As far as pure history books go, The Sailing Frigate: A History in Ship Models is a bit on the light side. But, as far as visual/illustrative histories of ships go, this book is stellar. This combination of text and rare illustrations add up to a book that is a helpful introduction for the novice and a unique visual history for even the most initiated of naval historians.
First things first. Robert Gardiner is a respected voice in the field of naval history; his specific focus has been the history of the frigate, a style of cruising warship in use from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. In this book, Gardiner marries a concise text not with ship's plans and drafts, but with stunning photographs of ship models from the collections of the National Maritime Museum in London.
Apologies for the poor photography. These few pages are illustrative of the book's layout and content.
The text is fairly straightforward, a history of the frigate ship divided into 6 chapters based on periods of the design evolution. Various subsections focus on specific aspects of the frigate, examples including the development of the stern, general structure, evolution in coppering practices, among other foci.
The rather sparse text itself can be forgiven, because the main attraction is the dozens of full-color photographs and illustrations that grace the pages of this volume. The fact that many close-up photographs of ship models can give us insight into the design elements of the frigate is remarkable in and of itself.
The unique draw of this volume stems from the unique situation that a study of the frigate ship presents. While this style of ship was frequently used during the height of the sailing ship, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, no original example of a frigate ship survived down through to the present day. Thus, the only direct three-dimensional connection between the modern student of naval history and the physical products of the men who designed the frigates of the past lies in the scale models that the design houses produced for the Admiralty prior to a full-scale ship's commissioning.
While this book may not sate the appetite of a reader well-versed in the history of the frigate, the model photographs are worth the price of admission for all comers. And while the book itself is not large enough to qualify as a 'coffee-table' book, it would still make a worthy addition to the side table of anyone intrigued by ships and the intricacies of their design and structure.
[3 stars for the straightforward and short text + 5 stars for the illustrations = 4 stars overall]