Notable Naval Books of 2007

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

Because it is considered a prestigious accolade, and coming up with a list of only 20 from the many fine books that were published in 2007 is difficult and subjective enough without then trying to further rank them in some manner, the editors will again list the books in alphabetical order, by title. This will avoid any perceptions of hierarchical ranking or favoritism. Selecting the better and the best from this list will be left to the individual reader.

The Naval Institute is first and foremost an open forum, so the editors welcome the inevitable disagreement that will likely come from these choices.

1812: War with America by Jon Latimer (Belknap Press)

A cardinal principle of strategy is to know your enemy. Although the British are no longer our enemies, they once were, and this insightful and comprehensive study of the War of 1812 is particularly valuable because it presents that conflict from the perspective of America's enemy. Latimer's British point of view—in which he sees the war as a subset of the war with Napoleon, rather than as the separate conflict we often view it as—may not be wholly appreciated by U.S. readers, but this impressively researched and well-written account is a fascinating revelation that serves as an excellent mirror in which to study ourselves.

(For a full review, see February 2008 Naval History )

Aircraft Carriers at War: A Personal Retrospective of Korea, Vietnam, and the Soviet Confrontation by Admiral James L. Holloway (Naval Institute Press)

There are so many dimensions to Admiral Holloway's book that it is virtually impossible to convey its immense value in this confined space. It is a combat memoir of the first order—a toss-up as to which is more gripping, his night battle in a destroyer in Surigao Strait or his missions as a naval aviator over Korea. It is also the first-hand account of an extraordinary individual who rose to the heights of Navy command as skipper of an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, Seventh Fleet commander, and Chief of Naval Operations. And it is an excellent history, providing a window on the Cold War—and its hot components of Korea and Vietnam—from an operational and a strategic view, with a cast of characters that includes presidents and the likes of Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as the warriors who handled the tedium and the terror of those tumultuous decades.

(For a full review, see September 2007 Proceedings )

Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt (Stackpole Books)

While the subject of this book unquestionably has a gender dimension and sheds meaningful light on that aspect of modern warfare, Holmstedt's work is valuable for an additional reason. Today's warfare often involves counterinsurgency elements that result in a lack of front lines, meaning that personnel assigned to combat support roles are frequently exposed to hostile situations and now share some of the dangers and challenges that their brethren in direct combat roles have always faced. Because women are frequently assigned to these combat support roles, their story, as captured in this excellent book, reflects this new phenomenon, not only for women but for men as well. It is a component of modern war that bears scrutiny and requires a new understanding.

(For a full review, see December 2007 Proceedings )

Bankrupting the Enemy: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan Before Pearl Harbor by Edward S. Miller (Naval Institute Press)

Some years back, Miller wrote War Plan Orange , the definitive and highly acclaimed account of U.S. strategic war planning in the Pacific prior to World War II. Now he has turned his attention to another key element in the pre-war period—one that was unquestionably a contributor to the outbreak of the war. Miller, who had a long and successful career as chief financial officer of a Fortune 500 corporation, brings his extensive knowledge of international finance to the pages of this book to explain how U.S. economic sanctions against Japan not only failed to achieve their primary objective of coercing the Japanese to rescind some of their imperialist ventures, but actually played a role in provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is not a new thesis, but never before has it been so effectively argued.

(For a full review, see March 2008 Proceedings )

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam (Hyperion)

This is the late David Halberstam's 21st and last book. Intended to be a companion piece to his very successful The Best and the Brightest , this volume turns his attention from Vietnam to Korea. It combines historical research with personal interviews and provides an insightful analysis of the many dimensions of that controversial war. Focusing heavily on General Douglas MacArthur—calling Inchon brilliant, while heaping great responsibility on him for the disaster that followed—it is a thought-provoking strategic study. Yet it is also captures much of the human drama of what is often referred to as "the forgotten war."

(For full reviews, see October 2007 Proceedings and April 2008 Naval History )

Crisis at Sea: The United States Navy in European Waters in World War I by William N. Still Jr. (University Press of Florida)

This thoroughly researched and well-written history covers the strategy, tactics, doctrine, logistics, personnel issues, personalities, and diplomatic aspects of U.S. participation in the Great War at sea. The result is a comprehensive treatment of a period in American naval history often overlooked or at least underappreciated. Although World War I was not one of great fleet battles for the Americans, it was nonetheless a formative period in which the U.S. Navy contributed significantly to the Allied war effort by convoying troops and supplies across the Atlantic while learning valuable lessons that would have great relevance over two decades later. Still's masterful work is a revealing study that both synthesizes and analyzes a wealth of information about this important period.

(For a full review, see August 2007 Naval History )

The Edge of Disaster by Stephen Flynn (Random House)

Continuing the argument begun in his earlier book, America the Vulnerable , Flynn urges a virtual revolution in thinking and actions in terms of preparing for the next disaster, be it natural or the handiwork of individuals who wish us ill. While acknowledging the soundness of an offensive approach to terrorism, he argues that a better mix of offense/defense is mandatory if we are to exhibit the kind of resilience and recovery that has seen us through major challenges such as world wars. Calling for changes in thinking, processes, infrastructure, and even spirit, Flynn's message is one that is ignored at the risk of great peril.

(For a full review, see June 2007 Proceedings )

The Far Reaches by Homer Hickam (Thomas Dunne Books)

Hickam, who is best known for his Torpedo Junction and Rocket Boys (which was the basis for the excellent film October Sky), delivers his third novel in a series centered around Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow. This one begins at Tarawa, where Hickam's writing skills bring the battle to life with gripping realism. One reviewer favorably compares this book to James Jones' epic novels of World War II. The story continues with an unusual plot centering around an Irish nun who has a dark secret.

(For a full review, see September 2007 Proceedings )

The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Fluckey by Carl LaVO (Naval Institute Press)

Gene Fluckey's Thunder Below was an excellent book, but Carl LaVO has gone beyond the limitations of memoir to give us a much more rounded view of this bigger-than-life hero. A Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses say much about the man, but LaVO proves there is a great deal more to this great American. During the war, Fluckey fired the first ballistic missiles from a submarine, sank more tonnage than any other U.S. submarine skipper, and actually blew up a train! His post-war experiences included a tour as Director of Naval Intelligence before retiring as a rear admiral in 1972. Based on extensive research and very well written (both strengths we have to expect from Carl LaVO), this is an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary man, one who came to be known by the legendary sobriquet "Galloping Ghost."

Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House)

A national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and author of many books, Kaplan has crafted this latest work from a four-year journey around the world, studying U.S. military personnel in their many stations abroad. His admiration for these men and women is apparent, and this multitude of anecdotal accounts gels to the equivalent of a statistical certainty as he weaves disparate elements into a convincing thesis that is both uplifting and challenging. His travels take him to the far corners of the globe, joining Marines in Africa, a U.S. destroyer in the Indian Ocean, and an attack submarine in the Pacific, among many others. Humor and humanity are juxtaposed with poignancy and philosophy to make a very unusual book.

(For a full review, see October 2007 Proceedings )

Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II by Joseph A. Springer (Zenith Press)

A fitting tribute to a crew who late in World War II took seriously the admonition immortalized more than a century before: "Don't Give Up the Ship." An excellent weaving of oral histories with factual research, this is a riveting account of tragedy and courage under horrific circumstances. A lone Japanese aircraft hit the carrier Franklin (CV-13) with two armor-piercing bombs just off the Japanese mainland, killing 724 Sailors. Despite the incredible damage and terrible loss of life, the remaining crew miraculously saved the ship and ultimately brought her home.

(For a full review, see December 2007 Naval History )

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia by Ronald H. Spector (Random House)

Spector's monumental Eagle Against the Sun is considered by many to be one of the best accounts of the great clash between the United States and Japan in World War II. Following in that grand tradition is this sequel in which Spector makes it clear that the postwar period in the Pacific involved a great deal more than merely occupying and rebuilding Japan. Millions of Japanese (many of them still armed) remained in vast reaches of the theater, including China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, all areas that would have great ramifications for the United States and the world in the years to come. POWs, power vacuums, and humanitarian issues were just some of the challenges faced by the U.S. military and the OSS in those pivotal years. Spector's research is impeccable, and he has once again converted it into a very readable narrative that should be digested by those facing similar challenges today.

(For a full review, see December 2007 Naval History )

Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway—The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes by Tameichi Hara with Fred Saito and Roger Pineau (Naval Institute Press)

This classic war memoir was originally published as a paperback in 1961 and has become a classic among both naval historians and buffs alike. Resurrected in a hardcover edition, this book is again available outside of your local used bookstore. Known as the "Unsinkable Captain" because he participated in, and survived, so many actions, Hara is a valuable resource in understanding the war. His objective recollections have supplemented and supplanted many American ideas about the war with Japan, and his perspective has proved to be eye-opening in a way that could happen in no other way. Someday, all books may be kept in print forever, but until that time, we must rely on publishers' willingness to keep important books like this one alive.

The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II by Andrew J. Bacevich (Columbia University Press)

Bacevich's collection of 12 essays by a variety of scholars, whose collective efforts provide a great deal of food for thought, range through a variety of related yet individual subjects, including such topics as James Burk's "The Changing Moral Contract for Military Service" and "Paying for Global Power" by Benjamin Fordham. Providing a revealing look at both the substance and process of national security policy development, some of the essays, like Anna Kasten Nelson's "The Evolution of the National Security State," are provocative as well as edifying. Of particular interest to strategists (actual and would-be) is James Kurth's "Variations on the American Way of War" and Bacevich's own "Elusive Bargain," which tackles the perennial issue of civil-military tensions. These essays bridge the divide between history and political science in a manner that will satisfy proponents of both disciplines and will serve as a stimulus to constructive thought.

(For a full review, see November 2007 Proceedings )

Midway Inquest: Why the Japanese Lost the Battle of Midway by Dallas Woodbury Isom (Indiana University Press)

As a lawyer, Isom views the Battle of Midway through a different lens and consequently presents a carefully crafted indictment of Japanese decision making during this pivotal World War II sea battle. He makes a convincing case for the influence of the action at Coral Sea on Japanese thinking just prior to Midway, and he challenges some of the conventional wisdom regarding the role of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. These and some other postulates, including a careful study of Japanese torpedo-loading procedures, make for intriguing reading. Midway is one of those perennial subjects that spawns a continuous flow of books, causing one to ask, "What else can be possibly said?" Isom answers that question.

(For a full review, see March 2008 Proceedings )

The Navy Cross: Extraordinary Heroism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Conflicts by James E. Wise Jr. and Scott Baron (Naval Institute Press)

Sailors and Marines awarded the Navy Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor) are profiled in this inspiring collection. The first book to focus on the stories of those individuals receiving this important award for their heroic actions while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan—21 in all—the book also includes selected profiles of Navy Cross recipients from previous wars whose stories stand out as the best among an elite group. Coauthors James E. Wise and Scott Baron previously collaborated on a book citing exceptional women at war. Now they turn their attention to these extraordinary individuals whose courage and sacrifice have helped ensure the freedom of future generations of Americans.

A Soul on Trial: A Marine Corps Mystery at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Robin R. Cutler (Rowman & Littlefield)

This somewhat iconoclastic book centers on the death of Marine Second Lieutenant James Sutton near the Corps' officer training school at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1907. Sutton's death was ruled a suicide, but his mother—claiming her dead son had visited her and told her he had been murdered—pressed the authorities to re-open the case, and ultimately succeeded in getting a formal inquiry. The author's (no relation) intriguing story is enhanced by some revealing looks at the culture and politics of the period.

Submarine Stories: Recollections from the Diesel Boats , Edited by Paul Stillwell (Naval Institute Press)

Paul Stillwell is known to many as "Mr. Oral History," and in this unusual volume he has culled nearly five-dozen first-person accounts from the many oral histories gathered over many decades by the Naval Institute. Technology and tactics blend with extraordinary personalities in these stories that reveal the mysterious and awe-inspiring world of the diesel submarine. From combat sequences to rescue missions to liberty hijinks, this collection of recollections is a virtual periscope for those who want to peer into this unusual world where up and down are relative terms and where even the mundane is an act of courage.

(For a full review, see pp. 141)

Testing American Seapower: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 by Craig C. Felker (Texas A&M University Press)

Most Sailors would agree that Fleet exercises are not much fun—much to do and many discomforts with the underlying knowledge that "this isn't real" make them less than popular at the deck plate level. But Felker proves that these are necessary evils. Through a detailed study of the strategic exercises conducted in the years leading up to World War II, he makes it clear that fighting the greatest sea war in history would have been far more difficult and costly had these exercises not been carried out. While it took a world war to solidify many of the new concepts of naval warfare, Felker makes it clear that carrier, submarine, amphibious, and other forms of sea warfare were already developing before Pearl Harbor.

(For a full review, see June 2007 Naval History )

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945—The Last Epic Struggle of World War II by Bill Sloan (Simon & Schuster)

The idea of 10,000 people being killed is not one taken lightly. When one realizes that this is the number of U.S. Sailors killed in just one battle, it takes on additional significance. Okinawa was a bloodbath by any measure—70,000 more Americans killed ashore, added to nearly 200,000 Japanese military and civilian deaths—and with this butchery so fresh in their minds, it is no wonder U.S. planners were inclined to use an untested and potentially devastating new weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki rather than an invasion of the home islands of Japan. Sloan's account of this epic struggle uses what one reviewer calls "an eyewitness style" to recreate the atmosphere and events of this final battle of the Pacific War.

(For a full review, see December 2007 Proceedings )

Lieutenant Commander Cutler, senior 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 several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and 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

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2016-07-08

You are cordially invited to: Delivering on the Vision for the Future of Submarine Warfare A discussion with Rear Admiral Charles...

2016 Naval History Conference

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

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