In the Hour of Victory: The Royal Navy at War in the Age of Nelson
Sam Willis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. 396 pp. Ilus. Notes. Glossary. Index. $35.
Reviewed by Joseph Callo
The story of how In the Hour of Victory was conceived begins with the chance discovery at the British Library in 2010 of a “varnished box the size of a coffin.” Inside the mysterious container was a book so large it took two people to lift it onto a table. Willis describes the centuries-old contents:
Here, immaculately preserved, were the admirals’ narratives describing their victories to the King and the naval lords and politicians in London. Here also were letters from captains describing their conduct in battle to their admirals; from boatswains describing the damage to their ships; and from surgeons describing injuries to their men. Here were maps detailing the changing locations of ships as the chaos of battle unfurled. . . . History came off them all like heat.