Notable Naval Books of 2005

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The criteria for selection remains much the same as before with one notable exception: reference books that appear on a regular basis (such as Jane's Fighting Ships and Combat Fleets of the World) are not included. While there is no question that such books are notable, mentioning them year after year was deemed redundant and unnecessary. Those interested in this list are more than likely already aware of such important books and need not be reminded.

One other category of books was omitted in the interest of making room for the more unusual titles. The books in the Naval Institute's Blue & Gold Professional Library are not included, even though these are certainly notable and invaluable to naval professionals. Many of the titles are perennials, reappearing periodically in revised editions. Even though several new titles in the series appeared this past year, these books as a whole represent a special category that, again, is assumed will be known to naval professionals without receiving special recognition here.

Readers will note that a significant number of books on this list are from the Naval Institute's own press. No apology is made for this fact. A review of, Publisher's Weekly, or any other reputable source will reveal that Naval Institute Press produces significantly more books on naval subjects than any other single publisher. Further, as already indicated, the list was created based on the inputs of many people outside the Naval Institute, and one of the criteria used by the selecting committee was to avoid any perceived bias if at all possible.

It will come as no surprise that being included on this list is considered a prestigious accolade, and coming up with a list of only 20 from the many fine books that were published in 2005 is difficult and subjective enough without trying to further rank them in some manner. For that reason the editors have decided to list the books in alphabetical order, by title, so as to avoid any perceptions of ranking or favoritism. The editors are prepared for (and in fact welcome) the inevitable criticism that will come from these choices—that is, after all, what a forum is about—but they see no reason to set themselves up for the additional criticism that would certainly arise from an added hierarchy within the list. Selecting the better and the best from this list will be left to the individual reader.

The Admiral's Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War by Christopher A. Ford and David A. Rosenberg. (Naval Institute Press)

Operational intelligence—knowing where the enemy is and what he is doing—is undeniably crucial to effective military operations. This analytic and historical study, written by two experts in the field, explores the evolution of naval operational intelligence since World War II and evaluates current practices based on inputs from deck-plate practitioners as well as senior members of the intelligence community. The authors have scrupulously taken the work as close to the edge of classification as possible to enhance its value without damaging national security. This groundbreaking work suggests lessons for the use of intelligence against future threats.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, March 2006)


Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy's First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality by Robert J. Schneller. (New York University Press)

Written by a staff historian at the Naval Historical Center, and winner of the Organization of American Historians' 2006 Richard W. Leopold Prize, this volume recounts the struggles of the first black midshipman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Based on official records, extensive oral histories, and correspondence, it is an important study, packed with food for thought and lessons learned. It is at the same time painful and inspiring, recalling policies and practices that evoke shame, while detailing the triumph of one individual who broke ground for a better world. In 1949, Midshipman Wesley Brown achieved what before had been impossible. The forces that leveled the playing field for Brown—a push from the black community, national political imperatives, a shift in racial attitudes, direct intervention by leaders, and an individual drive to succeed—presaged the convergence of forces that served as the underpinnings of the Civil Rights movement.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, July 2005)


Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II by Barrett Tillman. (New American Library)

In June 1944, American and Japanese carrier fleets fought a major battle in the Philippine Sea, each side hoping to take control of the vital Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific. This naval engagement is arguably the most spectacular aircraft carrier battle in history. One of naval aviation's outstanding chroniclers, Barrett Tillman has written a new account of this important battle, told from both sides by those who were there. Providing both a sweeping strategic view and a detailed tactical analysis of this critical World War II engagement, Tillman draws on numerous interviews as well as official sources to create this powerful testimonial to those who fought and died in a battle that should never be forgotten.


Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century by Michael Palmer. (Harvard University Press)

With the kind of unique insights and thoughtful analysis that readers have come to expect from distinguished historian Michael Palmer, this valuable work explores naval history with an eye toward determining what it takes to lead a fleet into battle. Juxtaposing the two largely conflicting schools of centralization versus autonomy, Palmer explores both through a careful analysis of key naval battles, coming to his own conclusions that will both win support and provoke opposition. Beyond the important analysis that makes this book so notable, his battle accounts, with heavy doses of both tactics and technology, are a great read that will find favor with even the most critical of audiences.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, June 2005)


The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 by N. A. M. Rodger. (W. W. Norton)

Publisher's Weekly appropriately describes this book as "majesterial." This second volume of what will ultimately be a complete history of British naval history begins with the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1649 and ends with the fall of Napoleon and the virtual end of the great age of sail for the navies of the world. Not for the neophyte, this study provides a wealth of information for serious students who wish to better understand the many factors (social, technological, personal, etc.) that influence the development and sustainment of a great sea power.

(For a full review, see Naval History, June 2005)


Cradle of Conflict: Iraq and the Birth of the Modern U.S. Military by Michael Knights. (Naval Institute Press)

Linking Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, and the various operations in between, Michael Knights has produced an eye-opening narrative of America's struggle against Iraq's Ba'athists between 1990 and 2005. This unique perspective sets the scene for a new and constructive critique of U.S. military power and the asymmetric resistance capabilities of U.S. adversaries at the dawn of the 21st century. A recognized authority on military operations in the Persian Gulf region, the author threads together the political-military and military-technical aspects of the struggle, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the military approaches used by the United States to contain and finally roll back the threat. This thoughtful work is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the factors that limit U.S. military power in practice rather than in theory.


Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History by Craig L. Symonds. (Oxford University Press)

Focusing on five history-changing battles (Perry at Lake Erie, the clash of the ironclads in the Civil War, Dewey's triumph at Manila Bay, the tide-turning battle of Midway, and the collision with the Iranian Navy during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988), this award-winning book-perhaps Symonds' best ever-recounts each engagement in a manner that puts the reader on the edge of his or her chair while leaving no doubt as to the battle's historical significance. This is history at its absolute best, making use of the past in the great Mahanian model of extracting important lessons, while (unlike Mahan) making each study a page-turner that makes for great reading in its own right.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, September 2005)


Fire from the Sky: Seawolf Gunships in the Mekong Delta by Richard Knott. (Naval Institute Press)

The story of the Navy's first and only helicopter gunship squadron of the Vietnam War, the "Seawolves" of HAL-3 provided vital air support to the river patrol boats of the brown-water navy. Flying in all kinds of weather, day and night, they arrived at tree-top level with forward-firing rockets and flex-guns blazing. Gleaned from historical documents and the colorful recollections of more than 60 Seawolf warriors, this is the first complete history of this highly-decorated Navy squadron. Naval aviator Richard Knott recounts the story of the Seawolves from the dawning of the concept to the moment the last squadron commander turned out the lights.


The Homefront Club: The Hardheaded Woman's Guide to Raising a Military Family by Jacey Eckhart. (Naval Institute Press)

One of the most unusual books on the notable list is this guide that provides sound advice for military wives-male spouses, she says, need their own book-using humor and encouragement to help newlyweds and long-marrieds alike better understand the people who are drawn to military service and to find ways to fit into the military community without losing a sense of self. Her guide offers helpful ideas about such things as managing the demands of a teenager during a move, finding playmates for toddlers in new neighborhoods, and even telling mothers-in-law why they should not be at the homecoming. Eckhart, a "veteran" Navy spouse and herself an Air Force brat, also writes a twice-weekly newspaper column called "The Homefront" for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.


Kimmel, Short, and Pearl Harbor: The Final Report Revealed by Fred Borch and Daniel Martinez. (Naval Institute Press)

Just about the time it seems that all has been said about Pearl Harbor, along comes yet another book on this momentous event. The controversy surrounding Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short may never die, but this book certainly adds a reasoned argument to the discussion. Presenting the complete Dorn Report, issued in the mid-1990s, with commentary by Borch and Martinez, this new look sheds important light on the long-standing controversy. This is essential reading for those who would understand the complexities of command responsibility.


The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf by David Sears. (Praeger)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 involved more ships than even the gargantuan World War I Battle of Jutland, was the last time that huge capital ships fought within sight and sound of each other, and was the scene of individual heroism that rivals anything in the annals of naval history. Yet this epic event is often overshadowed by the tide-turning events of Midway and D-Day. David Sears brings that great naval battle to life using the personal accounts of the men who were there. In so doing, he provides a deck-plate view of a mammoth battle of great strategic and tactical significance.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, January 2006)


The Last Sentry: The True Story that Inspired The Hunt for Red October by Gregory D. Young and Nate Braden. (Naval Institute Press)

Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman writes that this real-life thriller is "proof that true history is more gripping than fiction." It is a riveting story that chronicles a mutiny on aboard one of the Soviet Navy's most advanced warships, the destroyer Storozhevoy ("Sentry" in English). News of the 1975 incident was suppressed by the Soviets, but an American naval officer studying at the Naval Postgraduate School managed to piece the story together. Tom Clancy came across this report and was inspired to write the novel that launched his career. But this book is more than the catalyst for good fiction; it sheds light on a former enemy and is a study in personal motivations that can have international impact


Nelson's Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World by Roy Adkins. (Viking)

It is not easy to stand out among the many books on Nelson and his famous battle of Trafalgar, especially in the bicentennial anniversary year, but Publisher's Weekly calls this account "one of the best in generations for the non seafaring reader curious about the nautical epic" and also proclaims that this new account by an archeologist and historian "handsomely rewards those whose study of the battle goes back a generation or two." Adkins recounts the event in both strategic and tactical terms, while providing a close-up view of many of the events and individuals who made enduring naval history back in 1805.

(For a full review, see Naval History, October 2005)


The North Korean People's Army: Origins and Current Tactics by James M. Minnich. (Naval Institute Press)

Little is known or understood about this third largest army in the world, but Minnich blends academic knowledge with nearly 25 years of military experience to explain the NKPA's origins, military ideology, strategy, combat formations, and tactics to ensure a full understanding of this reclusive belligerent. This timely book presents a vitally relevant examination of the NKPA's current military tactics, including seven forms of offensive maneuver, two forms of defense, and tactical artillery groupings. This is "intel" at its unclassified best.


No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah by Bing West. (Bantam)

The name Fallujah has already taken its place among the remembered battles in American history. It is, to date, the most significant battle in Iraq since U.S. forces liberated that country in 2003. Like most battles, it is a story that incorporates what is best and worst in mankind, full of incredible courage alongside the disheartening "fog of war." West, who does not reveal his feelings about the larger war, focuses on the frontline (if such a term can be used in a war of this nature) in this high-pitched engagement, describing what this battle looked like to the grunts on the ground and to their immediate leaders. Those who would understand the greater war will do well to see it at this level, with all the intensity and difficulty revealed in these pages.

(For a full review, see Proceedings, November 2005)


One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel C. Fick. (Houghton Mifflin)

Some readers will be put off by the cold reality of this memoir, but Fick, a classics major at Dartmouth, candidly reports his experiences as a Marine in a no-nonsense manner that takes the sheen off of battle but does not reduce either its impact or its importance. He recalls the tough regimen of Marine training, followed by service in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not for the faint of heart, Fick's account is laced with profanity and with such thoughts as "The bad news is we won't get much sleep this night. The good news is we get to kill people."

(For a full review, see Proceedings, October 2005)


On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers by Clark G. Reynolds. (Naval Institute Press)

Among his many achievements, Jocko Clark helped develop carrier doctrine in the pre-World War II years and was instrumental as a carrier task group commander in the brilliant victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After the war he fought to save naval aviation and went on to serve as Commander of the Seventh Fleet in the Korean War. With access to family papers and as coauthor of Admiral Clark's 1967 autobiography, renowned historian Clark Reynolds was well-suited to write this book, his last published work before his passing. As an added enticing feature, accompanying this book is a CD filled with excerpts of interviews conducted by the author with Admirals Clark, Arleigh Burke, and George Anderson, along with several other notable naval figures.


The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson by Roger Knight. (Perseus)

This balanced biography of Lord Nelson will surely take its place among the very best. At more than 800 pages, it is no quick read, but its size should not deter those who seek a serious biography that avoids hagiography while preserving what is good about this complex figure. Knight discredits much of the mythology about Nelson and paints a more human portrait than most. He recounts every voyage in the kind of detail that may well leave salt stains on the bookshelf. This is a revealing study of seamanship, leadership, and the art of war that will not disappoint those in search of solid history well told.


Rethinking the Principles of War by Anthony D. MacIvor. (Naval Institute Press)

This anthology is part of a larger project sponsored by the Office of Force Transformation and the U.S. Navy to reexamine traditional and unorthodox approaches to the future of warfare. Featuring the fresh thinking of 31 leading authors from a variety of military and national security disciplines, this is a serious study of operational art, intelligence, and related subjects. Among the well-known contributors are Robert Scales, Mary Kaldor, Ralph Peters, William Nolte, Jon Sumida, Grant Hammond, Milan Vego, Paulette Risher, Antulio Echevarria, and T. X. Hammes. Diverse viewpoints, varying scope, and strong source references combine to make this compilation of essays a useful tool for students of war and general readers alike.


Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan B. Parshall and Anthony Tully. (Potomac Books)

It is difficult to imagine how someone could possibly shed new light on the Battle of Midway. But acclaimed historian Barrett Tillman (see Clash of the Carriers above) writes, "Very few histories can be considered groundbreaking treatments of an event more than 60 years afterward, but Shattered Sword meets that exceptional standard." Bound to invoke discussion and even controversy, the authors debunk some of the mythology of Midway, particularly the Japanese Navy's performance in that epic battle. Enhanced by excellent graphics, including computer-generated charts and diagrams, this new work will earn its place in the already impressive library that focuses on one of the great moments in naval history.

(For a full review, see Naval History, April 2006)


Editors' Note : Although Tom Cutler's own A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy is certainly one of the notable books of 2005, we could not ask him to include it in this List. Emphasizing the roles of enlisted sailors in the Navy's history, this very readable and inspiring book is issued to every recruit at Boot Camp.


Lieutenant Commander Cutler , senior book acquisitions editor for the Naval Institute Press, enlisted in the Navy at 17 and was a gunner's mate second class prior to being commissioned in 1969. A Vietnam veteran, he is the author of Brown Water, Black Berets, published by the Press.


Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


Conferences and Events

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CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

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