The Sailor's Bookshelf

Fifty Books to Know the Sea

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Admiral Stavridis, a leader in military, international affairs, and national security circles, shares his love of the sea and some of the sources of that affection. The Sailor's Bookshelf offers synopses of fifty books that illustrate the history, importance, lore, and lifestyle of the oceans and of those who “go down to the sea in ships.” Stavridis colors those descriptions with glimpses of his own service—“sea stories” in popular parlance—that not only clarify his choices but show why he is held in such high esteem among his fellow sailors.


Divided into four main categories—The Oceans, Explorers, Sailors in Fiction, and Sailors in Non-Fiction—Admiral Stavridis’ choices will appeal to “old salts” and to those who have never known the sights of the ever-changing seascape nor breathed the tonic of an ocean breeze. The result is a navigational aid that guides readers through the realm of sea literature, covering a spectrum of topics that range from science to aesthetics, from history to modernity, from solo sailing to great battles. 

 Among these eclectic choices are guides to shiphandling and navigation, classic fiction that pits man against the sea, ecological and strategic challenges, celebrations of great achievements and the lessons that come with failure, economic competition and its stepbrother combat, explorations of the deep, and poetry that beats with the pulse of the wave. Some of the included titles are familiar to many, while others, are likely less well-known but are welcome additions to this encompassing collection. Admiral Stavridis has chosen some books that are relatively recent, and he recommends other works which have been around much longer and deserve recognition.


About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“This book should be on every sailor's shelf. Admiral Stavridis's love of the sea and love of reading come through on every page.” —Tom Ricks, author and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter
“A fundamental task of developing a Sailor is learning how to pack a seabag. The shape of the bag has changed over centuries, but the size has remained small, restricting what we can take to sea. Our choices, what we put in the bag, can make all the difference in the voyage. Admiral Stavridis’ remarkable list of books and his insights offers wisdom to novice mariners and old salts alike. Everyone should find room in their seabags for this content!” —Adm. Michelle Howard, USN (Ret.), former commander United States Naval Forces Europe
“No one knows the literature of the sea better [than Admiral Stavridis]. The selections on this 'sailor's bookshelf' will be a terrific resource for both old salts and newcomers to the world's oceans. It's an instant classic!” —Adm. Harry Harris, USN (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
“Admiral James Stavridis knows the sea first hand, has mastered maritime history, and always conveys its importance in a most compelling way. This collection charts a wonderful course for all who already share his passion for the sea and those ashore who wish to embrace the majesty of the oceans. Get underway and enjoy! You’ll be glad you did.” —Adm. Jay L. Johnson, USN (Ret.), former Chief of Naval Operations
“I've known Admiral James Stavridis for decades, and he deeply appreciates the sea as both a mariner and a naval officer. His keen intellect, warrior spirit and diplomatic prowess clearly qualify him as an expert judge of sea service prose by any measure. The fifty summaries of these classics are concise but very enlightening, and the individual choices of books are spot on. This sailor's bookshelf will reward any reader, whether an 'old salt' or a new Sailor straight out of boot camp.” —Master Chief Petty Officer Jim Herdt, USN (Ret.), former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
“Admiral Stavridis's new book is a gem. It's the whose who and what's what about a sailor's life presented in a lively style and bringing readers the best fiction and nonfiction in an authoritative and yet accessible and enjoyable manner. It should become classic reading for U. S. Naval Academy Midshipmen, their professors, and anyone who enjoys the literature of the sea.” —Philip K. Jason, Professor Emeritus, United States Naval Academy, author of Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature, Encyclopedia of American War Literature, and Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture
“Stavridis gives a very personal reflection of some of the favorite books on his bookshelf…. The Sailor’s Bookshelf is a labor of love.” —Navy Reads
“Control of the sea means control of commerce. Maintaining control often means war as nations extend their strategic reach. This is one of those books that are useful to have in your seabag and it is recommended.” —Virtual Mirage
“Highly recommended.” —Argunners
“If we are to trust anyone’s recommendations on books to read about the mysteries of the ocean, it certainly would be Admiral Stavridis’.... What makes Admiral Stavridis’ selections so unique is that he relates his experiences as a master of the seas to the works that he recommends.... With the vast experience and knowledge that Stavridis has on world conflicts throughout history, he is a trustworthy source whether he is speaking in today’s media, or suggesting books for those interested in tales of the seas.” —TAPintoUnion
The Sailor’s Bookshelf is a personal journey of a sailor’s life. Admiral Stavridis has given us a fine maritime anthology to be enjoyed by all who serve, have served or are moved by the awesomeness of the oceans and their impact on our lives, past, present and into the future. The Sailor’s Bookshelf is highly recommended.” —Australian Naval Institute
“With this book, Admiral Stavridis stays true to his love: The Sea and books about it. He has selected 50 books, which he describes in four main categories, each in short summaries of mostly three to four pages: seas, researchers, seafarers in novels, seafarers in non-fiction. The sailor will find well-known works as well as unknown ones. He guides us through history, teaching about great naval battles over the centuries, bold explorers, and the struggle for survival of individuals and ship crews.” —Marine Forum
“In this outstanding volume, the author shares his love of the sea and suggests books that are valuable as a guide to sailors to better understand ourselves and the world around us. He succeeds in offering examples of leadership and heroism valuable to laypersons, members of the military in and beyond the Navy, whether novices or veterans.” —Naval Historical Foundation
“If you are going to read one book this year, you would do well to read The Sailor’s Bookshelf. Similar in structure to Stavridis’s earlier book The Leader’s Bookshelf, The Sailor’s Bookshelf is a list of, as the subtitle states ‘…Fifty Books to Know the Sea….’ But this book is much more than just a list. Admiral Stavridis clearly conveys his appreciation of both the sea and the written word, combining them into a format that both educates the reader while guiding them towards even more information. The list spans subjects and genre encompassing fiction, history, law, environmentalism and more!.... The diverse range of topics covered in The Sailor’s Bookshelf is a key feature in its utility. If you have any interest in the sea, the books on this list are bound to include several you will want to chase down. As such, it’s the perfect gift for that nautically minded person. Don’t just give them another book about submarines, give them a book that will make them think about the sea in all its wonder.” —Armchair General
“Stavridis impresses with his style and his passion for the sea, and in this case, for books.” —On the Old Barbed Wire
“Admiral Stavridis has for many years been a very prolific author and commentator. He proves that the expression ‘naval intellectual’ is not a complete oxymoron. This little book explaining why the fifty books he cites are his favorites and why they are important is both useful and interesting…. The books he cites do a first-rate job of assisting their readers to really know the sea.” —Baird Maritime
“This is an accessible and enjoyable collection which is likely to appeal to a broad readership, whether or not they class themselves as sailors.” —Intelligence and National Security
The Sailor’s Bookshelf, a volume in the Naval Institute’s ‘Blue & Gold Professional Library’, is a valuable resource for the layman or the sailor who wants to know more about the ways of the sea.” —StrategyPage
The Sailor’s Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea, by Admiral James Stavridis, has something for anyone drawn to the sea. The book provides a comprehensive reading guide for old salts, historians, adventurers, scientists, and dreamers alike, and its structure allows each to ‘navigate’ the sections depending on their individual preference.” —Hampton Roads Naval Museum
The Sailor’s Bookshelf is highly recommended as a guide to important books that may have escaped your attention or been overlooked through lack of time.” —RUSI
The Sailor’s Bookshelf, authored by ADM James G. Stavridis USN (Ret), is a gem not only for readers who know and love the sea but also for those who know little of the sea. He has essentially given us a checklist of the best maritime books to read. He features the 50 books he feels most worthy to be on every sailor’s bookshelf. For each book, Stavridis provides a synopsis as well as his personal reflections and recollections of his experiences at sea as a midshipman; junior officer after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis; and as he rose the naval ladder until he became the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. The maritime books he recommends to deeply get to know the seas and the oceans cover topics on world politics, great sea battles, leadership at sea, exploration of the deep and the arctic, circumnavigation, environmentalism, and history.” —The Maritime Review
“This single volume constitutes a metaphorical book bag whose contents can be read by a novice seaman, a midgrade petty officer, or an experienced commander. Books do not substitute for experience, but they do provide insights when direct experience has not presented itself, and they also can support the later reflection that puts experience into context. It also is worth recommending that the books be read and discussed with others, to provide the broader understanding that a collegial effort offers. Lastly, a working definition of a literary classic is that when reread it offers further understanding or amusement. Considering all these benefits together, Stavridis wishes us ‘fair winds and following seas’ as we set sail on his recommended literary voyage, charted by a book lover for readers of all stripes.” —Naval War College Review
"This is so much more than simply a reading list or collection of book reviews. In choosing his titles he has selected a broad range of topics and styles to give a full appreciation of all that the sea and seafaring encompasses, balancing fiction and non-fiction titles and complementing the historical with some of the fundamental texts that help mariners learn and hone their craft: from understanding the essence of navigation, through Sobel’s Longitude, to Moby Dick. He has chosen well, and everybody is likely to find something here to develop their perception and understanding of the sea. Each title is introduced with the author’s own personal reflection on its significance, and these reflections are enhanced with a selection of anecdotes, as well as ‘bonus’ recommendations to take the reader further. Not only is this unusual book an enjoyable read in itself, but reading all the recommended titles will help counter ‘sea blindness’ as well as presenting an exciting opportunity to broaden what for many is already a favourite subject." —Warship