cover image Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805

Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805

Alan Schom. Atheneum Books, $27.5 (421pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12055-8

Schom ( Emile Zola ) argues that England's greatest naval victory, the 1805 battle of Trafalgar, resulted from the breakdown of Napoleon's scheme to invade Great Britain. Linking the French preparations for invasion, the ``Great Terror'' of the awaiting English citizenry, the blockade of French ports and the subsequent sea battle, the author of this well-researched history brings out of obscurity a human catalyst: Admiral William Cornwallis. Cornwallis led the Royal Navy's two-year blockade, which prevented the launching of Napoleon's amphibious flotilla across the Channel, and also created and dispatched the separate fleet that Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded so brilliantly off Cape Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. Schom's narrative of that engagement, which pitted Nelson against the combined French and Spanish fleets under Admiral Pierre Villeneuve (and during which Nelson lost his life) is memorable for its clear explication of the tactics that made the British admiral one of the great captains of military history. Schom concludes with a description of Nelson's majestic state funeral--to which Cornwallis, the ``unobtrusive hero,'' was not invited. Illustrations. (Dec.)