(Prof. Kathleen Broome Williams, author of Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea, on the Navy Professional Reading Program list and published by the Naval Institute Press, offers her suggestions for Navy Reads...)
by Kathleen Broome Williams
I’d like to start with an unconventional suggestion, but one that has been highly rewarding for me. There are two series of books -- both of which have been around for some time -- which anyone interested in the origins of naval theory and practice in the age of sail should read.
|HMS Tremendous engages French naval man-of-war Cannonierre, April 26, 1806.|
In addition, they are rip-roaring good tales.
Both series deal with the Royal Navy during the turbulent era of the Napoleonic wars, stretching from the end of the eighteenth century into the early nineteenth when England and France were locked in a life and death struggle covering much of the maritime world.
First, and the quickest and easiest reading, are the books by C.S. Forester based on the naval career of Horatio Hornblower. Forester follows Hornblower from his days as a midshipman through ten books until he reaches the exalted rank of admiral. Each book is marked by Forester’s depth of knowledge of the times and of the details of naval life.
A more recent series, and one that closely mirrors the first in subject, is Patrick O’Brian’s novels about the naval career of Jack Aubrey and of his inseparable physician friend, Stephen Maturin. Some readers may have been introduced to the two men through the movie Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe.
O’Brian’s twenty books, or so, are denser than Forester’s and marked by even more penetrating research and meticulous attention to nautical detail. Like the Hornblower books, too, the memorable characters and their gripping adventures make for irresistible reading.
There are a great many books about the Battle of the Atlantic that lasted from the beginning of World War II until the end of the war in Europe. For those unfamiliar with the subject a recent one worth reading is Bitter Ocean: The Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945 by David Fairbank White. Based on secondary literature, as well as on archival sources and interviews, White presents a 300-page romp through the campaign in its entirety, on the way touching on many, perhaps most, of the most important issues. This is a useful introduction and a quick read.
Switching to the Pacific Ocean in World War II, Carl LaVO’s The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary Life of Submarine Legend Eugene Fluckey, tells the tale of the skipper of the submarine USS Barb, engaged in hair-raising and highly effective operations against the Japanese. Fluckey arguably sank more enemy tonnage than any other U.S. submarine commander and LaVO’s account is valuable for shedding light on the whole man, going beyond his wartime exploits to examine his personal life and postwar career.
Nothing, however, can match Fluckey’s own memoir -- Thunder Below! -- for sheer suspense. Fluckey’s account is written with such immediacy and directness that the reader feels, sees, hears, and smells what it was like to be in action on a submarine in wartime. This is a must read for anyone interested in the Silent Service.
(Thank you to Dr. Kathleen Broome Williams, Director of General Education and Professor of History at Cogswell Polytechnical College. Dr. Williams has served and taught at the City University of New York, Sophia University in Tokyo, and at Florida State University, Republic of Panama. She has served on the editorial advisory board of The Journal of Military History and as executive director of the New York Military Affairs Symposium. She is the author of three books on naval history published by the Naval Institute Press. Read a review of her book Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea here. Navy Reads will continue to have guest lists and reviews from noted authors and thinkers joining Navy Reads in the months ahead. We will have some special reviews coming soon related to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. -- Bill Doughty)