Andrew Gordon’s The Rules Of The Game used to be my favorite history book of all time. Now, I view as history let down by bias.
The large volume is still a magisterial history of the Battle of Jutland and the development of the Royal Navy in the 1800s. It covers the battle itself, and then, at the moment where the most modern and powerful battleships sail rigidly towards the German fleet, shifts to the 19th Century to explain why the Royal Navy went from Nelsonic initiative to peacetime rigidity. Afterwards, it returns to the battle, then wraps up with an afterword and analysis.
So, what went wrong?
Well, the first and largest issue is that Gordon is making giant sweeping claims off a sample size of one. Even the Royal Navy at its age-of-sail height was still run by humans, and even it in World War I was capable of tactical victory. If it had been consistently outfought, that would have been something different. But most of its large engagements, including arguably Jutland itself, fell into the category, familiar to the Western Allied land effort in World War II, of “through rustiness, missed an opportunity to win more decisively, but still won.” And this is without mentioning the strategic context, which is the next issue.
Gordon, to be fair, acknowledges that the Royal Navy did everything asked of it strategically. It blockaded Germany. Gordon also acknowledges that the British public had unrealistic expectations of Nelsonic victory that their fleet couldn’t necessarily live up to. But he still fixates on the tactical level more than it deserves. This leads to some of the more controversial and bizarre opinions, like praising David Beatty for his dash while acknowledging that he was caught off guard, botched his deployment, and failed to coordinate effectively. (Gordon is one of the few naval historians to have a positive opinion of Beatty).
Is The Rules of The Game a bad book? Definitely not. But as I grew older and saw more sources, my opinion on it turned from a youthful view of “this is how it was” to “take this with a grain of salt, detailed as it is”. As even the most detailed works of history should be viewed.