Associate Professor of English, California State University Maritime Academy
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad charts the life of a young officer, “as promising . . . as the sun ever shone on” who begins his seafaring career with “the hope of a stirring life in the world of adventure.” However, as mate of the SS Patna, believing the ship is sinking, Jim unthinkingly abandons his sleeping passengers to their fate. The book warns young officers that without constant ethical vigilance, their training, potential, and dreams of glory are no protection against failure.
Admiral James Stavridis
U.S. Navy (Retired)
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. Equal parts seagoing challenges, leadership quandaries, and courtroom judgment, it examines the very heart of why the sea is such a difficult and fickle and demanding mistress. A close second would be The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarratt, a heartbreaking tale of leadership, love, war, and loss in World War II.
Commander Mike Flynn, PhD
U.S. Navy, USNA English Department Associate Chair
The greatest sea story of all time: Homer’s Odyssey, the epic of hero Odysseus’ navigation home from the Trojan War. But read it alongside Jonathan Shay’s Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. As my colleague Major Thomas Schueman pointed out, the Veterans’ Administration reports more than 60,000 veteran suicides between 2008 and 2017. Postwar trauma is more lethal than the enemy. And navigating a safe return is an epic challenge.
Mary K. Bercaw Edwards
Associate Professor of English, Director of Maritime Studies Program, University of Connecticut
Far more than a story of whaling, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) is “a grand, ungodly, god-like” book. A book of blasphemy, it is also full of humor, which is in turns sly, boisterous, poignant, and hilarious. Set in the immensity of the ocean, Moby-Dick asks all the central questions of life—What is truth? Who are we? Does immortality exist? It answers none, but the book’s importance lies in asking these eternal questions.
Captain Maureen Fox
In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton. The story of the Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) conveys some fundamental truths about the sea that every mariner should understand—the vastness of the ocean, the terrible potential consequences of small oversights, the importance of shipmates, and the unwavering principle of command accountability.
Robert Lee Conner
Former machinist mate first class, submarine service
The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Simple, direct, and timeless, this work definitely tops the reading list for a number of “peer competitors” around the world. If anyone needs that explained, then they need to read it.
Commander Lawrence P. Chicchelly Jr.
U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired), Master, ATB Lincoln Sea/DBL140
The Tale by Joseph Conrad. Well written and atmospheric, this short story perfectly captures an at-sea decision that must be made even when ambiguity exists. It bares raw the impact of that decision on all lives involved and the lingering stress that often remains.
Before my final year at the Naval Academy, I was on leave on Cape Cod and my father asked me to promise him I would read Herman Wouk’s historical novels, Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Considered by many to be America’s Tolstoy, Wouk, like my Dad, was a decorated WWII Navy veteran and considered his time in the war the most formative of his life. Wouk dedicated 13 years to writing these accompanying novels, which are intensely researched and follow fictional and non-fictional characters in the dramatic years prior to and during WWII. The reward of reading these masterpieces is substantial and I think about them often, just as I do my father.
Midshipman Chris Rielage
U.S. Navy Reserve, NROTC University of California, Berkeley
Short Stories by Lu Xun. From 1909 to 1935, Lu Xun wrote about his native China’s humiliation at the hands of other nations, the rise of patriotic movements, and the slow tumble into civil war. He is China’s Mark Twain, and reading him is the first step to understanding a Chinese naval officer’s motivations.
Navy spouse and USNA ‘87
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a must read for those who go to sea in ships. The entertaining biography won the 1956 Newbery Medal and describes the circumstances behind the development of navigation ‘by the book’ and the making of The American Practical Navigator.
I recommend two books for every naval officer. They encompass the polar ends of the spectrum of naval leadership. The first, The Caine Mutiny, highlights the low end; the second, The Cruel Sea shows what a good officer can achieve. Queeg versus Ericson, no contest.
Lieutenant Commander Dennis Harbin
Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U.S. Navy
The Caine Mutiny provides valuable lessons in leadership (good and bad), illustrates the mental strains of combat, and proves that the most dangerous enemy can be the sea itself (and sea lawyers!). With lots of humor and a thrilling courtroom drama, the tale of Captain Queeg has it all.
Historian and Technologist
Edward Beach’s superbly captivating The United States Navy—it is fast paced, expansive, illustrated, and the best navy book I know. Defiance at Sea showcases underdog victories. The Confederate Navy covers both sides in America’s other greatest naval war. Fleets of World War II and Clash of Titans couple to masterfully survey WWII. These approximately 1,700 pages on ships, battles, and men will captivate for weeks.
Commander C. Randolph Whipps
U.S. Navy Reserve
The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche by H. L. Mencken. This passage should steel the spine of any prospective Proceedings contributor: “The average man, said Nietzche, has the power of self-control well developed, and in consequence he seldom contributes anything positive to the thought of his age and almost never attempts to oppose it.”
March Asked & Answered Question: What foreign invention or innovation most influenced a U.S. naval service?