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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Most Secret and Confidential
Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson
By Steven E. Maffeo
Naval Institute Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-59114-538-7, $24.95

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This book is about the history of naval intelligence from 1793 to 1815, and for much of this time period, the world was at war. The author also describes and assesses how Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson gathered, sifted through, and utilized information during his service in the Royal Navy, as well as commenting on how others, including Napoleon Bonaparte, practiced this form of warfare.

In addition to two forewords, a preface, and conclusion, the book is comprised of ten chapters:

1. The British National Intelligence Effort
2. The Admiralty
3. Signals and Information Transmission
4. Frigates: The Eyes of the Fleet
5. Deception
6. The Commander: Jack and Master of All Trades
7. The Commander as Intelligence Officer
8. A Naval Intelligence Occasion (Pulo-Aur, 14-16 February 1804)
9. A Naval Intelligence Expedition (Copenhagen, 9 December 1800 to 2 April 1801)
10. A Naval Intelligence Campaign (The Nile, 29 March to 1 August 1798)

In the preface, Maffeo clearly defines information, intelligence, tactical intelligence, and intelligence officer. The last three chapters serve as historical case studies that demonstrate how Nelson, the navy, and British officials employed intelligence, whether it worked or didn’t. To supplement the information, Maffeo also includes six appendices: The British Cabinet (1793-1815), British Government Key Officials (1793-1815), Secret Interceptions Distribution List (c. 1775), British Naval Administration (c. 1800), The Naval Strategy of the War from the British Perspective, and An Overview of the War of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1792-1815). Chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index round out this volume.

By culling through an enormous amount of primary and secondary source material, Maffeo provides the reader with a tantalizing and informative look at an age when intelligence gathering was in its infancy. He is eminently qualified to write on the topic, having been a former naval intelligence officer with a master’s degree in strategic intelligence from the U.S. Joint Military Intelligence College. He now serves as a commander of a reserve intelligence unit that supports the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, as well as being an associate director of libraries at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Maffeo begins each chapter with a quote that directly showcases the subject matter contained within those pages. Perhaps the most telling quotation is the one that appears across the table of contents, for John Milton’s words from the preface to A Brief History of Muscovy (1632), perfectly sum up what Maffeo has done in Most Secret and Confidential:
 
What was scattered in many volumes, and observed at several times by eyewitnesses, with no cursory pains I laid together, to save the reader a far longer travail of wandering through so many desert authors.

Most Secret and Confidential is a long overdue look at historical intelligence. Few volumes make more than brief mentions of it, which makes this one an invaluable resource for students of the Royal Navy during the Age of Nelson, as well as anyone fascinated by intelligence, both in the past and the present. Maffeo succinctly explores how information was collected, analyzed, and disseminated, as well as examining the strategies and tactics that were employed. At times, he shows how the past is relevant to the gathering and use of intelligence today and how they differ.

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Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
 
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