Notable Naval Books of 2009

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 2009 is difficult and subjective enough without then trying further to rank them in some manner, the editors will again list the books in alphabetical order, by title, to 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.

The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British & French Navies, 1650-1815 by Jonathan R. Dull (University of Nebraska Press)

Contending that in the 17th and 18th centuries major world events were often determined by ships of the line, Dull - the author of two award-winning histories of the French Navy - provides a combined history of the two nations whose advanced economies could best afford these expensive tools of war and diplomacy. In eight well-presented chapters he explains the ships' development, the tactics devised for their use, the logistical aspects of their building and preservation, and the sequence of Anglo-French conflicts in which these behemoths fought. Charles Brodine, an Age-of-Sail expert at the Naval History and Heritage Command, says that, "Dull writes with flair and is capable of condensing large amounts of information . . . . into a lucid, well-organized narrative."

(For a full review, see December 2009 Naval History.)

The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel's Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship by James Scott (Simon & Schuster)

One of the strangest events in American naval history is once again the subject of a probing book - the attack on the U.S. Navy ship USS Liberty (AGTR-5) by one of America's staunchest allies. While Scott relies on new materials, he does not reach new conclusions, though his account certainly favors one side of the debate that has raged in the years since the 1967 incident. His depiction of the attack itself is riveting and his research impressive. Although he avoids drawing any conclusions as to why the attack took place, Scott - the son of a Liberty crewmember who earned the Silver Star - pulls no punches in his treatment of the aftermath, finding plenty of fault to go around. While there will probably never be a definitive account of this controversial and tragic incident, Scott's book is a worthwhile contribution to the ever-growing literature surrounding this compelling mystery.

(For two independent reviews, see August 2009 Naval History and December 2009 Proceedings.)

The Civil War at Sea by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger Publishers)

With this latest achievement, Craig L. Symonds, U.S. Naval Academy Professor Emeritus and author of the 2009 Lincoln Prize-winner, Lincoln and His Admirals, continues the work that has made him one of the great Civil War historians of our time. Shedding light not only on the history of the naval aspects of the Civil War but on the importance of these operations, Symonds captures the strategy, tactics, technology, and personalities of this largely ignored component of the war. He covers the navies of both belligerents on the rivers and the high seas as well as the privateers who played a significant role, and he makes clear the relevance of these operations, not only to the conflict at hand but to naval warfare in general. In his preface, Symonds explains that "in many respects this book is a supplement to [Lincoln and His Admirals]," which focuses on the leadership aspects of the naval war. Together, these two works will stand as the last word on the naval side of what Symonds describes as "America's great national trauma." Well-known Civil War author Stephen W. Sears accurately describes this book as "a masterful overview of a most meaningful topic."

(For a full review, see February 2010 Naval History.)

Command Attention: Promoting Your Organization the Marine Corps Way by Colonel Keith Oliver USMC (Ret.)

Although written primarily for new Marine public affairs officers, this book has more universal applications. The U.S. Marine Corps is widely recognized and admired as the undisputed leader in presenting its case as the world's most effective military organization, and the principles established in this book provide a useful guide to others who want to promote their own organization persuasively, whether military or civilian. Oliver, who chairs the public affairs leadership department at the Defense Information School and earlier served as a public affairs officer during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm, uses numerous real-life examples to teach practitioners how to aggressively and effectively promote their organizations, large or small, using speeches, the news media, in-house newsletters, and Web sites. He also includes practical tips on public speaking, handling interviews, and building solid relationships.

"Execute against Japan": The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare by Joel Ira Holwitt (Texas A&M Press)

Lieutenant Holwitt, a naval officer with a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, has written an extensive study of one of the most important, and yet, until now, largely overlooked decisions of World War II. Through exhaustive research, he closely examines the background of the decision - potentially as controversial as that of using the atomic bomb at the war's end - to target Japan's civilian shipping and its naval assets. He compares this decision with the U.S. entry into World War I, largely based on the use of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans, and he explores the legality of a decision by a U.S. admiral in the earliest days of World War II. Proving that the many books about that war have not exhausted study of this cataclysmic period, Holwitt's well-executed treatise is not only a meaningful addition to the vast literature, but it actually fills a void.

(For a full review, see January 2010 Proceedings.)

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon by Neil Sheehan (Random House)

While many Americans are familiar with the name Hyman Rickover as the father of the U.S. nuclear submarine navy, few would recognize the name Bernard Schriever, whom Sheehan describes in detail as the father of another component of the nuclear triad, the American intercontinental ballistic missile. The driving force behind matching and exceeding Soviet advances in the development of a weapon, which Schriever himself described as one with "the highest probability of not being used," this little-known but extraordinarily significant Air Force officer battled many adversaries in his quest, including the colorful and controversial General Curtis LeMay, the better-known civilian scientist Wernher Von Braun, and, most of all, the dark forces of bureaucracy. With Schriever as catalyst, Sheehan has produced a history of the Cold War that will surely spur debate while shedding light on some of the lesser-known aspects of the strategic chess game that was played during that frightening but fascinating era.

(For a full review, see January 2010 Proceedings.)

From Hot War to Cold: The U.S. Navy and National Security Affairs, 1945-1955 by Jeffrey Barlow (Stanford University Press)

This thorough study by one of the top scholars in the field of contemporary naval history presents a revealing analysis of the U.S. Navy's role in the nation's defense during the decade just after World War II, when the leaders of the world's most powerful fleets had to retool from conducting all-out war to the delicate and dangerous business of preventing it. Included in this well-researched volume is the Army-Navy fight over unification that led to the National Security Act of 1947, the early postwar fighting in China between nationalists and communists, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Korean War, the Eisenhower administration's decision not to intervene in the communist siege of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, and the initiation of the Eisenhower "New Look" defense policy.

The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press)

Ricks' highly successful and insightful Fiasco (2006) described in harrowing and depressing detail what had gone wrong in the war in Iraq. In his latest book, he recounts a very different tale. Describing a changed U.S. military, one in which an American general is quoted as saying, "We have done some stupid shit (in Iraq)", Ricks analyzes what those changes were and how they came to be. It is a story of a transition from "head-knocking" to effective counterinsurgency, of troops living and operating among the people of Iraq instead of venturing out in formidable and isolated convoys of Humvees. It is a story that surely has many Vietnam veterans shaking their heads in wonderment, grateful to see lessons at last learned, yet astonished over how long it took for them to be realized. It is also a cautionary tale, whose ending has yet to be determined. This is mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to understand the war in Iraq and for those seeking a better understanding of war in general.

(For a full review, see July 2009 Proceedings.)

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson (Henry Holt and Company)

Rarely does a book come along that is a masterpiece of two genres. This exceptionally well-written, impeccably researched, and engaging book is both an edifying history of an important era and a revealing biography of two men who played vital roles in that recent maelstrom, when war and peace combined in a unique entity we call the Cold War. The title, though evocative and accurate in some sense of the highly charged terms it uses, should not mislead. This is not about ivory-tower thinking versus war-mongering; it is about intellectualism at its best, about winning a "war" with unusual weapons, about differing views synthesized into a strategy that led to the right outcome and may well have saved the world. In his author's note, which might be overlooked because of its placement behind the notes and bibliography in the book, Thompson writes, "The question I have been asked most often while working on the project is, ' Who was right ? ' and my answer . . . is, ' Both of them.' Each was profoundly right at some moments and profoundly wrong at others." This is the essence and the significance of this book, proving in these polarizing times when synthesis is so elusive that it is possible, indeed mandatory, to find a common ground, to draw from the strengths rather than the weaknesses of opposing views, and to win wars rather than battles.

Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 by D. M. Giangreco (Naval Institute Press)

Winner of the Arthur Goodzeit Award for Best Military History Book of 2009, this impressive new treatment of a controversial subject reexamines the planned invasion of Japan that would have taken place had the Japanese not surrendered after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Built on new research from Japanese and American operational and tactical planning documents and postwar interrogations and reports that senior Japanese commanders and their staffs produced for General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, Giangreco reveals that American planners anticipated massive casualties that threatened manpower shortages and a prolongation of the Pacific war - to perhaps beyond 1947 - with the probable result of war weariness in the United States. With these grim predictions in hand, planners devised a two-pronged invasion accompanied by no fewer than nine atomic bombs dropped behind the landing beaches. This book is in some ways akin to the popular genre of "alternative history" but in near-real terms, with the sobering realization of how history's most costly war might have been even worse.

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley (Little, Brown and Company)

In what the New York Times describes as an "incendiary new book," James Bradley leaves the familiar territory of his previous World War II works (Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys) and ventures into an earlier time when America was debuting on the world stage. Focusing on Japanese - American diplomacy in 1905, Bradley describes in engaging detail a cruise to Japan dispatched by President Theodore Roosevelt with a delegation that was led by Secretary of War William Howard Taft and included Roosevelt's colorful daughter Alice. Sure to arouse much controversy, Bradley's book weaves in elements of social Darwinism, American misdeeds in the Philippines and Hawaii, and perhaps most "incendiary" of all, a charge of U.S. responsibility for the origins of the Pacific war that Bradley has so successfully chronicled in his earlier bestselling books.

Loon: A Marine Story by Jack McLean (Presidio Press)

Named for a hot helicopter landing zone in Vietnam, this moving story by an enlisted Marine is from an unusual source. "Kids like me didn't go to Vietnam," writes McLean early in his memoir. He came from a privileged background, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where one of his classmates was George W. Bush, and later became the first Vietnam veteran to enter Harvard University. Yet he depicts his experiences as a lance corporal with an authenticity that is engaging and wins the approval of retired Marine Brigadier General Thomas Draude, who writes in Proceedings that "there is no self-aggrandizement - just the narrative of a Marine scared and confused but doing his job well and faithfully." Publisher's Weekly agrees with Draude's assessment, describing the book as "a perceptive memoir of the Vietnam war," adding that, "McLean reconstructs his time in the Marines with a sharp eye for detail and very readable - at times almost poetic - prose."

(For a full review, see May 2009 Proceedings.)

Network-Centric Warfare: How Navies Learned to Fight Smarter through Three World Wars by Norman Friedman (Naval Institute Press)

As only this renowned defense analyst could do, Friedman tackles a complex but important subject, giving us a much-needed explanation of a concept that some consider a mere buzzword for already extant techniques and others proclaim a revolution in military affairs. Arguing that navies invented this method of warfare and that its origins date back more than a hundred years, Friedman explains how networked warfare has succeeded and failed in various ways and in differing scenarios. This well-documented treatise builds on Friedman's personal experience - he worked on the Naval Tactical Data System, among other projects - as well as his vast knowledge, enhanced through extensive research.

(For a full review, see September 2009 Proceedings.)

Rescue Warriors: The U.S. Coast Guard, America's Forgotten Heroes by David Helvarg (Thomas Dunne Books)

This, at the very least, is an inspiring call to arms for young people who are searching for a meaningful career. But in these troubled times for the Coast Guard, when its important work is threatened by that most effective weapon of all - the budget ax - it would be in the nation's best interests if members of Congress also would read this book. Helvarg vividly points out that this often-overlooked service rescues more than a dozen people each day, and he explains that in addition to saving lives, the Coast Guard conducts port and waterfront security patrols vital to homeland security, responds to water pollution and oil spills, seizes illegal drugs, directs port traffic, licenses mariners, maintains and repairs aids to navigation, and - the list goes on to an extent that one wonders why it is not the largest rather than the smallest of the nation's armed services!

(For a full review, see November 2009 Proceedings.)

Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World by Martin N. Murphy (Columbia University Press)

Current headlines confirm that modern-day piracy is a real and growing problem. Murphy, a highly qualified expert in his subject, by studying the various components of piracy and identifying the commonalities between pirates and maritime terrorists, makes a convincing case that it is these relationships that bring about the destabilization of states and regions where piracy is most evident. This timely book sheds light on the complexities of a problem that at first glance seems relatively simple, and in so doing, provides valuable insight for those who would counter this blight on international trade.

(For a full review, see November 2009 Proceedings.)

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Normans reveal the horrors and the conflicting emotions of the participants in the battle of Bataan, the ignominious surrender, the infamous "Death March," and the years in brutal captivity by focusing on Ben Steele (whose harrowing drawings are included), a Montana cowboy who endured and somehow survived years of slave labor, beatings, and near-starvation. Their account is well-written and unusual in that it paints the Japanese perpetrators as human beings, wracked with guilt and struggling to maintain their humanity while inflicting unspeakable horrors. Well-received by reviewers in general, Proceedings reviewer Dr. Ferenc Szasz describes this book as revolving "around three themes: brutality, suffering, and the power of human endurance," and Richard Pyle of the Associated Press calls it "an extremely detailed and chilling treatment that, given the passage of time and thinning of ranks, could serve as popular history's final say on the subject."

(For a full review, see June 2009 Proceedings.)

Theodore Roosevelt's Naval Diplomacy: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century by Henry J. Hendrix (Naval Institute Press)

"Hendrix is a first-rate researcher." No small accolade when coming from the likes of Douglas Brinkley, and well-deserved. Hendrix has come up with new, relevant material that enhances our understanding of President Theodore Roosevelt and his use of naval power as assistant secretary of the Navy and later as President. As the former, Roosevelt played a key role in the naval victory at Manila during the Spanish-American War and, although essentially a peacetime President, he effectively used the Navy and Marine Corps during the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902 - 03, Panama's independence movement in 1903, the Morocco - Periaris Incident of 1904, and, most famously, the "Great White Fleet" as a tangible representation of his metaphoric "big stick" of diplomacy. Hendrix's contribution to the already sizable body of TR literature is a must-read for those who seek a better understanding of the role of the U.S. Navy on the world stage.

(For a full review, see December 2009 Proceedings.)

The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal: A History of Weapons and Delivery Systems since 1945 by Norman Polmar and Robert S. Norris (Naval Institute Press)

Two recognized weapons experts have delivered a thorough history of the development of U.S. nuclear weapons and a comprehensive catalog of the entire American nuclear arsenal. Rich with illustrations and data, this impressive compilation includes the well-known weapons of the Cold War as well as a number of lesser-known oddities, such as an atomic grenade launcher, a drone helicopter equipped with a nuclear depth charge, and 16-inch nuclear projectiles designed to be fired by the big guns of the Iowa-class battleships. Also included are the debates - such as the famous Navy-Air Force battle involving the B-36 bomber and the would-be aircraft carrier United States, resulting in the so-called "revolt of the admirals" - that flourished in this contentious era when weapons were designed more for deterrence than for actual, and almost unimaginable, use.

Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers - The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan by Ed Darack (Berkley Hardcover)

In the summer of 2005, two operations were conducted by U.S. military personnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. In the first, 19 Navy SEALS were killed by followers of a barbarous Taliban insurgent leader, Ahmad Shah. Victory Point tells the complete and untold story of Operation Red Wings, and the follow-up mission, Operation Whalers, that together comprised a complex and difficult campaign ending in the demise of Ahmad Shah and his men and played a significant role in the ability of Afghanis to hold free elections that fall. Darack is a writer and photographer who followed the 2d Battalion of the 3d Marine Regiment since their pre-Afghan mountain-warfare training, remaining with them through the events recounted in this vivid and inspiring book. Proceedings reviewer Dave Danelo advises that despite some flaws, "Victory Point is worth reading for the combat narrative alone."

(For a full review, see May 2009 Proceedings.)

Voyages: Documents in American Maritime History, Volume I, The Age of Sail, 1492 - 1865 and Volume II, The Age of Engines, 1865 - Present by Joshua M. Smith, ed. (University Press of Florida)

Published in cooperation with the National Maritime Historical Society, this two-volume collection of documents is designed primarily as a textbook for the study of maritime history. James C. Bradford of Texas A&M University, an eminent scholar in this field, describes these volumes as "the most comprehensive collection of maritime history documents ever published. Drawn from a wide variety of sources, they survey virtually every aspect of American maritime history, including maritime exploration, fishing and whaling, labor, diplomacy and warfare, trade and travel, and ecology." As the title indicates, the approach is chronological, although brief, but informative essays preceding each section of three or four documents provide some thematic cohesion as well.

(For a full review, see June 2009 Naval History.)

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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