Book Review: Battle At Sea by R.G. Grant

R.G. Grant has authored a number of books on similar subjects, such as Battle, Warrior, Commanders, and Flight. All of these are large-format, coffee table-style books published by D.K. and meant to give the reader a broad historical overview of each of these topics.

A coffee table book covering the development of naval warfare from classical times to the early-2000s. As with any book published by D.K. it’s well-illustrated with pictures and drawings. The book moves chronologically through history and documents notable naval battles, as well as changes in naval warfare brought on by changing technology and tactics. Broadly, the book is divided into four sections:

  1. The Age of Galleys (1200 BCE – 1550 CE)
  2. Gun, Sail, and Empire (1550 – 1830)
  3. Steam and Steel (1830 – 1918)
  4. Carriers, Submarines, and Missiles (1918 – present)

There’s a lot to be said about this book and it obviously covers a tremendous amount of ground. For the most part, the book is centered on western navies and naval battles, but some parts cover East Asian navies and naval battles. Naturally, it doesn’t cover every single naval battle in history, and the ones that it does cover, it only goes over the basic facts. Still, it’s a decent primer on world naval history.

One interesting thing is that the book will have short sections covering naval tactics relevant to the era. For example, the age of sail has sections on sailing tactics and the battle line. Granted that you won’t get an in-depth understanding of naval doctrine from this book because it’s not a book on naval theory. However, it’s a good book for getting a broad overview of how naval warfare has progressed throughout history and how it’s changed along with the technology. Oared galleys gave way to sails, which gave way to steam, which gave way to diesel and nuclear propulsion. In terms of weaponry, rams were supplanted by early cannons. These cannons were improved and superseded by the introduction of rotating turrets, shells, and torpedoes. Eventually, aircraft carriers and missiles became dominant. There’s many other details, but the ship has essentially remained a platform for mounting weapon systems for centuries.

In terms of criticisms, there’s a handful of typos and inaccurate information here and there. No doubt many will be disappointed that their favorite (and obscure) naval battle was omitted from the text. However, the sheer breadth of history that this book covers obviously means that it can’t go into enormous detail on any single ship, weapon, battle, era, navy, or doctrine. As with most D.K. books, it’s value is more in the visuals and less on the text; you probably shouldn’t be expecting an in-depth reference.

All in all, it’s a great book for young adults, casual military historians, or those looking to learn world history from a purely naval perspective. For the die hard naval historian, it’s basically another standard review of naval history. Not the best, but certainly a fun read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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