The Most Important Book in Maritime History?

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    Sam Willis

    The latest episode of the Mariner’s Mirror podcast ‘The Most Important Book in Maritime History? Lloyd’s Register‘ raises an interesting point… What is the most important book in Maritime History?? Suggestions please!

    Wayne Tripp

    Wow – that is certainly a questions which may lead to a wide array of offerings! In my view, there is probably not a single book which would be universally acknowledged (as if that is a surprise!), and answers may vary based on the general area of individual interest. For me, I am interested more in the science and art of shipbuilding, less so on the stories of wars and battles. BUT, if I must select one book that I have found informative across a wide range of topics surrounding Maritime History I would suggest Paine, Lincoln P. 2013. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. First Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf as a strong contender. Not comprehensive in all areas but at least a shallow dive in many.

    Michael Leek

    An interesting question that’s obviously open to many interpretations, from the social to the technological, and much else besides (not the least the criteria that might be applied in making a choice). Should such a book be completely self-sufficient in that a reading would not require further consultation from other works? If so, then even Lloyd’s has its shortcomings. Possible contenders for the title might include Björn Landström’s The Ship (1961). From an earlier age, there’s Vice-Admiral François-Edmond Pâris‘s Souvenirs de Marine (1871). However, both have their limitations. (The fact that I’ve offered two choices shows how difficult it is to answer the question objectively – if not impossible!)

    The 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War raised similar questions about which is/was the best or most important book from or about that conflict. Not surprisingly, answers were many, with most being relating to specific aspects, such as the Western Front, the naval war, etc, etc. We’ll probably see the same question being asked when we reach September 2039!

    On a different tack, which books on maritime history – in its broadest interpretation – have most influenced members, particularly, but not exclusively, in respect of their early interest in maritime history?

    For me, these include, first and foremost, Harold A Underhill’s Deep-Water Sail (purchased in 1965, when I was still in secondary education, after having read a library copy two years previously), and Basil Lubbock’s and Jack Spurling’s three volume work Sail (I came across this when, as a 13-year old, I’d travel by bus across London on Saturday mornings to Tower Hamlets reference library simply to access their excellent maritime history collection, founded by, if I remember correctly, a Daniel R Bolt). Other influential books from this early period include Ellis Karlsson’s Mother Sea (1964), Oscar Parkes British Battleships (1956, but not accessed until much later, in the 1960s), Sailing Ships of the Romantic Era – 46 Watercolours and Drawings by Antoine Roux (1968), The Tall Ships Pass by W L Derby (another book ‘discovered’ at Tower Hamlets reference library, in about 1963), and The Shipwright’s Trade by Sir Westcott Abell (1962 reprint of the 1948 first edition). There are others, but those mentioned had a significant early influence in my then developing interest in maritime history (and marine painting).

    Joseph L

    It would be hard to say anything other than The Influence of Sea Power upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan. That work really is the book that launched a thousand ships and arguably was the basis for changing the course of world history.

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