This is an unusual topic for a book, containing biographies of two of the most important naval historians of the Twentieth Century and a look at feud that developed between the two men as they approached the peak of their careers. Marder and Roskill were very different figures. Marder was the Harvard man, an academic who served very briefly in intelligence during the Second World War, but spent much of his career travelling between his university base in Hawaii and archives in Britain. Roskill was a Royal Navy officer with a fairly distinguished career that included some frontline service during the war before being cut short by deafness caused by repeated expose to gun fire when in charge of the guns on HMS Warspite.
At first the two men seem to have got on quite well, at least for as long as their areas of interest didn't overlap. Marder was interested in Jackie Fisher and the First World War navy, while Marder wrote the Official History of the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Once they both began to look at the interwar period the rivalry became more intense, and after a particularly unpleasant argument over access to the Hankey papers their professional relationship broke down (although they continued to correspond on a fairly friendly basis to the end of their lives).
This book will have a rather wider appeal that you might think from the subject. In the process of discusses Marder's and Roskill's work, Gough inevitably provides a great deal of information on the topics they were studying, and the way in which thinking on their main topics developed over time. These sections will thus be of value to anyone interested in the Dreadnaught era, Fisher, the British navy in the First World War, or to anyone who has used Roskill's Official Histories of the fighting during the Second World War.
The book should also be of interest to anyone interested in the writing of history, and military history in particular. There is some excellent material on how both men gathered and used their sources, and their approaches to the writing of history - particularly of interest in the case of Marder, who had to engage with the academic trends of the late 1960s towards the end of his career. There is also an interesting comparison of the different problems faced by official and unofficial historians - Roskill had easy access to the Navy's archives, but some limits on what he could say, while Marder had to struggle to gain access to the First World War archives, but was less restricted in what he could do with his sources.
Part One: Historians in the Making
1 - Marder: Examining Britannia's Anatomy
2 - Roskill: Guns Ashore and Afloat
3 - Marder's Admirable Admirals: Richmond and Fisher
4 - Marder: The Ali Baba of Historical Studies
5 - Roskill and the Politics of Official History
6 - Marder Ascendant: Swaying Palms, Instant University, and Dreaming Spires
Part Two: Collision Course
7 - The Fight for Hankey's Secrets
8 - Historians at War: Quarrels over Churchill and Admirals
9 - Roskill: Refighting Jutland
Part Three: Closings
10 - Rising Sun and California Sunset: Marder's Farewell to History
11 - Roskill at Churchill College: The Laurels and the Legacy
Epilogue: Our Historical Dreadnoughts
Author: Barry Gough