Sugden brilliantly interweaves graphic accounts of Nelson's famous victories at the battles of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar with his lesser-known yet equally gripping campaigns to liberate the Italian states from French domination and his role in the blockade of Malta, often snatching remarkable triumphs from crippling reverses. But behind his military prowess was a man riven with paradoxes and schisms at the very heart of his personal life.
Nelson emerges as a strong-minded but vulnerable human being in constant need of affection and reassurance, whose relations with superiors, colleagues and friends were intense and stormy. We meet the fighting admiral in search of ultimate military victory, and the glory-hunter skillfully manipulating his public image; the national hero and patron of merit, and the indigent commoner trying to secure his position in a society dominated by wealth, property and land; the family man, and the adulterer who scandalized society by his passion for the mercurial Lady Hamilton - yet whose ambition for domestic tranquility was destroyed by his untimely death at Trafalgar.
The triumphant and the tragic lend an epic yet human quality to the life of Nelson, fully exploited here in a richly detailed narrative that teems with a glittering array of sailors and civilians, heroes and villains, husbands, wives and lovers.