cover image Fisher's Face; Or,: Getting to Know the Admiral

Fisher's Face; Or,: Getting to Know the Admiral

Jan Morris. Random House (NY), $23 (300pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41609-8

Flamboyant, swaggering Lord Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher (1841-1920), commander of the Royal Navy, transformed a complacent instrument of the British Empire into a modern fleet whose blockade strangled Germany and helped the Allies win WWI. In British writer Morris's (Conundrum) witty, engaging biography, Fisher emerges as a man of contradictions. Born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to a British coffee planter and sent at age six to live with a grandfather in England, Fisher, who despised class differences, democratically overhauled a navy that drew its officers overwhelmingly from the gentry. Deeply religious, cosmopolitan, father of submarine warfare and a close friend of Churchill, Fisher was made a baron, grew bored with his wife and left her to live with Duchess Nina Hamilton. Some historians have charged that Fisher's preemptive-strike policy made war more likely; others blame him for the Allies' disastrous Gallipoli landing in 1915. But, in Morris's seaworthy biography, he is a hero who dragged the Royal Navy out of the 18th century into the 20th. Illustrations not seen by PW. (May)