide what I wanted to read first. There were too many good titles that jumped out: How the press gang worked; Pearl Harbor – facts and figures; The U-Boat aces; The Wrecking of the Spanish Armada, and many more. Oh, where to begin, where to begin? It’s a dip-in, dip-out sort of book, and the contents are not in chronological or any other order but it’s certainly more-ish – you read one article, you’ll want to read another. And you do, transporting yourself from 1805 to 1945 via 333BC in a matter of pages.
All the famous names are here (Nelson, Drake, Raleigh, Mutiny on the Bounty), and many that are not. And lots of gruesome facts – the preserving of Nelson’s body as it was brought back to Britain, the rules and methods of flogging, and the awful punishment of keelhauling – dropping the unfortunate miscreant overboard and passing him under the ship, and pulling him up the other side.
And sad tales as well – the sinking of the German battleship, the Scharnhorst, in the freezing waters off Norway during the Second World War, or the sinking of the Mary Rose in 1545 as Henry VIII watched horrified from ashore.
There are a couple of lists – it can’t be totally avoided in such a book, the top 10 naval films as rated by the author being one. But rather than just a list of titles, Konstam provides us with a brief resume of each, and his enthusiasm is such that you immediately want to go find a copy somewhere (your local library perhaps, say I, as a former librarian) and watch it.
So, I may not have won a competition before and in terms of its monetary value it’s not exactly a life-changer but I would never have read this book unless it had dropped, literally, onto my front-door mat. And I’m very pleased it did.
Rupert Colley