Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barney’s Christmas Gift List for Seapower Wonks – Top 5 Books

Ho, ho, ho! It's off to a'read'n we go!

Second in this year's series of book recommendations. This time from the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, Professor Robert C. (Barney) Rubel.

Phib asked me to provide a list of top five books for Christmas presents. Took a bit of thinking to distill a list down to five, but here are some that come to mind as useful for those that are reasonably savvy on maritime affairs, as I imagine most folks that read this blog are. I hope some, at least, are not familiar to Salamander’s readers.

The Campaign of Trafalgar, by Sir Julian Corbett.
This is an elegant depiction of the events leading to the culminating battle of the Age of Sail. Beyond its literary merit, I believe this book influenced subsequent naval history in a very direct way. It was published in 1910 and a copy soon appeared on the shelves of the U.S. Naval War College library (the original printing is still here). Those with knowledge of World War II in the Pacific know that Admiral Raymond Spruance was in command at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and also that he was a student and instructor at Newport, undoubtedly reading this book more than once. See if you can find the passage that may well have influenced Spruance in his decision making at the Marianas Turkey Shoot. Pay attention also to the kind of mind meld that the Admiralty and the dispersed flags and captains had in an era when communications took weeks or months.

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, by Roger Crowley.
If Corbett’s book is elegant, then Crowley’s is voluptuous. It’s descriptions of the forces and events leading to the Battle of Lepanto are almost cinematic. I bought this as an audiobook from iTunes, and the narrator’s British accent and assiduously correct pronunciation of Spanish, Italian and Ottoman names and places further enhances its vividness. This is serious naval history though, and like Corbett’s book, provides the careful reader with deep insight into the forces and chains of events that produced that rarest of military events, a decisive naval battle.

Warfighting and Disruptive Technologies: Disguising Innovation, by Terry C. Pierce.
I reviewed this book for the NWC Review a few years back and kind of panned it. Subsequently, I found myself referring back to it routinely as I directed the War College research and gaming effort in the development of the current maritime strategy. Pierce puts his finger on some organizational dynamics related to naval innovation that I’ve discovered are relevant today. I might term the approach “insidious innovation.” Be prepared, though, high cost, poor editing and an almost indecipherable Chapter 2. The subsequent case studies are where the value is.

Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet that Defeated the Japanese Navy, by John T. Keuhn.
A book some of my colleagues don’t like, I found it illuminating despite clunky writing style in some areas and an irritating repetition of the central theme: the effect of the fortification clause of the 1922 Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty on US Navy innovation in the 1920s and 30s. Like Pierce’s book, it uncovers important organizational dynamics associated with naval innovation – a hot topic in my world right now. Like Corbett’s book, there is hidden treasure in this one too. I will give you a clue if you decide to read this book and look for it: I am a retired naval aviator who just wrote a chapter for an upcoming book on the history of naval aviation. In it I examine the near-catastrophic accident rates associated with the transition from propeller aircraft to jets.

U.S. Naval Air Superiority: Delevelopment of Shipborne Jet Fighters - 1943-1962, Tommy H. Thomason.
Available on Amazon. This book looks like a coffee table book, and indeed it is full of wonderful pictures. However this book is serious reading for anyone interested in how the Navy went from props to jets. Thomason was a flight test engineer and manager in the aerospace industry for almost 40 years, and this book is an insider’s account of how all the Navy jet fighters were developed, from the Phantom I to the Phantom II. His graphics are great; they really give you SA on everything from how and why jets need irreversible hydraulic controls and yaw dampers to the overall flow of fighter development. You don’t need to be a pilot or engineer to understand this book, but folks with stick time will definitely appreciate it. He has a companion volume on the development of attack aircraft if you want a comprehensive set.

Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, by Wayne P. Hughes.
Ok, this is number six, but I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone that reads this blog sees this and says “yeah, I read it.” If not, and you fancy yourself as someone knowledgeable in naval warfare, then get it and read it now. I do not take seriously anyone who talks about naval warfighting and has not read this book. Written in 1986, this book is ever more relevant in today’s world. Wayne is still a force in naval innovation too.

If you want to see the other recommendations as we go towards Christmas, just click the books tab.

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