Monday, December 26, 2011

An Armstrong Festivus

I don't know about the rest of you - but my stomach is full and my disposable income squirrel money has been, ahem, re-baselined.

... but even when the well is dry - that doesn't mean you can't water your brain.

From good friend of the blog - and an even better helo pilot - LCDR B.J. Armstrong, USN takes a break from keeping us in the way of life we have become accustomed to send along a Festivus Reading list.

Now that you have plowed through your airing of grievances ... enjoy.

Is being frugal a proper aspect of a Naval Officer? Maybe it is an O-4 thing.
It’s the day after Christmas and you’re wondering where to begin with that e-reader you discovered under the Tree. One of the few places e-readers have an advantage over the physical book is with out of print books that are beyond their copyright (the other is the ability to bring a large library on deployment). These books are available for free in epub or pdf formats that are readable on most e-readers and tablets, whether from Google Books or websites like the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg (PG is one of the better sources because of the hard working volunteers who edit the formatting of the books). So, if you’re looking to start building the foundation of your navalist e-library with a few no-cost choices, here are five to begin with.

The Influence of Seapower Upon History; 1660 to 1782.

By Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Do I need to say anything more? ATM is admittedly a difficult author to read. His pseudo-late-Victorian writing style doesn’t help, and he himself wrote in his autobiography that in his book length works he tended to think of every caveat and explanation possible and throw them in. The result is sentenances that would take an English PhD like Dr. Fleming to diagram and paragraphs that extend over entire pages of the book. You know there’s a situation when the good Captain’s own son was reputed to say he couldn’t read his father’s books.

But here’s the thing…with a copy of “The Influence” on your e-reader, you can read the book in small sections. The ideas in this book set the bedrock for naval strategy for the entire 20th century. If you read Dr.’s Holmes and Yoshihara and their analysis of today’s Indian and Chinese navies you’ll begin to think that it may be the foundation for the 21st century as well. Mahan is the inventor of such ideas as the global commons, national grand strategy, and was one of the first to define what it meant to be a maritime nation. Since the book is free, there’s no excuse for not having it in your e-library, and even starting to add some notes and bookmarks to the text.

Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from the Writings of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Edited by Allen Westcott

This book was edited by a professor at the Naval Academy who was attempting to make the writing of the great Navalist more approachable for Midshipmen. Less than a decade after the Captain’s death he worked through many of Mahan’s books and essays and pulled important ideas and passages out, editing them into this textbook. In search of ideas or quotes that help you define what Mahan thought? This book is an excellent place to begin.

There is a risk with this book though; because Professor Westcott’s approach tends to pull shorter passages, or pull a series of quotes out of a book together and link them, so there is a tendency to lose the context in which Mahan was writing. Big ideas, like naval strategy, require context. Despite the loss of context, the book is a good one for your e-library because it can inspire you to find other Mahanian texts and expand your knowledge of his thinking and writing. Naval Historian Geoffrey Till put it well when he wrote “Mahan frequently suffers from writing more than most people are willing to read.” Westcott’s book can help get you started.

Some Principles of Maritime Strategy.

By Julian Corbett

Corbett is often taught as something akin to the anti-Mahan. The comparison is frequently made that while Mahan is the Antoine-Henri Jomini of naval warfare, Corbett is the Karl von Clausewitz. That comparison is inaccurate and has created a perception that enhances the differences between the two naval thinkers. Mahan wrote that he considered his own writing and thinking a foundation which Corbett’s ideas then built upon.

Corbett’s writing often appears more relevant to today’s naval professionals, and it discusses expeditionary operations and operations beyond fleet on fleet engagements. His section on naval “Limited Wars” is particularly relevant to American naval policy at the start of our new century. There’s also a hidden gem in “Some Principles,” and that is Corbett’s early summary of the thinking of von Clausewitz. The Briton did study the Prussian extensively, and his chapter on the former head of the General Staff is a great starting point for those who are unfamiliar with him.

The Naval War of 1812, Volume 1 & 2.

By Theodore Roosevelt

This coming year is the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, a conflict very few people are genuinely familiar with. The War of 1812 was a defining conflict for the United States Navy. Until the Declaration of War in June of 1812 Congress had been inconsistent with its funding and support for the service. The very existence of the service was debated on the floors of the House and Senate repeatedly in the first decades of our nation’s independence. After the War of 1812, however, nobody doubted the need for a United States Navy.

Roosevelt’s book, though over a century old, is still a standard text of the War. The future President wrote it while a student at Yale as his senior thesis, at 23 years old, and published it. The work, rather than a vain attempt at publishing by a well off young man, has stood the academic test of time. This is what many military historians would call “drum and trumpets” history, with a focus on detailed accounts of the individual battles rather than larger strategic or geopolitical implications. However, Roosevelt did work from primary source documents and produced a two volume history that NHHC’s Dr. Michael Crawford has written is “More than a classic, it remains, after 120 years, a standard study of the war.”

The Mirror of the Sea

By: Joseph Conrad

Most of us have read Joseph Conrad because we were assigned “The Heart of Darkness” in our high school or college years. We remember the novella briefly, if at all, and probably only in reference to our repeated viewing of Coppala’s adaptation in the movie “Apocalypse Now.” Before becoming a man of letters, Joseph Conrad was a man of the sea. Most of his novels and stories involve ships or sailors, however not everyone realizes he spent decades as an officer in the British merchant marine. The Mirror of the Sea is a memoir, of sorts, of Conrad’s service afloat. Written in the form of a series of essays, the book offers frequent reminders of the challenges that await those who elect to earn their living at sea. Conrad’s memories of his time on the worlds oceans are earily recognizable for today’s Sailors and at times poetic.

There’s a bit of a romantic hidden away in most of us who put on a naval uniform and head for open water in defense of our nation. Reading Conrad will help you realize that the thoughts, emotions, and challenges we face at sea haven’t changed much in centuries. Sometimes, when you’re deep into a long deployment at sea and feeling like you are on your own, that can be comforting. Conrad will surprise you with how much he knows, and how much you share.


Adversus Omnes Dissident said...

Add to "The Mirror of the Sea":  "Youth," "Lord Jim", "Typhoon", "Secret Sharer," "Secret Agent", "Under Western Eyes".

Joseph Conrad: The authoratative source of Men on Boats.  Period.

ewok40k said...

"Typhoon" is a definitive pearl, compact, powerful and thought-provoking.

11B40 said...


I would also recommend Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim".  In these days when so many are so facile about accepting "responsibility" without any attendant consequences, it would be good to instill the necessity for officers to learn to scrupulously protect the personal honor they should require of themselves.

PK said...

for those deployed, the word is kindle, kindle, kindle. 2500+ books in a space half the size of a comic book.

there are new and competing outfits also, but the main thing is getting a huge library in a standard 30x30x18 locker with room for the standard bag in there too.

if  you like to read, the costs per book are less than paper books, although there is the first cost (probably less at the exchange) [they are the type of thing that used ones are a good investment].

it would seem that one of the smarter things to do would be for the canoe club to put the entire professional library onto kindle format for personell reference.


Grandpa Bluewater said...

There is much to be gained from the Heinlein juveniles: Starman Jones, Tunnel in the Sky, Between Planets, Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy. Good reading, insightful and very pertinent to life at sea.

LT B said...

My seabag is a LOT lighter now that I have the Kindle.  Good stuff, no doubt!