Bennett’s main goal is to examine Nelson as a naval commander, and see if and why he deserves his plaudits as the greatest naval commander of all time. Despite the focus, it turns into a full-fledged biography of Nelson, albeit with an unusual focus.

This is a 1972 book, and Bennett served in the Royal Navy during WWII, which adds certain biases, and some interesting background on how Nelson was viewed in the navy at the time. Most of his research seems to go back to primary sources, but he also quotes other biographers, most notably A.T. Mahan’s The Life of Nelson. I’m also happy to say that my Kindle edition from Endeavour Press was in very good shape, and I didn’t spot any errors that would trace back to unedited OCR text.

Overall, I think it safe to say that Nelson is one of Bennett’s heroes, but that does not make him safe from censure. He is quite critical of a few actions (most notably Tenerife), and while he admits he glossing over elements of his affair with Mrs. Hamilton, he doesn’t shy away from saying he needs to talk about in a military history book because of the effect it had on Nelson’s judgement.

In the main, Bennett defines a standard to hold commanders up to at the beginning, and regularly goes back to this to define how Nelson’s actions live up to (or occasionally don’t) these standards, and how this makes him a great commander. Despite this overarching thesis, I do find this is more a biography than an analysis, but a good one, with a very well-done digression on how combat worked on board age-of-sail ships, making a handy starting reference on that in general as well.