Reflections on Reading

By Jackson, John E. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Reading


Jackson, John E., Naval War College Review


When readers undertake a search for books in the specialized areas of naval and military history, they often find a number of authors who merit special attention owing to their level of scholarly research and prolific publishing history. One such author is Dr. Craig L. Symonds. He now serves as the Ernest J. King Distinguished Professor of Maritime History at the U.S. Naval War College, as well as Professor of History Emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he taught for thirty years and served as department chair.

Symonds is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History (2005), which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize, and Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War (2008), which won the Lincoln Prize, the Barondess Award, the Laney Prize, the Lyman Award, and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award. His most recent books are on the Second World War, notably The Battle of Midway (2011) and Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-day Landings (2014), which won the Barry Prize and the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize.

Of particular note for professional mariners are the following:

* Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History, which offers readers some "exceptionally well written and fascinating accounts" of five highly significant naval battles, according to a book review by William Lloyd Stearman in the Winter 2007 issue of the Naval War College Review. The battles analyzed are Perry's defeat of the British on Lake Erie in 1813; the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, which pitted the first ironclad ships in the United States against each other; the Battle of Manila Bay, in 1898; the Battle of Midway, in the Pacific in 1942; and Operation PRAYING MANTIS in the Persian Gulf in 1988.

* The Civil War at Sea, in which Symonds examines the naval and riverine elements of the war. He relates the Union naval strategies that led to victory, including the naval blockades that thwarted the South's economy and how control of its rivers effectively divided the South's territory, limiting commerce and mobility. He also examines how the industrial era then beginning, particularly the use of steel and steam, transformed the nature and function of warships.

* The Battle of Midway, a detailed examination of the battle that was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. At the outset, the Japanese possessed significant advantages, while the U.S. Navy was vulnerable in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attacks; after one day of battle, however, the tide had turned, and the U.S. Navy gained the upper hand, putting the Japanese on the defensive thereafter and limiting their foothold to the region's perimeter. Symonds argues that individual decision-making was the primary factor in this comeback story, and he offers portraits of the key persons involved, including Japanese naval commander in chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; U. …

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