Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/13/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A slightly over-reaching but enjoyable personality analysis of five Revolutionary War figures.
Every historical period - including every period in Church history - has had its opportunists and malcontents. In the inventively, alliterated, and metrically entitled Captains Contentious: the Dysfunctional Sons of the Brine, maritime historian Louis Arthur Norton homes in on five notorious and/or celebrated personalities of the Continental Navy in the Revolutionary War era. Citing various incidents and correspondence, Arthur tries to make the case that these five naval officers were unusually "combative, vituperative, and manipulative." Does he succeed? Mostly.
Being Canadian, not one of these famous naval commanders was a household name for me, although I may have heard mention of the dashing John Paul Jones at some point. John Manley, Silas Talbot, and Joshua Barney were entirely new to me. I would not have heard of Dudley Saltonstall if I had not come across him in Bernard Cornwell's The Fort, in which Cornwell paints him in much the same hues as Norton does.
I suppose that any group of human beings, especially a cadre of leaders spearheading a revolutionary war, will feature at least a few strong personalities. Is it suprising, then, that we find such figures in the early Continental Navy? One of these naval officers was actually an army officer, by the way - I'll leave you to discover which one.
Moreover, were they any more dysfunctional or contentious than their British or French or Dutch or Spanish counterparts? Consider, for instance, that the French Navy fired upon their allies the Spanish when fleeing the British at the end of the Napoleonic War. Fairly dysfunctional, I would say. No, I am inclined to agree with Norton's analysis of dysfunctionality among these naval commanders. But I attribute the dysfunction not only due to their individual dysfunctional personalities, but to the system in itself. The dysfunctional system exacerbated their personal dysfunction and vice versa. Of course, the system notwithstanding, the Christian must call sin, sin. Simply put, there was sin in the system and sin in the men.
I greatly enjoyed the content of Captains Contentious. Moreover, the aesthetic experience of reading this book was much enhanced, for me at least, by the pleasant typeface and ideal page color - not too bleached, not too brown. I'm sad to report that although the type of paper is revealed on the copyright page (Glatfelter Natures, a recycled paper with 30 percent postconsumer waste content), the name of the cover designer is not, and is nowhere to be found in the entire book. He or she deserves plaudits for every aspect of the cover, front and back. As does author Norton for his considerable aplomb as a maritime historian.