cover image Nelson: A Personal History

Nelson: A Personal History

Christopher Hibbert. Addison Wesley Publishing Company, $30 (472pp) ISBN 978-0-201-62457-1

Self-promoting, vain, risk-taking, thirsty for recognition and glory, English admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)-who crippled Napoleon's fleets in the French Revolutionary wars-fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a sea officer. In this rousing, seaworthy biography, we meet a vexatious man whose short temper was exacerbated by the loss of an arm and an eye in combat. Falling madly in love with exuberant, obese ex-prostitute Lady Emma Hamilton, the wife of his host in Naples, British envoy Sir William Hamilton, Nelson neglected his own wife and later went through a mock marriage ceremony with Emma to sanctify his adulterous affair and assuage guilt. We also glimpse his softer side-financially generous to relatives; tenderly solicitous toward Horatia, his daughter by Emma; and stoic in pain, especially when mortally wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar, his tragic victory over the combined fleets of France and Spain. Drawing on letters and diaries of Nelson, Emma and their contemporaries, British historian Hibbert, biographer of Elizabeth I, has produced a magnificent flesh-and-blood portrait that minutely re-creates Nelson's daily cares, loves, feuds, battles, scandals and exploits. (Dec.)