God and Sea Power

The Influence of Religion on Alfred Thayer Mahan
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Published:October 15, 2015
By Suzanne Geissler (Author)

2016 RADM Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature (Finalist)


~ Praise ~

Gallons of ink have been used analyzing Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s thoughts, his naval theories, and his contribution to sea power. One vital aspect of his life, however, has been ignored or misunderstood by many scholars: his religious faith. Mahan was a professing Christian who took his faith with the utmost seriousness, and as a result, his worldview was inherently Christian. He wrote and spoke extensively on religious issues, a point frequently ignored by many historians. This is a fundamental mistake, for a deeper and more accurate understanding of Mahan as a person and as a naval theorist can be gained by a meaningful examination of his religious beliefs. God and Sea Power is the first work to examine in a detailed and contextual way how Mahan’s faith influenced his views on war, politics, and foreign relations.

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Product Details
  • Hardback : 280 pages
  • Illustrations: 14 b/w photos
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1612518435
  • ISBN-13: 9781612518435
  • Product Dimensions: 6.125 X 9.25 in
  • Shipping Weight: 21.44 oz
  • “Geissler offers readers a view of Mahan through a different lens. Based on her findings and interpretations of primary sources, Mahan was heavily influenced by his faith. By skillfully contrasting the popular view of Mahan with the deeply religious Mahan, the author has certainly provided more food for thought for historians, Mahan enthusiasts, and the general public alike.”—Sea History
  • “By understanding Mahan as a Christian, we can not only see how his career, his theories, and his life developed over time, but also understand religion’s influence on one of the greatest naval minds in history. Geissler’s biography seamlessly weaves together Mahan’s childhood in the Episcopal environment of his father and his uncle. This backdrop set the stage for the internal struggle that so frequently plagued Mahan’s mind, yet at the same time brought him back to his faith after each stumble. By demonstrating his resilience as a flawed man of conviction, Geissler truly highlights a portion of the respected strategist’s character that few students of Mahan have covered.”—The Strategy Bridge.com
  • “The rise of Mahan as a naval theorist and the United States as an international sea power coincided with the great Christian global missionary endeavours of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Suzanne Geissler’s meticulous research and flowing narrative demonstrate well the linkage between Alfred Thayer Mahan’s devout, active, and public faith as an Episcopalian layperson and his thought as a strategist. Mahan’s Christian faith and religious beliefs greatly influenced his views. Geissler’s work clearly demonstrates that ideas do not arise in a vacuum and that values have consequences.”—Timothy J. Demy, ThD, PhD, former Navy chaplain and current professor of military ethics, U.S. Naval War College
  • "An interesting new approach to analysing Mahan that provides a useful insight into his character formation."—Baird Maritime Australia
  • "For many of us, Alfred Thayer Mahan is certainly no stranger. His theories and writings have been talked about and analyzed for years. They have been savored by everyone from the President of the United States, the lowly Naval War College graduate, and many others around the world. Thus, it is always refreshing to read something new and interesting about this well-known and often talked about historical figure. Suzanne Geissler has done just that. Professor Geissler has delivered some fresh insights and probably stirred some debate with her new book, God and Seapower. The book is a fascinating look into Mahan’s life by focusing on his religious beliefs. At 280 pages this book is a nice size; something that can be read in a week and yet she still manages to cover ATM’s life, from childhood to wise naval theorist, quite nicely."—CIMSEC.org
  • “Suzanne Geissler provides a comprehensive explanation of how religion came to be central to the lives of the Mahan family and the difficulties it caused Alfred Thayer, especially during his years as a junior officer. Geissler also explains how religion influenced Mahan’s approach to writing and pays some attention to his copious output on religious matters – especially after his retirement from the Navy. for readers who are familiar with Mahan’s writings it provides a very thorough examination of his philosophy and character. It clearly elucidates a man of deep spiritual conviction, whose Christianity was evident in all that he did. It also demonstrates that Mahan’s faith was both strict and uncompromising.”—Australian Naval Institute
  • "The book is very well researched and written. It brings new light into the life of Alfred Mahan that fills out the whole character of the man. That Mahan was one of the great naval thinkers is not in doubt, but this book brings out some of the reasons he was so devoted to his writing and his life."—Starshell, Naval Association of Canada
  • "... delivers useful insights into Alfred Thayer Mahan from an understudied perspective and represents an essential companion to earlier general biographies."—Journal of Military History
  • "Suzanne Geissler’s God and Sea Power is a delightful, well-researched, and fascinating book; a work that should be added to the canon about America’s Apostle of Seapower, Alfred Thayer Mahan. It is deeply biographical, concerning itself primarily with the man’s Christian life, albeit a Christian life lived through a sea-going career and later a life of academic and contemplative work."—WarOnTheRocks.com
  • "Dr. Geissler offers something that is all too uncommon in the biographies of the great strategists and theorists: a study of the human being. This book offers a look at Mahan in a different light, offering insights on not only his thinking but also his character. It's refreshing and important to examine these elements of the intellectual god-father of sea power."—Benjamin Armstrong, editor of 21st Century Mahan and 21st Century Sims
  • “By delving into Mahan’s religious and family life and their influence on his world outlook, Geissler has produced a work destined to become the standard biography of the great naval theorist. The Mahan of this sophisticated, balanced, and nuanced study differs significantly from the misfit young naval officer, imperialist, and militarist depicted by Robert Seager and the one-dimensional author described by William D. Puleston, both of whom either ignored or failed to understand the depth and impact of Mahan’s Episcopalian faith.”—James C. Bradford, professor of history, Texas A&M University
  • “This revealing biography opens a new window onto the religious life of America’s foremost naval strategist and advocate of sea power. Naval officers, military historians, and strategists alike stand to learn much from Suzanne Geissler’s examination of the often overlooked religious influences and insights of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Chaplains and scholars of religion will benefit from her in-depth study of Mahan’s personal faith and his various theological and ecclesiastical interventions following his military career. Finally, historians will appreciate how Mahan—an esteemed historian and former president of the American Historical Association—would himself become such an intriguing subject of history. While shaped by his own times, he fully engaged political, cultural, and religious debates and issues that defined this era.”—Cdr. John D. Carlson, USNR, associate professor of religious studies, Arizona State University
  • “Suzanne Geissler has two major arguments in her excellent new biography of famed naval historian and sea power theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan. The first posits that one cannot understand the work of Mahan if one does not understand the Christian faith that informed it—the two were inseparable. The second argument is historiographic and follows from the first, that other scholars have ‘ignored or misunderstood’ Mahan’s ‘religious faith as manifested in his writings and activities in the Episcopal Church.’” — U.S. Military History Review
  • “Suzanne Geissler has accomplished what she set out to do. She has rescued Alfred Mahan from the agendas of contemporary historians and allowed us to see him for who he was in his own day.” — Fides et Historia
  • “Geissler’s analysis of Mahan’s religion and its influence is essential reading for scholars and others interested in the life and global influence of this prominent historical actor. Students of military history, diplomatic history, and US empire will find Gessler’s work especially helpful and informative.” – H-Net
  • “Not only has Suzanne Geissler made a major contribution to understanding the works of America’s foremost naval thinker, but her book is also a contribution to understanding the role of religion in naval and military affairs during this period.” —Anglican and Episcopal History Journal

Suzanne Geissler holds master’s degrees in history and theology from Rutgers University and Drew University, respectively. She received her PhD in history from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Geissler is professor of history at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.

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