The best naval books to help you make decisions under extreme pressure

James G. Stavridis Author Of To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision
By James G. Stavridis

Who am I?

I am a retired 4-star Admiral who spent over forty years at sea, rising from Midshipman at the Naval Academy to Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. Along the way, I served in and commanded destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers in combat, and I have faced many very difficult decisions under extreme pressure. In addition, I’ve been in the Pentagon for many assignments, including as Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense – which also created countless high-pressure decisions. What I learned in the Navy has helped me again and again in calculating risk and making the right decisions. 

I wrote...

To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision

By James G. Stavridis,

Book cover of To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision

What is my book about?

The hardest decisions we make are those that occur under extreme pressure. At the heart of my training as a naval officer was the preparation to lead sailors in combat, to face the decisive moment in battle whenever it might arise. In To Risk it All, you will meet nine men and women who face conflict, crisis, and risk. The lessons you learn will help you make the hardest of decisions. Let’s get underway!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander

Why did I love this book?

A brilliant and harrowing depiction of the kind of full-on, high-stress decisions made in the furious hours of combat in the deep south Atlantic Ocean as Great Britain sought to recapture the Falkland Islands from Argentina, which had seized them. There is no finer example of decision-making by a senior commander at sea in modern combat. As a strike group commander myself decades later in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, this book was invaluable to me in learning how to make hard decisions.

By Sandy Woodward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Hundred Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by the man who masterminded the British victory in the Falklands, this engrossing memoir chronicles events in the spring of 1982 following Argentina's takeover of the South Atlantic islands. Adm. Sandy Woodward, a brilliant military tactician, presents a complete picture of the British side of the battle. From the defeat of the Argentine air forces to the sinking of the Belgrano and the daring amphibious landing at Carlos Water, his inside story offers a revealing account of the Royal Navy's successes and failures.

At times reflective and personal, Woodward imparts his perceptions, fears, and reactions to seemingly disastrous events.…

The Bedford Incident

By Mark Rascovich,

Book cover of The Bedford Incident

Why did I love this book?

Set in the days of the full US-Soviet Cold War, this novel shows us a cat-and-mouse game played in the icy waters of the North Atlantic between an American destroyer and a Russian nuclear submarine. Nuclear weapons, the possibility of global war, and the extreme stress of decision-making under pressure are featured in a highly readable story. When I was an anti-submarine officer on a destroyer in the Cold War, I would literally wake up at night in a cold sweat about the possibilities of this kind of nightmare scenario unfolding due to a junior officer making a tragic mistake.

By Mark Rascovich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bedford Incident as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a novel of the sea, and it is told with a skill that merits comparison with the best. It consists of three parts:

The War is the cold war of the 1960’s, but on a little-publicized and bleakly isolated front where opposing naval forces secretly maneuver against each other in the eternally empty reaches of the Arctic Ocean. Here they contest for strategic stakes as vital as those of Berlin or Viet Nam.

The Chase is by a modern American destroyer on the track of a Soviet submarine whose mission is to probe NATO defenses based on Greenland.…

Book cover of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

Why did I love this book?

A novel about a rusty old destroyer minesweeper, a supremely difficult captain, a mixed bag officers in a dysfunctional wardroom, a horrific typhoon, and a nail-biting court-martial. The seagoing and combat portions of the novel are very realistic, reflecting Wouk’s time in uniform on a similar class of ship in the Pacific during WWII. In my hand as I write this is a battered 1951 first edition of the novel, with a slightly tattered cover, which I treasure above almost any book in the five thousand volumes in my personal library. Over the years of my career, I’ve returned again and again to The Caine Mutiny, and the fundamental lesson of this sea novel is what both leaders and followers owe each other, especially in the demanding crucible of the sea.

By Herman Wouk,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The novel that inspired the now-classic film The Caine Mutiny and the hit Broadway play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.

Herman Wouk's boldly dramatic, brilliantly entertaining novel of life—and mutiny—on a Navy warship in the Pacific theater was immediately embraced, upon its original publication in 1951, as one of the first serious works of American fiction to grapple with the moral complexities and the human consequences of World War II. In the intervening half century, The Caine Mutiny has become a perennial favorite of readers young and old, has sold millions of copies throughout the world, and has achieved the status…

Book cover of Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

Why did I love this book?

The US Navy at war in the Pacific is the backdrop to a series of high-pressure decisions made by various officers in command. The most striking is the heroic attack of a group of lightly armed US destroyers against the main forces of the Japanese Imperial Navy in the battle of Leyte Gulf. The so-called “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” and the heroism in particular of Commander Ernest Evans, a Native American who receives the Medal of Honor for his decisions in the battle. I’ve always been awestruck by Evans, who was a quiet, thoughtful man who had to make the hardest choice literally “to risk it all” to achieve his mission.

By Evan Thomas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sea of Thunder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sea of Thunder is a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative of the Pacific War that culminates in the battle of Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval battle ever fought.

Told from both the American and Japanese sides, through the eyes of commanders and sailors of both navies, Thomas's history adds an important new dimension to our understanding of World War II.

Drawing on oral histories, diaries, correspondence, postwar testimony from both American and Japanese participants, and interviews with survivors, Thomas provides an account not only of the great sea battle and Pacific naval war, but of the contrasting cultures pitted against each…

Book cover of The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Why did I love this book?

In an amazing feat of leadership and critical decision-making under the most stressful circumstances imaginable, Ernest Shackleton managed to save his entire crew – despite their ship being crushed in the ice pack of Antarctica. His decisions from start to finish risked everything – hiking to the edge of the sea, sailing one of the ship’s small boats on a voyage to a distant outpost, bringing help back, and saving the crew. His decisions inspired me in the many expeditions I led as a naval officer, none of which were as challenging as what he faced.

By Caroline Alexander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Endurance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In August 1914, renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 set sail for the South Atlantic in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in the history of exploration: the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent. They came with in 85 miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped fast in the ice pack, and the crew was stranded on the floes. Their ordeal lasted for 20 grueling months, and the group made two near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before they were finally rescued.

Drawing upon previously unavailable sources, Caroline Alexander gives us…

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