Book Review: Ships by Enzo Angelucci & Attilio Cucari

A single-volume world history focusing on the development of vessels from prehistoric times to the 1970s.

The majority of the book is surprisingly readable and doesn’t burden the reader with too much technical detail and jargon. That being said, the reader may find themselves wanting more technical detail on the construction of some of the ships which this book won’t provide. So, it may be of limited use to someone studying, for example, marine archeology.

This book is definitely a good place to start for someone wanting to understand how ships developed differently in terms of geography. The early chapters move around geographically covering vessels used by the Egyptians, the Vikings, the Greeks and Romans, etc. In addition to the ships, the narrative looks at some famous voyages of discovery and how trade routes on the ocean were established. By the middle-third of the book, the focus is mostly on the Age of Discovery and the expansion of the European colonial empires. The last third of the book details the transition from sail to steam power, the growth and decline of the grand ocean liners, and it finally ends with an examination of the world wars and oceanographic research vessels. There is some narrative devoted to famous naval battles throughout history, but don’t expect this book to cover the entire history of naval warfare in exacting detail. It’s more about the development of ships. The appendices of the book also contain a lot of interesting information. For example, one contains a tabulated list of the number of vessels of each major world navy at the start of WWII.

One criticism I have is that many of the line drawings (the black and white drawings, not the colored illustrations) look very simplistic. The lines are not straight and they show only the most basic of details, such as the shape of the vessel or the most noticeable features. It almost looks like the draftsman was a teenager and they forgot to use a ruler. For example, the guns on a WWI destroyer are drawn as single lines, rather than being depicted as having much in the way of dimensions.

The biggest drawback of the book is that as it moves into the post-WWII era, the information becomes dated since it was published in 1975, originally in Italian, with the English translation appearing in 1977. Furthermore, the information on the more “modern” vessels is very generic whereas the information provided on the prehistoric or ancient vessels is more grounded in archeological data.

Overall, the text is well-written and contains a good amount of detail for the average researcher or someone looking to start learning about the development of ships. Far from the boring and dry data of many reference books, Ships contains a fluid narrative illustrated with a nice variety of drawings. Unfortunately, some are better drawn than others, and the information becomes dated near the end.

Overall: 4 out of 5.

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