The best books to know the sea

Who am I?

I'm 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. I studied literature and published eleven books, many dealing with the oceans. My PhD from Tufts University, where I served as Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, centered on the Law of the Sea Treaty. My father was a seagoing US Marine, my wife grew up in the Navy with a father who was a Navy pilot, and my daughter was a Navy nurse. Finally, my basset hound is named Penelope, after the wife of Ulysses who waited for her husband to return from ten years at sea.


I wrote...

The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

By James G. Stavridis,

Book cover of The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

What is my book about?

The oceans are vast, covering over 70% of the world but few of us know them well.  To create The Sailor’s Bookshelf, I selected the fifty books that formed the heart of my own voyage from Midshipman at Annapolis to 4-star Admiral, and provided a concise summary of each them, as well as weaving in my own experiences at sea. The books cover everything from the history of navigation to the adventures of the bravest seagoing explorers to the expansive fictional literature of the sea.  Let’s get underway!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Island I Have Not Visited and Never Will

James G. Stavridis Why did I love this book?

This fascinating little gem of a book is concerned with tiny, largely unknown islands scattered around the world. Schalansky essentially selected them largely for how far they are from big, continental lands. Even after spending a significant portion of my life at sea, I can only claim to have visited or even sailed within sight of about a dozen of them. Most of these small atolls are far from their mother countries. But each of these isolated islands has a story that is inextricably tied to the sea.

By Judith Schalansky,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Atlas of Remote Islands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Judith Schalansky was born in 1980 on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. The Soviets wouldn't let anyone travel so everything she learnt about the world came from her parents' battered old atlas. An acclaimed novelist and award-winning graphic designer, she has spent years creating this, her own imaginative atlas of the world's loneliest places. These islands are so difficult to reach that until the late 1990s more people had set foot on the moon than on Peter I Island in the Antarctic.

On one page are perfect maps, on the other unfold bizarre stories from the history of…


Book cover of Sea Power: A Naval History

James G. Stavridis Why did I love this book?

When I was a first-year student at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1972, every “plebe,” as we were called, was required to take a full-year course called simply Sea Power. It is in a sense four books in one: a history of the United States Navy and of American naval power; a history of the world’s navies; a study of the evolution of naval warfare; and a study of the part that sea power has played in the exercise of national power. It is also full of dozens of maps, charts, and, above all, detailed tactical depictions of individual battles, the latter ranging from the Bay of Salamis, where the Greeks and Persians fought 2,500 years ago, through Trafalgar at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, to the pivotal battles of Midway and Leyte Gulf in World War II.

By E.B. Potter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A classic work widely acknowledged as the definitive text on its subject. All aspects of over 2,000 years of naval history are covered, from Greek and Roman galley warfare to Vietnam and beyond, with emphasis on the evolution of strategy, tactics, and weapons development.


Book cover of Sailing Alone Around the World

James G. Stavridis Why did I love this book?

One of the great pure sailors of all time was Joshua Slocum. Born in 1844 in eastern Canada he remains one of the most renowned sailors of all time—deservedly, because he completed the first documented circumnavigation of the world alone in a sailboat. A severe-looking man in maturity with a completely bald head and a very full goatee. His four children were born at sea on his ships. And his adventures literally around the world are too numerous to enumerate here. Suffice to say, this was a man “rocked in the cradle of the deep,” with saltwater in his veins.

Toward the turn of the century, in his early fifties, he decided to build a small sailing vessel and sail alone around the world. It was the seminal moment in his life, and he’d describe it beautifully in this marvelous tale. Slocum faced all the perils one would expect: terrible weather, near collisions, piracy, sheer loneliness, mediocre food, near shipwreck, and plenty more. Joshua Slocum quite modestly makes Spray the real hero of the book, and by the end, the reader loves that little boat too, along with learning a great deal about life at sea.

By Joshua Slocum,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sailing Alone Around the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The classic of its kind." —Travel World
"One of the most readable books in the whole library of adventure." —Sports Illustrated
"The finest single-handed adventure story yet written." —Seafarer
Challenged by an expert who said it couldn't be done, Joshua Slocum, an indomitable New England sea captain, set out in April of 1895 to prove that a man could sail alone around the world. 46,000 miles and a little over 3 years later, the proof was complete: Captain Slocum had performed the epic "first" single-handedly in a trusty 34-foot sloop called the "Spray." This is Slocum's own account of his…


Book cover of Moby-Dick

James G. Stavridis Why did I love this book?

In my home are five copies of Moby-Dick, or The Whale, which was published in 1851 to so-so reviews. Yet I consider it the greatest novel of the sea ever written, and I have returned to read it again and again over the years. The central storyline of Moby-Dick is loosely based on the destruction of a whaling ship, Essex, in 1822. The plot centers on Captain Ahab’s quest to harpoon the “white whale” of the title, and the prose soars to beautiful rhetorical heights that echo Shakespeare and the King James Bible. Once a reader has climbed the mountain of Moby-Dick, it is a book that stays with you forever, especially in terms of understanding the oceans. Like the sea itself, this epic novel will get into the heart of a reader who is open to its unique structure and tone.

By Herman Melville,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Moby-Dick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Melville's tale of the whaling industry, and one captain's obsession with revenge against the Great White Whale that took his leg. Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colourful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes a biography of Herman Melville and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom or at home to further engage the reader in the work at hand.


Book cover of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

James G. Stavridis 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…


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Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

Book cover of Radio Free Olympia

Jeffrey Dunn Author Of Radio Free Olympia

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’ve always been a child of the woods. I preferred to leave my home and wade a creek or explore a hillside. Nothing compared to the sight of a black snake or the feel of a mud puppy. School was a torture until an English teacher introduced me to Richard Brautigan and then read my first serious story to the class. Since then, this dyslexic nature lover has become a dream fisher and history miner with a Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Retired from forty-one years of teaching, I now write and publish cultural fiction.

Jeffrey's book list on where imagination and nature run free

What is my book about?

Embark on a riveting journey into Washington State’s untamed Olympic Peninsula, where the threads of folklore legends and historical icons are woven into a complex ecological tapestry.

Follow the enigmatic Petr as he fearlessly employs his pirate radio transmitter to broadcast the forgotten and untamed voices that echo through the wilderness. Venture deeper and encounter Baie, the founder of Wildsisters, a cranberry-infused roadhouse that offers solace to lost and wayward women. When a newborn is kidnapped, Baie and her community must unite to recover what has been stolen. Yet, their quest for justice extends beyond the realm of human characters—it must also be served for the fragile flora, the diverse fauna, and the very essence of the natural world.

Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

What is this book about?

Unleash the Power of the Wilderness in Radio Free Olympia


Discover the captivating allure of Washington's untamed Olympic Peninsula in Radio Free Olympia, an extraordinary literary masterpiece that immerses readers in a mesmerizing realm of visionaries, folklore legends, and historical icons. With an enchanting blend of magical realism and cultural fiction, the brilliant wordsmith Jeffrey Dunn artfully intertwines multiple narratives, crafting an intricate ecological tapestry that resonates deeply within the soul.


Embark on a riveting journey alongside the enigmatic Petr, a foundling whose path leads him deep into the heart of the majestic mountain rainforest. Armed with nothing but a…


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