Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Very Berube Christmas

This week's Christmas book recommendations come from Claude Berube, a teacher in the Political Science Department at the Naval Academy.

Obviously not medicated enough as a child or an adult, he has well exceeded his quota of "Top 5."

Being that I share his faults, I won't hold it against him - mostly because his recommendations, every one of them, demand your consideration.

Not only does he love books, he also writes them. His first book was A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS CONSTITUTION.

He’s co-authored another on Congress,
Congress: Games and Strategies. He’s been published in Naval History, Proceedings, Vietnam, Orbis, The Christian Science Monitor, Small Wars Journal, and others.

A Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserve, he deployed in 2004-05 with Expeditionary Strike Group Five participating in tsunami relief in Sumatra, maritime interception operations in the Arabian Sea, and anti-piracy operations off Somalia.

The rest of the post is his.

Two years ago, I interviewed via email CDR Salamander, Eagle1, Lex, Galrahn, and Steeljaw Scribe for an article that was published in Proceedings, “The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction without Conflict.” Phib has called in that chit and asked me to post my top five Navy and/or leadership books that I recommend this Christmas. I’m hoping Eagle1, Lex, et all will give me a pass.

Normally, I’d suggest starting with Thucydides’ The History Of The Peloponnesian War, but it’s usually required reading in one course or another. Still, this is a book that never gets old – literally or figuratively. This should already be on any military officer’s bookshelf and regularly consulted. A natural companion to it might be Barry Straus’ The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization.

For my top five, in no particular order other than chronological, I’ve opted for big picture books about major periods and conflicts rather than leadership-specific books, since lessons can be derived from any of these.

Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 by Roger Crowley.
I realize that an earlier reviewer from the Naval War College recommended Empires at Sea but this book is so good that I felt it worth repeating. I came across this book when I was travelling in the UK last year. How many naval campaigns have a central figure like Don Juan about whom Mozart wrote an opera, Lord Byron wrote a poem, or Moliere wrote a play? Or the Ottoman Barbarossa whose name struck fear into contemporary coastal towns along the Mediterranean or centuries later when used by Hitler in a major operation? Or admirals like Andrea Doria after whom ocean liners have been named? The characters are as rich as the organizations like the Knights of St. John or the empires who had this earlier clash of civilization. This was an era that created legends, yet is little studied today. The decades-long conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe is a tale of changing alliances, strategies, and leaders, all culminating in the Mahanian Battle of Lepanto. In addition to the campaigns and understanding control of the Mediterranean, it helps students of the defeat of the Spanish Armada understand the conditions by which Spain ultimately decided to attack the English fleet in 1588.
A fantastic segue from the previous work. In his introduction, Padfield writes: “Of course maritime supremacy offers no clue to the profounder questions of the spirit, pure philosophy o ethics, or to the directions in which we may be carried by venal science. It cannot explain our terrifying hubris as a species. It is, however, the keyto simpler questions: our faith in democracy, personal freedoms and human ‘rights,’ and the other comforting prescriptions of the humanist liberal credo, stem from the supremacy of maritime over territorial power.” The author discusses the importance of both trade and a naval force to maintain maritime supremacy. What happens when the wealth of a nation disappears and with it it’s ability to trade? It is a gentle reminder when we become too complacent with our own country’s rich maritime heritage or the economy that drives it to grow or into the ground.

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian Toll.
Here’s what I wrote, in part, in my review for The Journal of the Early Republic a couple of years ago:
Toll’s work offers a new depth of understanding of the Navy and the country’s history. In addition to America’s early naval engagements, Toll pays equal attention to the vital but largely ignored congressional debates and political involvement, without which there would not have been a Navy. This book includes the stories of the six ships, whose launchings were sometimes less than spectacular or auspicious; the ship designers and builders (Humphreys, Penrose, and Fox), who were not immune to differences of opinion; and the members of Congress who opposed or funded these projects... His multi-disciplinary analysis of the foundations of the U.S. Navy deftly takes the reader from the Federalist Papers to the halls of Congress to the wharves of Philadelphia; he guides the reader from public opinion debates to woefully underestimated shipbuilding projects (the last being a perennial issue through U.S. history). Toll’s vivid accounts of everyday life, such as the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, which had a ten percent death rate, reminds the reader of the late historian Barbara Tuchman’s prose. The story of the creation of the Navy and its early adventures is already riveting; Toll’s writing style makes it doubly so.
Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds.
Symonds brings a heck of a lot to the table: impeccable research, the ability to get to key points, a great narrative, and more. Plus, he more than most historians understands the mid- to senior naval officer corps since he taught them. Though he retired from the Naval Academy several years ago, Symonds taught midshipmen naval history for decades so he knows how to get his points across – and they’re now the audience for all of these books who are making or will be making major decisions. Another reason to read this work is that naval operations and leadership during the Civil War largely play second fiddle to primarily land-based operations and the generals, most of whom are more familiar to readers than the admirals, a rank that did not exist in the U.S. Navy until after the first year of the war. How admirals dealt with their Commander-in-Chief and vice versa during a war has many lessons for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison.
I’m not sure how many naval officers have time to read Morison’s fifteen-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Fortunately, they can read his condensed single volume. Morison was an accomplished sailor when he wasn’t teaching, but with the outbreak of war, he convinced President Roosevelt to give him a commission in the Navy Reserve so that he could write about naval operations from the front lines instead of an academic office.

If you’re still looking for a few others, here are some suggestions:

Christopher McKee’s A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815.

James Robbins’ Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point (although not a naval book, the author wrote an accompanying article about the anchormen of the Naval Academy; he has an interesting thesis and tells a great tale).

Arthur Herman’s To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World (P.S.).

Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World (Columbia/Hurst) by Martin Murphy should be required reading for all junior officers. I can’t think of a single more comprehensive volume about piracy and maritime terrorism. This is not light reading and Murphy’s research is impeccable. But this work spells out in detail the background of two asymmetric threats.

Geoffrey Till’s Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century (Cass Series, Naval Policy and History) (2009 edition).

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