In a world that seems to be going digital at an enormous rate, we are still able to rely on published editions of military-reference texts that remain pillars of the print community, both as definitive, informative works and as bound examples of the art of the book.
One of these is the U.S. Naval Institute's "Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, 2000-2001: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Systems," by A.D. Baker III. It contains 1,100 pages of photographs (all black and white), drawings, text and indices that include data concerning the "afloat, coastal defense, and aviation arms of more than 190 countries".
There is a complete section of terms and abbreviations, acronyms, and conversion tables (for the metric-impaired). Ninety percent of the images are new to this edition. Detailed and updated information includes the characteristics and capabilities of all classes of ships, from giant aircraft carriers, to deadly ballistic-missile submarines, to the smallest launches and workaday tugboats (YTB's or "yippies").
Added to this are detailed descriptions of all of the operational naval aircraft, weapons systems and sensors, as well as data on organizations, personnel strengths and bases of the world's naval forces. Certainly, this volume covers more classes and configurations than any other single publication.
What is it missing? Absent are advertisements, which detract from any reference book. Good riddance! Dollar-for-dollar, the millennium issue contains all of the information on the world's naval forces at a price that makes it a "must-acquire" item for the serious student of maritime warfare.
Members of the institute pay a reduced price of $122.50 per copy. For non-members, the price is $175. These are the people who published "The Hunt for Red October" and gave author Tom Clancy his start.
The institute offers, as a companion to the guide, a CD-ROM version for those requiring a rapidly searchable, computer-resident database, including all of the features described above. It operates in a Windows(r) Help format for rapid access and information navigation.
CD features include copy-and-paste-for text and the ability to retrieve photographs and drawings for reports and presentations. The CD-ROM even has a "numeric value conversion calculator" for converting those metric-ton displacement figures to English long tons. The author even provides an mail address and fax number for comments and additions.
The CD is priced at $104.96 to institute members and $149.95 for non-members. This is amazing. The competition charges twice or three times as much for CD versions of reference books. The institute deserves the highest praise for this millennium issue. In an era of increased prices for the print medium, "Combat Fleets" is a bargain.
The Big Four, as I call them--"Infantry Weapons" (25th Ed.), "Armour & Artillery" (20th Ed.), "All the World's Aircraft" (90th Ed.) and "Fighting Ships" (102nd Ed.)--must certainly be considered the very foundation of the military-reference genre, probably because of the number of editions that have been produced.
One of the oldest naval references, the newly released 1999-2000 edition (102nd) of "Jane's Fighting Ships," edited by British Royal Navy Capt. Richard Sharpe, certainly ranks as one of the best.
Contents include ensigns and flags, ranks and insignia, pennant listings of major surface ships and a very comprehensive forward, covering key issues of importance to world naval forces. …