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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: For God and Glory
For God and Glory: Lord Nelson and His Way of War
By Joel Hayward

Naval Institute Press, 2019, ISBN 978-1-61251-779-7, US $24.95


A hero and legend in his own time, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson is still remembered and honored long after his tragic death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He was born in 1758, joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of twelve, and was promoted to lieutenant six years later. He was noted for his ability to think outside the box, especially when it came to tactics and fighting at sea, long before that phrase came into use. He was deeply devoted to God and his country, and he sacrificed an eye, an arm, and ultimately his life to safeguard his homeland from a man he considered “like Satan,” “a man of blood,” and a “despoiler of the weak” – Napoleon. (1)

The reader might ask why we need another biography of this illustrious man, but Hayward poses a different question in his preface: Is Nelson relevant today? Actually, this is but the first of many questions that he asks in light of modern warfare and technology. We may change how we fight out enemies, but the basic nature of warfare remains the same. In light of this, Hayward’s goal is “to analyze Lord Nelson’s fascinating and influential life, with particular focus on his style of warfare and the passions, ideas, beliefs, and behavioral patterns that created and shaped that style, via a thematic approach.” (xiii-xiv) This allows readers to coherently view Hayward’s analysis of “Horatio Nelson’s warfighting style, one that was unique to him and made him a great leader and England’s most brilliant admiral.” (1)

He begins by summarizing Nelson’s life and achievements in the introduction. In the subsequent six chapters, Hayward shares snippets from the admiral’s own writings, as well as those of his colleagues.

“Nelson’s Conception of His Enemies” is the focus of the first chapter. Nelson demonstrated particular animus toward all things and people of France. This wasn’t true initially, nor was it how he viewed whatever enemy he faced, such as the Americans during their war for independence. Why was this, how did it affect him, and what role did this hatred play in the way he fought to achieve victory?

Chapter two examines “The Admiral’s Spiritual Beliefs.” That Nelson was profoundly religious isn’t surprising, given that his father was a clergyman, as were other members of his family, and religion was an integral part of his studies and upbringing. His faith, when coupled with his duty to king and country, helped him to overcome his physical disabilities. Nelson was prideful, ruthless when engaging the enemy, and an adulterer – sinfulness in the eyes of the Lord. In spite of these frailties, he remained ever faithful in his belief. Hayward explores how Nelson made sense of the world and his role in the struggle between England and France, as well as how he reconciled his shortcomings and his religiosity. Hayward also looks at how others viewed these opposing facets.

The next chapter examines Nelson’s “Command, Leadership, and Management.” The officers and men who served under Nelson were totally devoted to him. He earned their trust, inspired them to be better than they were, and cared about them. How did he achieve this and how was he able to master all three aspects of leadership in times of war?

According to the United States Marine Corps, Maneuver Warfare is “a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.” (100) This definition is shared so readers unfamiliar with the concept, which didn’t exist in Nelson’s time period, will understand the subject of the book’s fourth chapter: “Nelson’s Warfighting Style and Maneuver Warfare.” Hayward uses the fleet battle at Aboukir Bay in 1798 to showcase how Nelson’s style resembles this modern concept. Also included is an enlightening discussion of just what “annihilation” meant in the past.

Not all battles that the navy wages take place at sea, and the same was true in Nelson’s time. Chapter five, “Nelson and War on Land,” examines whether Nelson understood that sea-fighting strategies and tactics did not translate well to actions on land, and whether he was able to adapt his art of warfare to counter these differences. If he did so, was he successful? Hayward contrasts a siege in which Nelson participated in early in his career while in the Caribbean, with those that took place on Corsica.

The final chapter explores “Coalition Warfare.” Britain did not fight alone in the wars to defeat Napoleon, even though the country shouldered the brunt of the cost, fighting, and sacrifices. As an admiral, Nelson also had to work with other nations’ navies and their officers. In this particular case, the focus is on Nelson during the Second Coalition, which lasted from 1798 to 1801, and the effectiveness of his leadership as coalition fleet commander when he had to work with Neapolitan and Portuguese squadrons and the navies of Russia and Turkey.

For God and Glory is a fascinating analysis of Nelson and his effectiveness during the Napoleonic wars. Instead of being blinded by hero worship, Hayward writes a compelling and unbiased account of a man who was deeply religious, was aware of his human weaknesses – even if he didn’t always conquer them – and was a masterful strategist and tactician at sea when his country needed him most. His loyalty was such that he willingly sacrificed himself to safeguard what he held dear, and the concern for his men and love of country, in turn, inspired others.

One might think this would be a dry or pedantic analysis; in actuality, it is a compelling, well-crafted, and fascinating study of Nelson, the man. While primarily geared toward students of military history and warfare, as well as readers passionate about this time period and/or Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, novelists will find this analysis enlightening because it is also a comprehensive character study of the traits, both good and bad, of a convincing hero.

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Book review Copyright ©2019 by Cindy Vallar

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