Cover Image: The Ship Asunder

The Ship Asunder

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Member Reviews

This is a well-written, well-researched, and quite quirky book, part maritime history, part personal musings by the author. British history in general, but especially maritime history, is considered by reference to something ship-related for specific eras from the Bronze Age to the beginning of the 1900s. For me, each chapter was complete in itself which meant they could be read in almost any order, and I was able to pick the book up for a chapter or two that caught my eye in between reading other works.
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An fascinating look at British maritime history, told through the lens of a piece of eleven different ships.
A enjoyable and well researched, informative read, suitable for anyone with an interest in maritime history.
The story is told through 11 ships and is interspersed with the authors experiences and anecdotes, makes the book well worth reading.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for the ARC of this book
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The premise for this book is to tell the maritime history of Britain in eleven vessels.  However, it is more a ragbag of facts, each section centred around a period in history and with a vessel included.  The piece is well researched and many of the facts revealed are fascinating.  However, the whole thing is rather a hotch-potch with no clear direction and I could certainly have done without the author's personal opinions and pastiches about going for a pint or walking in the rain.  Its more whimsical than scholarly.

I found the information included in it to be fascinating for the most part; I certainly learnt more than I knew starting off.  The author doesn't confine himself to ships, but talks of rope, masts, bells, figureheads and early diving bells, as well as covering the important transition from sail to steam.  But I felt the writing style would have benefitted from some serious condensing and removal of the peripheral anecdotes.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Press UK for allowing me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I’ve read several books on the history of the British Isles, but “The Ship Asunder” was a very different read. Tom tells the tale of Britain’s maritime history weaved around known relics from our seafaring past, approaching this from a very different angle. I admit it was a surprise to me that British involvement in the slave trade goes back as far as the reign of Elizabeth I or that the Guinea introduced into our currency in 1663 was a celebration of the gold amassed by perpetrators of the trade. It is this section of the book that I found most interesting and disturbing, but certainly Tom manages to keep the reader enthralled throughout what is a very interesting read.
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Weaving together stories of great naval architects and unsung shipwrights, fishermen and merchants, shipwrecks and superstition, pilgrimage, trade and war, The Ship Asunder celebrates the richness of Britain’s seafaring tradition in all its glory and tragedy, triumph and disaster, and asks how we might best memorialise it as it vanishes from our shores.

I enjoyed reading this book. It’s a tour of Britain’s ports, coasts and islands with an imaginary ship built from fragments acquired across the centuries. Being surrounded by the sea can have a profound effect on a person, and we all love to escape to the coast when we can. The next best thing surely is reading a good book about it!
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I like boats, and small ships, and sailing, and messing about by and in the sea. But whilst I appreciate Britain’s maritime history, I do not consider myself much of a sea-farer. And I’ve never been good at British History – enough to tackle quiz questions, is about it.

So The Ship Asunder, Tom Nancollas’s gallop through several thousand years of Britain’s association with boats, is full of surprises.

The author takes us through the history of ships and British sea-faring by deconstructing boats and identifying the history within them. Who knew that there was a pre-Roman boat discovered in the mud at Dover, carefully preserved in the Ashmolean Museum of all places – about as far from the sea as you can get in Britain. And a large trumpet used for inter-ship (and intra-ship) communication in pre-medieval times, salvaged from the muddy banks of the Thames, and now in the Museum of London?

Starting at the prows of the boats and ending past the propellers and back onto the land that provided the wood, Nancollas strings together a fascinating mix of archaeology, fable and record. He treads paths and describes ancient and modern side by side. I am tempted to try to locate the building in Caithness that uses the hull of a ship as its rafters. He does it by satellite mapping, and street view, and so can any of us, if we look hard enough.

Among the sea souvenirs there are plenty of human stories. Inventors, sailors, rich men, poor men, beggar men, some women. He also gives a clear account of Britain’s rich past in slavery. We got rich on this trade, no doubt about it. Just as we did on exploiting all the rest of the ‘Empire’ countries. We owe them big time.

Sometimes the text jumps about a bit. Abrupt changes of subject when you think it’s a follow-on. This may be the ebook, and the paperback layout may solve the problem. But I did have to stop several times to work out where the thread had gone. Nevertheless, it’s a good read, an artistic piece of delving, and a useful reference work too. For those who like to know how much of the ebook is references – 6%. There are also useful footnotes in the text, too.
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This book tells the story of Britain’s maritime history through a series of objects, rather on the lines of Neil MacGregor’s “History of the World in a 100 Objects”. Some are obviously maritime, such as the “Dover Boat”, built about 1550 BC or a propeller salvaged from the Lusitania. Others are less obviously connected with the sea such as a ships trumpet found in Billingsgate or a chair, now in Oxford, made from wood from the Golden Hind.

Tom Nancollas weaves these objects into a more general history of the development of shipping, taking in the changing patterns of ship design and construction, rope making, the change from sailing to steamships and the the development of the propeller. etc. It’s full of interesting diversions from the main narrative that add to the appeal of the book. An interesting read, even for a landlubber like myself.
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The Ship Asunder by Tom Nancollas is a fascinating and original tour of maritime history. Throughout his book the author constructs the image and identity of a British ship from eleven relics of seafaring history including a prow, hull and anchor. The book includes accounts from naval architects, shipwrights, fishermen, shipwrecks, trade and war that examine the richness and complexity of Britain’s maritime history and seagoing traditions. It is a beautiful, personal exploration around Britain that examines the triumphs and tragedies that happened at sea. This book is perfect for fans of nonfiction and history about social issues, politics and myths from the perspective of the constantly shifting landscape of the sea. Enchanting 4 Stars ✨.
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There is no doubt that Nancollas’ “The Ship Asunder” is a good book, doing a superb job detailing ‘Britains’ past through the lenses of its maritime history and is well written and easily digestible. Whilst I did learn a bit form this book, I do not think I was the particular audience it is geared towards, I had a sub-specialism at university in maritime archaeology/history and whilst the book is full of facts *for me* it fell a bit short. 

However, overall this book is a good read and I will recommend it to my students (when and as needed).
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This was a fascinating read. 
It's a subject I've not really thought about before but I found it interesting. 
Using a prop as a start for a chapter was a great idea and kept it engaging,
I've recommended the book to an Ex Navy friend as I'm sure he'll find it fascinating too.
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Nancollas, famous for his lighthouse book, puts together a history of British seafaring, war and trade through looking at different bits of ships that together make up a whole vessel – from the prow to the ship’s bell to the ship’s trumpet to the hull, the ropes and the masts. He follows a largely chronological path looking at developments in maritime technology, naval management and sea trade, although he does dart back and forth a little, as each chapter is also themed around both an area which he goes to visit (like the recently read “Shadowlands“) and something like developments in war, exploration, slavery (he’s not afraid to confront the more troublesome aspects of our maritime past) or the decline of seaside towns and villages.

The book is packed full of historical detail but Nancollas doesn’t assume too much prior knowledge and it’s easy enough to (ahem) navigate. He has a wide vocabulary and occasionally takes to flights of fancy but the prose steers clear of being purple. He’s good at digging into the characters involved in the history and is also very concerned about the, by now faceless and nameless, ordinary sailors who facilitated all these voyages but whose details were not recorded.

A lively and interesting book. 

My review published 24 April
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This was to me a really fascinating delve into our maritime past. The author took as a prompt some sort of relic, whether a coil of rope, or a figurehead and used these as a starting point for a chapter. I really loved it and loved the author's voice in the narrative.It has left me with the desire to travel the country in search of these artefacts which is about the best thing a book can do.
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Using 11 distinct parts of ships, from prow to propeller, Nancollas weaves a series of anecdotes which are tremendously enjoyable even to those of a non-nautical mind.  Clearly a huge amount of research was required to produce this book but it is disseminated with a light touch and, as a result this proves to be an immensely informative read. 
The timeline spans pre-Viking to SS Lusitania and, by the end of this book, the reader can perhaps just begin to understand what has been lost, culturally, as Britain has moved away from away from its historic role of being the maritime superpower.
I appreciated the the enormous empathy Nancollas had with his subject. I share his sadness that we no longer look excitedly to the horizon for the first glimpse of approaching masts as this meant news and goods would shortly arrive on our shores. Nowadays ,for news its airwaves, and goods come in on containers to vast handling yards sealed off from public view. Most small coastal ports now lie silent except for the chatter of tourists.
An excellent and original work that succeeds in capturing the very essence of ships that have vanished off the face of the earth but for a bell, a propeller, a mast or some odd timbers.
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I loved reading this book although I am neither a sailor, fisherman or naval historian. I do love coasts and Tom Nancollas tells the history of British ships through remnants and artifacts from ships found wherever they broke up. 
I had never heard of the ruins of the oldest ship discovered, and  plan to visit this fascinating wreck in Dover museum , Neither had I given much thought to ship's trumpets though vaguely aware of them in pictures. In the days before lights and modern navigation methods being able to signal across foggy windswept conditions was essential to survival, I  had seen ships timbers used as rooftops on Lindisfarne but never thought of coastal communities in windswept treeless settlements needing to recycle timbers or of the close affinity between boat builders and church builders. The section on figureheads put into context the two larger-than-life examples I had seen at Bluetown Heritage Centre in Sheerness docks.
I found the personal anecdotes and references to the author's family distracting initially in this well researched book but my final thoughts were that these anecdotes helped to make the history more personal and to link it to the lives of ordinary seamen.
Tom Nancollas  has written an intriguing and thought provoking book that will bring readers closer to the seafaring way of life through the centuries.
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Britain's history is synonymous with the sea - being an island, we are surrounded by it. Boats, ships, & their assorted paraphernalia are entwined with British life from our language, to our penal codes (picking oakum) & political & military history. The author takes features from ships from different historical periods & melds them into "The Ship Asunder". It includes a prehistoric prow, a mast from a Victorian steamship, & the propeller of an ocean liner.  The book moves forward through time, from the early oar propelled boats of the prehistoric, Roman, & Medieval periods, to harnessing the power of the wind for the age of the sail, through to the enormous liners such as the Lusitania. From the pinnacle of British naval might with Lord Nelson to the role of ships in the shameful slave trade. 

There's a lot of carefully researched information here - I particularly enjoyed the section on Medieval ships - imagining them sailing into harbour, flags flying, with their heralds ready to blow their horns to announce their arrival. I was intrigued to see  Winchelsea mentioned, I had heard of it before but knew nothing about it, yet in the last two weeks have now read two books which cover its history. Overall it's an interesting, informative read if you have an interest in maritime & naval history. I enjoyed it so much I bought the author's book on historic lighthouses for a future read.  

My thanks to NetGalley & publishers, Penguin Press UK, Allen Lane, Particular, Pelican, for the opportunity to read an ARC.
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I haven't finished reading this book yet but wanted to review it ahead of the publication date. It is a fascinating read, full of interesting information and anecdotes. A very readable style, and a personal one with mentions of the family and friends accompanying the author on his journey around Britain seeking out the artefacts and information which form the backbone to this book. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the book. A very good read for anyone interested in our maritime heritage - the good and the bad. With thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for an advanced copy of this book to read and review.
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British history through the lens of its maritime past.

A wealth of historical information is at least partly obscured by the insinuation of the author into the narrative. Places known to me, Bristol, for instance, become unrecognisable in his hands.

An easy-going, fascinating read, but could be better.
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This meandering journey through Britain’s maritime heritage is rich with anecdotes and snippets of history. Although Tom Nancollas follows the stories of eleven relics of important ships. I was expecting more about each ship, but as Tom Nancollas points out, 

“at the heart of this book is an absence, for ships are definingly perishable things. Sea washes, wears, squishes their hulls. Wind pulls, pushes prises apart structural members or hull coverings. Salt abrades, corrodes, dissolves until a ship may scarcely be identifiable. This is not just a story of ships’ live, but of their afterlives too.” 

There are many ‘detours’ and no sense of urgency. We pause to visit Spike Milligan’s ‘Celtic’ grave in Winchelsea, and the ornate chair, allegedly made from the timbers of Drake’s Golden Hinde. 

I enjoyed the historical details, such as how the Romans would cut the prow from captured enemy ships, then use it as a platform from which to deliver victory speeches - the origin of the ‘rostrum’ sill loved by orators today.

Tom Nancollas has an engaging and relaxed style, and this is a book I’m sure I’ll return to, and makes an ideal gift for anyone with an interest in maritime history. Recommended.

Tony Riches
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Absolutely wonderful interesting book learning about the most stunning part of ship from years ago.
The detail and meaning of each 
So much passion as gone in to this book 
Worth buying
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