"The Command of the Ocean" by N.A.M. Rodger makes the case that the efficiencies of an enterprise economy created the backdrop for the financial innovations that enabled England to maintain its navy, finance wars and growth. A virtuous cycle of productive agriculture  allowed men to spend years at sea with relatively little cost and provided prosperity to the farmers, and merchant men involved in shipping those products to distant ports, while providing the financing at low interest rates and borrowing capacity to finance war. Rodgers makes the point that "only flexible and integrated societies could surmount the very considerable difficulties of combining the wide range of human, industrial, technical, commercial and managerial resources required to build and fight a seagoing fleet" . He believes this is a causal explanation as no other society was able to maintain a strong navy for anything but an ephemera because of a breakdown in incentives and signals. The middle class and professionals in finance, industry, and science favored the navies. He doesn't seem to understand that it was the enterprise economy and private property and incentives to make a profit that was the key, but provides much support for it.

The book also contains a stirring precis of what led up to the Battle of Trafalgar with particular attention to the love of the officers for Nelson. Apparently Nelson was like Cochrane, an officer of great flexibility who always leapt at any mistake in battle that the enemy made, and was always ready to apply the latest innovations in fighting to his men.

Of course, one paid particular attention to his detailed description of the naval affairs in the Napoleonic wars when Jack Aubrey was captain. It is disappointing that Rodgers dismisses Lord Cochrane as a loose cannon whose word could never be trusted, and who he believes was really guilty of the stock market manipulation that forms the backdrop for the greatest scene in modern literature from the Far Side of the World when his men refuse to let him be stoned at the pillory. Rodgers has an annoying tendency to enjoy debunking popularly held canards like "the band of brothers" of Nelson and the idea that the British navy provided a form of elastic barrier like the Russian plains that provided a means of elastically holding back the attack. "The defense is a kind of elasticity which as it retreats gathers strength for the return blow". There is not one mention of Patrick O Brian in the 906 pages and one can only imagine that this is for the same reason that ballet dancers always say that "fred astaire was the greatest dancer" or "this street chess master" was the greatest when they themselves do not want to flout their immodesty.

The reviewers says this is the only book that after 900 pages one wants to read more and more, and that it is the only book that deserves to be called magisterial and the US Navy says its the definitive book on the rise of British Naval Power. I don't know enough about nautical things to comment on this except to say that every chapter is bristling with an infinitude of interesting ideas, principles, and facts that puts in perspective the liberties and prosperity that the British Navy provided for all of us. Highly, highly recommended.


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