Against the Tide

Rickover's Leadership Principles and the Rise of the Nuclear Navy
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Published:November 15, 2014

Against the Tide is a leadership book that illustrates how Adm. Hyman Rickover made a unique impact on American and Navy culture. Dave Oliver is the first former nuclear submarine commander who sailed for the venerable admiral to write about Rickover’s management techniques. Oliver draws upon a wealth of untold stories to show how one man changed American and Navy culture while altering the course of history.

The driving force behind America’s nuclear submarine navy, Rickover revolutionized naval warfare while concurrently proving to be a wellspring of innovation that drove American technology in the latter half of the twentieth-century. As a testament to his success, Rickover’s single-minded focus on safety protected both American citizens and sailors from nuclear contamination, a record that is in stark contrast to the dozens of nuclear reactor accidents suffered by the Russians.

While Rickover has been the subject of a number of biographies, little has been written about his unique management practices that changed the culture of a two-hundred-year-old institution and affected the outcome of the Cold War. Rickover’s achievements have been obscured because they were largely conducted in secret and because he possessed a demanding and abrasive personality that alienated many potential supporters. Nevertheless, he was an extraordinary manager with significant lessons for all those in decision-making positions.

The author had the good fortune to know and to serve under Rickover during much of his thirty-year career in the Navy and is singularly qualified to demonstrate the management and leadership principles behind Rickover’s success.


List Price: $27.95
Member Price: $22.36
Product Details
  • Subject: Leadership
  • Hardback : 192 pages
  • Illustrations: 5 b/w photos, 1 map
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (November 15, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1612517978
  • ISBN-13: 9781612517971
  • Product Dimensions: 6.13 X 9.25 in
  • Shipping Weight: 15.84 oz
  • “To its credit, this book touches on and invites thought and discussion about more than a few attributes of senior leadership, including personal accountability. Rickover was quick to dismiss subordinates who he felt had failed his program—yet the degree to which he would be willing to sacrifice his own position and power is less clear, particularly when even many of his supporters feel the admiral clung to power too long and eventually became a detriment to the program he had created. Another area involves personal and professional ethics. Oliver seems to make the point that when the stakes are high enough, the ends do justify the means and a successful outcome justifies questionable or even illegal actions. This invites a subsequent discussion involving the deepest questions of what it is to be an officer and member of the profession of arms.”—Naval War College Review
  • “Oliver mixes tales of the often-eccentric Rickover with genuine admiration for his leadership abilities, especially in the face of many adversities, such as the fabrication of Nautilus, building and maintaining the nuclear fleet during the Cold and Vietnam Wars, and his conflicts with high profile officers such as Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. Along the way, Oliver relates stories from his own naval career; examples of how he applied Rickover’s managerial principles. In summary, Against the Tide, illuminating on many levels, is a reasoned path toward understanding what made the complex Hyman Rickover such a special naval officer.”—The Northern Mariner
  • “Oliver uses successive chapters of this book to describe different aspects of Rickover’s leadership style. To this end, his own experiences in senior business management after leaving the Navy lend credence to the topics he selects to discuss. At the end of each section he asks the reader various questions which might prompt them to apply Rickover’s theories to their own workplace. Thus, Oliver shows how Rickover was quite ruthless with potential COs: if there were doubts about their abilities to shoulder the burden of responsibility they would be sacked. His nuclear captains had to demonstrate that they were aware of the need for continual improvement. He actively encouraged innovation and often preferred eager and thrusting young minds rather than experienced veterans. From a broader perspective, Rickover wanted the men who commanded these nuclear boats not only to accept the great responsibilities they held but also to be aware of the higher purposes they served.”—Warship 2016
  • “Oliver draws upon a wealth of untold stories to show how one man changed American and Navy culture while altering the course of history. The author had the good fortune to know and to serve under Rickover during much of his thirty-year career in the Navy and is singularly qualified to demonstrate the management and leadership principles behind Rickover’s success.”—Ocean News & Technology
  • “The author, a submariner, is well positioned to convey the leadership principles of the father of the nuclear Navy, RADM Hyman Rickover, who ran the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program long after his peers retired. As the driving force who brought nuclear power to fruition and revolutionized the Navy, Rickover’s personality and leadership fostered a culture of unrelenting standards and attention to safety that have resulted in a submarine force and nuclear-powered ships with a safety and operational record second to none. Rarely has one individual exerted such an influence on the course of the Navy.”—Seapower
  • “Against the Tide is a highly enjoyable read. Admiral Dave Oliver uses crisp language, personal anecdotes and provocative questions to put forward the leadership principles of Admiral Rickover, the father of the USA’s nuclear navy. With just 137 pages Against the Tide does not take long to read but it is packed full of useful material. The author’s professional development and life experiences provide excellent case studies for Rickover’s leadership principles. His anecdotes are candid, forthright and memorable. Against the Tide is highly recommended for anyone wishing to better understand our modern era of continuous cultural evolution and is looking for alternatives.”—Australian Naval Institute
  • "Exceptionally well written and informative, Against the Tide is a compelling and rewarding read that is both thoughtful and though provoking."—The Midwest Book Review
  • “From its highly appropriate title to its usefully extensive bibliography and first rate index, this comparatively small book is a great and valuable history. A personal but excellent and important biography.”—Ausmarine Magazine
  • “Oliver has written an entertaining, slim volume that is a series of anecdotes and stories tied to leadership and management principles gleaned from years of observing and studying ‘the father of the nuclear navy.’”—
  • “…anyone seeking to understand how the U.S. Navy submarine force came to embody the apparently contradictory qualities of strict engineering discipline and breathtaking operational audacity would do well to read David Oliver’s enjoyable Against the Tide.”—The Journal of Military History

  • “…despite his obvious admiration for Rickover’s abilities and achievements, he does not shirk reality in Against the Tide. ‘Even with his exceptional management and personal work habits,’ Oliver tells us, in a final lesson that leaders everywhere might heed, ‘Rickover would have failed if history had not been on his side.’ As always, timing plays an essential role in success.”—strategy + business

  • “Oliver asks a series of Socratic questions at the end of each chapter that, if honestly reflected upon, will divulge principles, where they were used purposely and consistently, where mistakes occurred, and that will inform judgments about using them to bring about cultural change or manage a start up in their own circumstances. Oliver is not trying to persuade his readers to copy Rickover, but to examine him. I am sure I will find myself reading this book again and I have already recommended it to others. If you have read other leadership books, or are at a middle level or higher position in your organization, this book will richly reward your effort.”—Naval Historical Foundation

  • “I enjoyed this book enormously. This is the perfect match of author and subject—an appreciation of a famous and controversial admiral by an intelligent and inquisitive veteran of the Navy’s submarine force. Admiral Oliver analyzes how Admiral Rickover, a very late bloomer, overcame massive internal resistance to build a revolutionary new class of ship—the nuclear-powered submarine. At times it reads like a thriller, at other times like a good study of how to run a business. But it is always informed and informative. It also is one of the best books ever written about submarine command.”—THOMAS E. RICKS, author of Fiasco and The Generals

    “Oliver, like his mentor Rickover, is an unconventional and unorthodox man who believes that strong and ethical character guided by a moral compass underlies personal responsibility. He sees these traits as the foundation for good management and good leadership, a view that could serve contemporary leaders in government and industry well.” —THOMAS ENDERS, chief executive officer, Airbus Group

    “Against the Tide captures the extraordinary technical advances Admiral Rickover drove into American industry and the cultural changes he insisted on within the nuclear Navy. . . . Dave Oliver describes the uniquely successful management style Rickover established that resulted in the nuclear Navy’s major contributions to our winning the Cold War and to the continued untouchable safety record of today’s nuclear Navy.” —ADM. FRANK L. “SKIP” BOWMAN, USN (RET.)

    “In America today we face two significant challenges: strengthening our economy and protecting our nation. Against the Tide provides invaluable insights into both of these issues and illustrates the symbiotic relationship between them. Adm. Hyman Rickover was a unique American, and his legacy of excellence, vision, and patriotism still offers lessons to us today.” —BOB RILEY, former United States Congressman and 52nd Governor of Alabama

    Admiral Oliver weaves a series of fascinating, often humorous stories around the leadership/management principles of Hyman Rickover, providing unique insights into the challenges, intrigue, and successes of the nuclear Navy. Not just another book on leadership, this book spells out an approach to balancing process discipline and innovation in the development of large-scale, complex systems operated in the most unforgiving of environments.” —JIM ALBAUGH, retired president and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes; president, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Rear Admiral Dave Oliver, USN (Ret.) is a 1963 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent thirty-two years in the Navy, served at sea on board both diesel-electric and nuclear submarines, commanded a nuclear submarine, and served as chief of staff of the Seventh Fleet. His final military tour was as principal deputy to the civilian Navy acquisition executive. During the Clinton administration he was Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and in the Bush administration he was the director of management and budget for the Coalition Forces in Iraq. After leaving the Navy he was the CEO of the EADS, North America Defense Company as well as an executive at Northrop Grumman and Westinghouse. He now lives in Northern Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

2 Reviews
Average Customer Reviews
5.00 Stars
Rickover and Doing the Right Thing
Friday, December 5, 2014
By: Aaron Johnson
"Against the Tide" captures the essence of the methods Admiral Rickover used in his pursuit of the excellence that is the US Navy's nuclear propulsion program. Dave Oliver the author chronicles and relates how Rickover managed to create an organization and culture that empowered its members to do the right thing while upholding the highest of standards. In doing this, Dave Oliver the author shows the reader first hand, diverse perspectives from Dave Oliver the naval officer, political appointee and corporate leader with the credibility that can only be provided by one who was there and still remembers the importance of doing the right thing. As a former captain of USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN 634 Blue), I found the book both entertaining and insightful and highly recommend it to those in pursuit of excellence whether they are in the military, government or industry. There is enough material there that I'm sure I'll read it again...and help recall the importance of doing the right thing and its relationship to doing things right. Captain Aaron B. Johnson, USN (Ret.)
A very useful book
Sunday, March 20, 2016
By: PS Wallace
A very useful book; obviously not the ultimate word on the man, but very useful. Also a nice trip through an incredible time in American naval history, the creation of the Navy nuclear submarine force, and its culture, 1950s through 1970s, which is always an enjoyable read. Also enjoyable were the times reading between the lines-- I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for a few anecdotes, this book is the notice, perhaps first-ever, that "yes you SOB, I'm the guy that did you in, and you deserved what you got." If so, kudos on the subtlety. Obviously, one is not going to get the complete understanding of what drove Hyman Rickover, because he was a man who did not intend to be read as a book. It helps in understanding him if one has been shy in the past, but even then, some things are just speculation. Nevertheless, what the man did in creating a "discipline in technology" was incredible, and this book helps those who would go in that path, or need to.


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