England has a sinking feeling Jul 23, 2007
Andrew Gordon's book The Rules of the Game is a difficult book to read and a difficult book to recommend and a difficult book to dismiss.
Gordon's book is not difficult to read because it is poorly written. To the contrary, the author's style is very graceful, sometimes funny and always logical. The hurdle most readers will have to get over is the book's subject matter. The Rules of the Game is a book about the Naval Battle of Jutland-the clash between the United Kingdom's Grand Fleet and Germany's High Seas Fleet on May 31-June 1, 1916. The outcome was nothing like either side anticipated and, although both claimed victory, neither accomplished what they wanted.
Andrew Gordon takes his readers through a lot of very technical detail. Some of the material went way over this reader's land-lubbing head. But the author is adept at providing context that caries the narrative along.
More important, and more enjoyable to read, Gordon plumbs the depths of the Royal Navy's character during the Edwardian period. His book is not just a well crafted combat narrative. It is also an in-depth look at the creation and evolution of a military culture and the effect of custom and technology.
Without a doubt it should be required reading for anyone who plans or has a career in the armed forces. The lessons about the differences in a peace time and war time military are very important. In fact anyone interested on the effect of technology on culture will find this book of great interest. And anyone interested in what makes people tick will find a wealth of material for thought.
Gordon is good at keeping himself honest. He tells the reader when and why he is making suppositions or assumptions and explains where his ideas lead and why they could be wrong. And he respects his subject. He avoids-or at least acknowledges-judging by hind-site and has sympathy and understanding for the sailors at Jutland.
After the battle began a war of reputations. The naval tactics and the combat assumptions used at Jutland by the two British commanders were out of synch and often at odds. A bitter brawl broke out inside the Royal Navy between men personally loyal to Admiral David Beatty and those who agreed with Admiral John Jellicoe. Gordon's book sifts through the controversies with intelligence. And he makes a good case that the officers involved-easily portrayed as Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta sailors-where something else entirely. They were not fools, Gordon asserts. But they may have been made fools of.