The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare from Trafalgar to Midway

by John Keegan

Paperback, 1990



Call number




Penguin Books (1990), Edition: 3d ptg., 400 pages


In BATTLE AT SEA, John Keegan applies to maritime warfare the technique that he put to such brilliant effect in his classic of war on land, THE FACE OF BATTLE. He concentrates on four key conflicts- Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway and the Battle of the Atlantic. He takes us into the very heart of the fighting while providing a remarkable panoramic view of naval warfare through the centuries.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ABVR
The third and least (after The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command) of the trilogy of books that established Keegan as a preemininent military historian. The case-study approach that worked so well in the preceding two books is on display again, this time with four naval battles: Trafalgar
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(1805), Jutland (1916), Midway (1942), and the Battle of the Atlantic (1940-44). The case studies are workmanlike, but they lack the detailed intensity of those in Face or the intimate scale of those in Mask. Too often, they feel like a once-over summary of the work of others. The inclusion of the U-boat war in the North Atlantic is also problematic: It's not a battle but a campaign, and--because it's undersea rather than surface warfare--it spoils the technological progression that Keegan traces from Trafalgar (wood/guns) to Jutland (steel/guns) to Midway (steel/airplanes). The Falklands (aluminum/missiles) would have been a more logical choice.

All that aside, Keegan writes with grace and insight, and even his lesser books (of which this is one) repay reading. Naval history specialists will find nothing new or startling here, even they can enjoy Keegan's retelling of familiar tales.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
One of John Keegan's weaker books due to the selection of the case studies and the comparative dearth of analysis. The choice of Trafalgar, Jutland, Midway and a WWII German submarine convoy attack guarantees wide readership but few insights. These events (apart from the odd submarine case) were
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atypical, once a century actions. It is also arbitrary if five chance minutes in the Midway case decide the issue. For completeness sake, he should have included the battle of Lepanto where the idea of ships as infantry fighting platforms was supplanted by gunnery (galleys vs. broadside cannon equipped galleasses).
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
A very interesting though somewhat uneven discussion of, basically, the effects of new technology on war at sea. There are four sections, starting with the wooden walls (wooden warships) at Trafalgar; iron ships, at Jutland (WWI); airplanes and aircraft carriers, at Midway (WWII); and submarines,
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sketching action from WWI and WWII and culminating in one episode of the Battle of the Atlantic, a running fight between two convoys and several submarine packs. The coverage wavers oddly from the technical structure of the tech under discussion to the personal experiences of the men in battle. One odd thing I found as I was reading - I was hearing a lot of David Weber in the writing. In Trafalgar and Jutland, I was seeing things that reminded me of Safehold; in Jutland and the later ones, a lot of Honor Harrington. This may simply be because it's not a subject I know much about - Weber explicitly references several battles such as Midway in his stories, and it may be that all the things I noted would be very familiar to a military historian. But for me, I was seeing a lot of Weber's reference material for the first time - fascinating. Makes me want to read Weber again - not so much to reread this.
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LibraryThing member vibrantminds
A complete overview of naval history from wooden ships to the submarine beginning with Trafalgar through WWII. Lessons learned through some of the great military leaders helped influence future inspiration of ships and strategy.
LibraryThing member rsubber
Finely detailed historical setting for modern naval warfare, including gripping descriptions of classic naval battles and informative treatment of the "dreadnought" races around the turn of the 20th century.
LibraryThing member JayLivernois
The best part of this book is Keegan's introduction, which is a brilliant synopsis of how naval warfare came about out of the development of civilized trade and then piracy. Keegan was the best military historian of the 20th century, but his writing and insights are not as good as Victor Davis
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Hanson's, whom he mentored and opened the field for.
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LibraryThing member jamespurcell
Interesting but no persuasive. I like Keegan's books but this is not one of his better ones.


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400 p.; 7.69 inches


0140096507 / 9780140096507
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