To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World
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To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  578 ratings  ·  79 reviews
To Rule the Waves tells the extraordinary story of how Britain's Royal Navy allowed one nation to rise to power unprecedented in history. From its beginnings under Henry VIII and adventurers like John Hawkins and Francis Drake, the Royal Navy toppled one world eco-nomic system, built by Spain and Portugal after Christopher Columbus, and ushered in another -- the one in whi...more
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published October 26th 2004 by Harper (first published February 1st 1975)
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Community Reviews

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This is a useful perspective on empire - and the "world order" we live in - delivered by a fine storyteller. Along the way, the reader is rewarded with insights into everything from common expressions in the English language that originated in naval practices, to the personal character and dramas of famous historical figures, to how American policy and markets participated in and served and expressed the needs and desires of the British world system of which - despite the political break - it wa...more
A fantastic account of the birth and growth of the Royal Navy and its implications on the world. Arthur Herman did a wonderful job of making this in depth account such an enjoyable and easy read. Anyone who is interested in history or international relations ought to read this book. From Francis Drake to Horatio Nelson to present day, To Rule the Waves was a magnificent piece of historical literature greatly educated me on the effects that the British Royal Navy has had not only on the world, bu...more
I am surprised that, after 569 paperbacked pages, my lingering impression of this book is that it moved too quickly. It's no small feat to pack centuries of naval history into so short a tome, so I suppose I can't reasonably be disappointed. A fantastic read that had me making mental notes about specific incidents, individuals and eras to delve deeper into. Waves looks beyond the list of battles to the social, economic and political forces that drove and were driven by the Royal Navy on stages t...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
The 600+ pages of this excellent British maritime history, rather than just British navy history, covers the facets of the relationship of Britain with her neighbor the sea. It's a story basically of ships and the men who sailed on them. The narrative style in which the myriad of voyages are recalled gives a sense of continuity to the book, a good thing when so many stories are told along such a broad chronological frame. So there is no discontinuity. It must have taken a heroic effort to summar...more
A wonderful book that tells the story of Her Majesty's Royal Navy from the first glimmerings of galleys and galleons to the conclusion of the Falkland campaigns. Mr. Herman does a masterful job of re-telling, with great fluency, the story of one of the most potent forces for good in the history of the world, the Royal Navy. Whether it be the campaigns of Drake, the organization and ability of Pepys, the exploits of Anson, St. Vincent, Nelson, Smith, et al., he brings the story alive with what in...more
Martin Glen
Arthur Herman is one of those popular historians who conceals a commanding knowledge of his topic behind an easy narrative style, full of dramatic reconstructions and other documentary devices. It makses for effective transfer of knowledge and ideas, though it perhaps obscures where opinion takes over from received knowledge.

That said, an excellent read, bringing events from the Spanish Armada right through to the Falklands War, and his core argument of the essential role the Royal Navy played i...more
A surprisingly quick and entertaining read, Herman gives a fascinating look at the history of the Royal Navy--Tudors to Thatcher--and the way it helped shape the world. He provides a clear narrative and makes the most of the colorful characters with which the Navy abounded. His accounts of individual battles are notably well done and comprehensible, even to those of us who aren't generally drawn to military history.
An excellent read. Herman was able to mix a good amount of facts and character development with his art of storytelling. He was rather gifted at explaining situations and how things moved together. Not only will you walk away with an appreciation for the Royal Navy but will also get a rough overview of recent British history, including it's political situations.

I was disappointed with his ending. It appeared that after a concise conclusion of the Falklands conflict that he dropped off. There was...more
Actually how the British Navy helped Britain to dominate the world, in succession to the Spanish and Portuguese, and in defiance of the French – then secure that position through the products of the Industrial Revolution. And how, since Nelson and Trafalgar, it has hung on, more by luck than judgement, and with American assistance, to be on the winning side of two more world wars.
This is a Who’s Who of British naval heroes (many villains, perceived as heroes) and their achievements. It assumes s...more
This was a superb history of the Royal Navy and it's role in shaping the world. It is filled with larger than life characters and so many interesting historical tit-bits that have entered our vocabulary - like to 'strike' and 'to let the cat out of the bag'. I found it hard to put it down, but agree with some other reviewers that the end was a bit of a letdown - what was an immensely engrossing book seemed to fizzle a bit at the end - it jumps from the end of WWII to a rather brief recount of th...more
Sep 30, 2009 Nancy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, 2009
Ohhh, this book. It took up my whole summer because I let it. I knew I wasn't that into it but thought I could power through it...yeah, no. Sure couldn't. Instead, I bought Real Simples and Esquires and anything else I could to distract me at lunch and on train rides, and I fell way behind in my 100 book goal (now looking very much out of reach).

I don't think it's a bad book in that the thesis is solid, but the man is not a good story-teller nor can he decide if his audience already knows every...more
Can't sleep? Have insomnia? Read about British naval history! (In all seriousness, the book isn't terrible but I overestimated my Anglophilia on this one.)
The history of the British Navy! Woohoo!
I don't think the author even comes close to proving the assertion in his subtitle, even though he gives lots of anecdotal evidence.

But, if you are looking for a good thumbnail sketch of the history of the Royal Navy(and England for that matter), than this is a good book to introduce the subject.

It's a well written, fast read that covers most of the major battles and more importantly most of the big personalities of Her Majesty's Navy.

A very detailed and comprehensive history of the British Navy, from the days of the Seadogs to the Falkland War. In spite of the book's detail and span, it is an engaging read, although it is difficult to remember any real details afterwards. In addition to the enjoyment of reading this book, I learned all sorts of trivia like where the term "grog" comes from, that the phrase "square meal" originated in the British Navy, and (horrifyingly) that in 1720 the average Briton consumed twelve pounds o...more
Moses Operandi
Absolutely top-notch. From the profiteering days of Drake and Raleigh to the ignominy of the Suez and the tentative renascence in the Falklands, this is the story of the Royal Navy, from officers to enlisted men, from tall ships to steamers to missile-equipped cruisers. Herman's narrative is enjoyable and assured. He certainly doesn't withhold praise for Churchill, or criticism for Labour and their mishandling of the Navy after 1945, but overall this is a well-balanced and fascinating account.
Much better that "How the Scots invented the modern world" it still suffers from the bit of a non-fiction slog.

Herman could also do with a better overall timeline - the overlapping timelines of various chapters (with his oh-so-not-always-helpful cross-references to individuals in other chapters) makes for a sometimes confusing read. Also, with the scope of this book, it sometimes diminishes the impact of all that was going on in the world in such a short space of time.
This was an outstanding study of just how influential the Royal Navy has been on today's world. From the Spanish Armada to the Second World War, Britannia truly ruled the waves. The real reason America was able to fulfill its manifest destiny without any interference from Europe was because of the shield of the Royal Navy. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, it was plain to me, after reading this book, just how much of our traditions and habits were derived from our forerunner.
My favorite line (so far) - Geography, some historians agrue, is destiny. - chapter three, Unknown Limits... meanwhile, this book made me realize thet the American exceptionalism sprouts out from... Protestanism.
April 16th of 2011 update - if only Arthur Herman had characters like Emma Hamilton the way Tolstoy wrote about Anna Pavlovna this book would’ve been the British “War and Peace”.
October 8, 2011 - This book is a textbook, period.
Frieda Cramer
This book should be a companion for all who have or are reading the "Master and Commander" series by O'Brian. A thorough and fascinating history of the British Navy for non-historians. Herman adds weight to the O'Brian series and verifies much of M&C as being very true to the history of the time. A must read for all visitors to England if you want to understand the richness of their history in the post-Elizabethean world.
This is a fascinating book. Although there are certainly some factual errors as pointed out by numerous reviewers I've read far more of this book then I intended too. At first, I was just planning on reading a few sections to supplement other books I had read, I instead became enthralled. Every time I pick it up I become enthralled in it again but every time I put it down I get distracted and go read something else.
Absolutely fascinating, and too short! This book could easily be twice the length and still have more to say. I wish more attention had been paid to some details and links, but in all a very involving read. It is never logical how history picks some names or battles over others to remember after facts come to light; some of the lesser known names and facts get some attention here.
Well-written and engaging, the book is an overview of the 500+ year history of the British navy, from Jack Hawkins to the Falklands war. As such, it skips through a lot of UK history to stay focused on the navy's role. But he does a good job, especially early on, of doing character sketches of these many colorful historical figures, many of whom (like Samuel Pepys) I'd never heard of.
Rebecca Fieler
I bought this book because I enjoyed Arthur Herman's history of the Scots. I enjoyed this book as well. One of the things I liked -- and this may sound a bit odd -- is that this book lends itself very well to being broken up into shorter pieces; you don't have to read the whole book at one time. As someone who reads during her lunch break, I appreciate that characteristic.
Mark Allen
Jul 12, 2007 Mark Allen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history nerds
This was one of the most fascinating books I've read in a while, revealing worts and all how the British Navy came to shape the political culture of much of the world. From its ancient origins with Henry VIII to its modern incarnation, this is a really readable summary of the British Navy and all of its greatest heros and battle engagements for the last 500 years.
I bought this book as part of a buy-two-get-one-free deal, and I was not prepared to like it as much as I did. It was extremely well-written and well-researched, and paced so smartly I had a difficult time putting it down. A look not only at the rise of the British Navy, but also of globalization, and, refreshingly, not from the American point of view.
Hermann is thorough and a bit long but a good storyteller. His love of the Royal Navy is admirable but clouds his judgment, his paints an overly rosy accounting of Jutland and the convoys of WWII. But very strong in the details of the early Navy. Very cryptic coverage of Suez made me think he was running out of steam by the end of this 600 pager.
Maureen E
A history of the British navy. Fascinating stories, including a lot details I didn’t know about, and several moments where a larger portion of history suddenly made more sense. Somewhat marred by a lack of nuance in his argument, but still a great read for anyone interested in history, especially nautical history. [Mar. 2011]
Sep 27, 2008 CB rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
An exhaustive history of the British Navy and its influence on the world. It begins way before I expected and went way later than I was interested in. At times he comes off a little defensive and push the thesis a little too hard. The middle bit, about the age of sail, was well done, especially the battle scenes.
John E
For all of it's nearly 600 pages of text I found the book very readable and an excellent introduction to the history of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy story is told with emphesis on the personalities and characters (and there are lots of "characters") who led the navy and its successes. Time well spent.
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