"Would a book about a siege of a small rocky promontory of land, of little more than a handful of habitable acres, really be interesting? Quick, simple answer: yes."
"For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history, and the obsession with saving Gibraltar was blamed for the loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence. Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, on the very edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. During the siege, thousands of soldiers, civilians and their families withstood terrifying bombardments, starvation and diseases. Very ordinary people lived through extraordinary events, from shipwrecks and naval battles to an attempted invasion of England and a daring sortie out of Gibraltar into Spain. Deadly innovations included red-hot shot, shrapnel shells and a barrage from immense floating batteries."
Would a book about a siege of a small rocky promontory of land, of little more than a handful of habitable acres, really be interesting? Even when that promontory is Gibraltar?
Quick, simple answer: yes.
Right from page one I was engrossed in this page-turner ( a rare description for a non-fiction book!) Also right from the start I found myself reaching for a box of tissues - the welling tears all the more emotional because this book is fact, not fiction. These were real people.
Outside of those who have a specific interest in Gibraltar's history, or this particular era, this incredible piece of British history is relatively unknown, which is one reason why this book is fascinating... because it is a relatively unknown fact of history. The impeccable research and absorbing drama is skilfully related, not just as an explanation of a military and naval exercise, but taking us into the lives of the people involved - and not made-up characters in an historical novel setting, but real people: the sailors, the soldiers, the civilians, the priests, the prisoners, the shopkeepers, the men, the women - everyone who became involved in this incredible struggle to survive. The detail of courage, endurance, hope, despair, grief, bravery, betrayal, greed - the entire spectrum of human emotion and motivation is here, portrayed through eyewitness accounts, impeccable research and skilful writing.
Whether you are specifically interested in the late eighteenth century or not, if you are interested in history in general - military or naval - read this book. For readers it is a fascinating account, for writers it is an invaluable source of research into the past and how people survive. I am surprised that no one (as far as I'm aware) has written a novel about this remarkable event. What a story that could be!
Excellent. Historical non-fiction at its very best
© Helen Hollick
click here to return to home page 'Bookshelf' then scroll down for more items of interest