by David Syrett
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 176.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN:1-59114-006-4
Howe is the final work of the late
Prof. David Syrett (1939-2005). A
highly-regarded historian who was the Doktorvater
to many an aspiring military historian, including this reviewer, Syrett was
Professor of History of Queens College, City University of New York. He overcame severe dyslexia to establish
himself as one of the most notable naval historians of recent decades. Although his interests ranged across all of modern military and naval history,
Syrett was notably partial to the Royal Navy and the eighteenth century. Fittingly, in this work he returned to both,
and in the process chose a subject that was particularly in need of attention,
and one for which he was uniquely qualified.
Surprisingly, Lord Howe, despite his vital role in the
Revolutionary War, had never been the subject of a proper biography. The admiralâ€™s penchant for destroying his
papers, plus an impressively dense writing style, left little material for
anyone interested in attempting to tell the story of his life. Nevertheless, in the course of many years of
working in eighteenth century British history, Prof. Syrett managed to identify
a great many documents dealing with Howeâ€™s life and career, scattered in
archives in Britain of course, but also in the U.S. Using these and, when they failed, his extensive knowledge of life
and service in the eighteenth century, Syrett produced what will certainly be
the standard biography of the admiral for a long time to come.
Syrett wraps the story of Howeâ€™ life around that of
the Royal Navy in his times. The book
looks not only at operations, of which Howe took part in many, and commanded in
a lot, but also takes in the administrative mechanism of the Royal Navy, the workings
of corruption, family, and â€œinterestâ€ in building an officerâ€™s career, policy
and strategy, the art of command, the workings of a ship, and more. A work well worth reading for anyone
interested in the period, the American Revolution, or the Royal Navy, and a
fitting capstone to Prof. Syrettâ€™s body of work.