The best books to understand the Age of Sail

Who am I?

I wanted to go to the sea ever since I can remember. In the hope of having the nonsense knocked out of me, my father sent me at the tender age of fourteen to the ‘Indefatigable’, a tough sea-training school. This only strengthened my resolve for a life at sea, and I joined the Royal Navy at 15. My family emigrated and I transferred to the Royal Australian Navy and saw service around the world.  Although I no longer have an active involvement with the navy, I sail in my imagination through my sea-faring novels.


I wrote...

Balkan Glory: Thomas Kydd 23

By Julian Stockwin,

Book cover of Balkan Glory: Thomas Kydd 23

What is my book about?

1811. The Adriatic, the 'French Lake', is now the most valuable territory Napoleon Bonaparte possesses. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd finds his glorious return to England cut short when the Admiralty summons him to lead a squadron of frigates into these waters to cause havoc and distress to the enemy. Kydd is dubbed 'The Sea Devil' by Bonaparte who personally appoints one of his favourites, Dubourdieu, along with a fleet that greatly outweighs the British, to rid him of this menace. Kydd will face Dubourdieu with impossible odds stacked against him.

Can he shatter Bonaparte's dreams of breaking out of Europe and marching to the gates of India and Asia?

The books I picked & why

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Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793 - 1815

By Brian Lavery,

Book cover of Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793 - 1815

Why this book?

This book holds a special place in my bookshelves. Reprinted many times it is a classic reference to the period. Lavery’s description of life at sea is unparalleled, depicting a world far removed from the hardships and cruelty that is often attributed to conditions on the lower deck.


Seamanship in the Age of Sail: An Account of the Shiphandling of the Sailing Man-of-War 1600-1860

By John Harland,

Book cover of Seamanship in the Age of Sail: An Account of the Shiphandling of the Sailing Man-of-War 1600-1860

Why this book?

A useful companion to Lavery’s Nelson’s Navy – my personal copy is quite well-thumbed! The book offers a definitive guide to every aspect of the handling of a man-of-war, explaining just how the ships of Nelson’s navy were actually sailed. Superb line drawings by the maritime artist Mark Myers enhance the text. 


Jack Tar

By Roy Adkins,

Book cover of Jack Tar

Why this book?

The Adkins husband-and-wife writing team used their background in archaeology to dig deep into historical archives in search of letters, diaries, and manuscripts to shed light on the ordinary sailors who manned the ships of the Georgian Navy. In essence, it is Jack Tar at work and play -  in his own words.


Broadsides: Caricature and the Navy 1756 - 1815

By James Davey, Richard Johns,

Book cover of Broadsides: Caricature and the Navy 1756 - 1815

Why this book?

I’m greatly drawn to the caricaturists and satirists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In the days before the internet they were often vehicles for witty, sometimes very pointed, commentary on all aspects of society. This book, with prints from the National Maritime Museum, focuses on the Royal Navy during the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century.


Nelson's Navy in 100 Objects

By Gareth Glover,

Book cover of Nelson's Navy in 100 Objects

Why this book?

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy was the largest employer in the world. It maintained a fleet of close on 1,000 ships, including over 100 line-of-battle ships, and was responsible for the entire organisation of maintaining them at sea. Through his evocative selection of 100 objects Glover takes you back in time to share his admiration for a golden age when Britain ruled the seas.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the British Royal Navy, World War 2, and World War 1?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the British Royal Navy, World War 2, and World War 1.

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