Cover image for Trafalgar : countdown to battle, 1803-1805
Trafalgar : countdown to battle, 1803-1805
Schom, Alan.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum : Maxwell Macmillan International, 1990.
Physical Description:
ix, 421 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library DA88.5 1805 .S36 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Central Library DA88.5 1805 .S36 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The destruction of the combined French and Spanish fleet off Spain's southern coast was perhaps the greatest naval victory in British history; at a minimum, it punctured the myth of Napoleonic invincibility and thwarted forever his plans to invade the British Isles. Schom's masterful account of the battle and the events that led to it unfolds like a great thriller. The most powerful naval forces in history play a two-year game of cat and mouse, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast and from the Channel to the Caribbean. The warriors, both high and humble, do their duty; the politicians, noble and knavish, plan and plot. Meanwhile, fate plays its own little tricks on all of them. While Schom often paints his battle portrait with broad strokes, he never forgets that history is made by individuals: he provides fascinating portraits of the key players, including Napoleon, Nelson, Pitt, and the unsung hero of the victory, Cornwallis. The smashing climax is a blow-by-blow description of the carnage, chaos, and sacrifice of the great battle. This is historical writing at its best: superbly researched and wrought with style and clarity. A treat for both the scholar and the general reader. Notes and sources; index. ~--Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Schom ( Emile Zola ) argues that England's greatest naval victory, the 1805 battle of Trafalgar, resulted from the breakdown of Napoleon's scheme to invade Great Britain. Linking the French preparations for invasion, the ``Great Terror'' of the awaiting English citizenry, the blockade of French ports and the subsequent sea battle, the author of this well-researched history brings out of obscurity a human catalyst: Admiral William Cornwallis. Cornwallis led the Royal Navy's two-year blockade, which prevented the launching of Napoleon's amphibious flotilla across the Channel, and also created and dispatched the separate fleet that Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded so brilliantly off Cape Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. Schom's narrative of that engagement, which pitted Nelson against the combined French and Spanish fleets under Admiral Pierre Villeneuve (and during which Nelson lost his life) is memorable for its clear explication of the tactics that made the British admiral one of the great captains of military history. Schom concludes with a description of Nelson's majestic state funeral--to which Cornwallis, the ``unobtrusive hero,'' was not invited. Illustrations. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This well-written book presents Trafalgar in its strategic context rather than as an isolated heroic event. Schom regards the battle as merely the last act of a 29-month campaign to prevent a French invasion of Britain. His central character is not Nelson, but Admiral Sir William Cornwallis, commanding the Channel fleet. Cornwallis, ``a patient player of naval chess,'' maintained control of the Channel and kept the bulk of the French navy blockaded throughout this critical period. He thereby staved off a landing Schom regards as a real possibility, given Napoleon's propensity for seizing any opportunities his enemies might offer. Schom's thesis is persuasive, and the book merits a place in collections on naval history and on the Napoleonic era.--Dennis E. Showalter, Colorado Coll., Colorado Springs (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Schom's primary purpose is to give a comprehensive account of the events and circumstances that led up to the battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. The author argues that although Admiral Nelson was the hero of the acutal day of battle, the little-known Admiral Cornwallis was the hero of an exhaustive two-year blockade of the French coast. Schom's second purpose is to disprove some recent historiography that argues that Trafalgar was a battle of chance and that Napoleon never really intended to invade England. Although the book is well researched, Schom spends so much time either repeating himself or digressing to subplots that his general thesis is hard to follow. Factual mistakes make the book difficult to recommend to general readers, which were apparently its intended audience. The book's strength is its description of the battle itself and its discussions of military planning. It does not, however, supplant the chapter on Trafalgar in John Keegan's The Price of Admiralty London, (1988) Upper-division undergraduates and above. -F. Krome, University of Cincinnati

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