Alan Schom’s book is supposedly as much on the campaigns leading up to the famous battle as on the battle itself (thus the subtitle). And it generally succeeds at that. Better, it presents a lot of the French side of what was happening, and takes a real look at Napoleon’s plans to invade England.

Since that never got attempted, there have been doubts about how serious Napoleon was about the attempt, starting with some of his own propaganda. However, Schom lays out his reasons for treating it as very much a real and pressing project of his, and traces it through way too many changes and contradictory orders. More interesting to me, is his descriptions of the naval flotilla built to support the invasion.

This is Schom’s main reason for discounting any claims that the invasion was in the end a feint. Way too much effort, materials, and manpower were spent on all the little craft that were to protect and support the transports for a mere distraction. And they were, in a word, useless. Even the largest of the three classes was not really rated for service in the rough seas of the Atlantic, the cannons they mounted were too small to be any use against regular military ships, and those same cannons dangerously overloaded the vessels.

The British efforts to blockade the French fleet in ports gets more attention elsewhere, but the presentation here is good, and concentrates a bit more on William Cornwallis’ (brother of the more famous Charles Cornwallis of Yorktown fame) command of the Channel Fleet. I do think this side could have been presented a bit better, with more of a look at the administration of the naval effort, and how the various demands for ships in different posts were met over time. A true detailed look would be too much for a more popular book such as this, but keeping an eye on policy development would have been a good addition.

Overall, the book does it’s job quite well, and my main actual complaint is that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the changes in French plans over time despite Schom paying attention to that aspect. Of course, those changes were numerous and frequent enough that I doubt anyone at the time could really keep track of it all.