The best naval history books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about naval history and why they recommend each book.

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After Jutland

By James Goldrick,

Book cover of After Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters, June 1916-November 1918

Also published by the Naval Institute Press, Goldrick’s work smashes the widely held view that the German navy, allegedly so demoralized by its lesser losses at Jutland – but casualties that included flagship battlecruiser Lützow – that it never ventured to sea again. On the contrary, the German fleet, emboldened by inflicting much greater losses on the British, set to sea again in August 1916 reinforced with two new 15-inch-gun battleships. Even stronger in April 1918, it went out again, this time with Lützow’s replacement, Hindenburg. Jutland-like engagements almost occurred, but interesting circumstances prevented the two fleets from missing one another and another slugfest. Goldrick also details operations in the Baltic Sea as well as many other aspects of North Sea warfare after Jutland (e.g. mining campaigns) left out of other works.  


Who am I?

I retired from Drexel University in 2015 after thirty-six years as a professor of German and European History of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My sub-specialty in the History of Technology carried over into publications that over the years focused increasingly on the German army and navy.


I wrote...

Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

By Eric Dorn Brose,

Book cover of Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

What is my book about?

World War One witnessed the largest engagement between capital ships (i.e. battleships, battlecruisers, and heavy cruisers) in modern times, seventy-two altogether at 1916’s Battle of Jutland fought by antagonists Great Britain and Imperial Germany. Even more “battle wagons” clashed there than in World War Two showdowns at sea like 1944’s Leyte Gulf. Accordingly, hundreds of books have been written about Jutland, including a spate of new works as the centennial approached in 2016. I thought it was necessary to write yet another book that synthesized this vast literature and rendered judgments where historians still disagreed. I also paid special attention to circumstances on both the British and German sides that affected the outcome of the battle – the analysis had to be comparative, not narrowly nationalist. This costly battle, a very expensive British victory, contributed mightily to the allied defeat of Germany.  

The Sand Pebbles

By Richard McKenna,

Book cover of The Sand Pebbles

An old army buddy of mine used to say that when he had trouble at work and was worried about being able to support his family and when life was beginning to be a little too much, he would pick up a copy of The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna. Soon, he’d be transported to the deck of the USS San Pablo, during the 1920s, steaming up the Yangtze River in the heart of China and suddenly everything was right.

McKenna was a sailor in the US Navy for 22 years (1931 to 1953). He enlisted at the age of 18 and was assigned to the “China fleet,” patrolling largely between Guam, Okinawa, and Japan. He served through World War II and the Korean War. After finally retiring, he went to school on the GI Bill and started to write. His first and only novel was The Sand Pebbles,…


Who am I?

I spent 20 years in the US Army with 10 of those years in Korea. Everybody thought I was crazy. Why would you like being stationed in such an odd country as Korea? Whenever I tried to explain, their noses would crinkle and they’d stare at me as if I were mad. I started collecting books that explained better than I did. To supplement it I purchased a manual Smith Corona typewriter at the PX and to assuage my angst began writing mystery stories about two 8th Army investigators in Seoul, Korea. Fifteen novels and over 50 short stories later I’m still attempting to explain the odd beauty of GI life through the eyes of a GI.


I wrote...

War Women

By Martin Limón,

Book cover of War Women

What is my book about?

Sergeant George Sueño and his partner, Ernie Bascom, are stationed in Korea with the US 8th Army in the 1970s. They investigate crimes in which US Army personnel might have been involved. Meanwhile, George finds Korea and its culture fascinating, and does what he can to soften the bad opinion of Americans in Korea.

When a senior NCO goes missing with a top-secret document that even a glance at could get a soldier court-martialed, Sergeants Sueño and Bascom take it upon themselves to find him. Meanwhile, they are tasked with getting reporter Katie Byrd Worthington out of a Korean jail cell—and preventing the publication of a story about the mistreatment of women in the military that could incriminate important officials. But what they learn will make it hard for them to stay silent.

The Evil Necessity

By Denver Brunsman,

Book cover of The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

In total numbers, impressed seamen were second only to enslaved Africans as the largest group of forced laborers in the eighteenth century. In The Evil Necessity, Denver Brunsman describes in vivid detail the experience of impressment for Atlantic seafarers and their families. Forced service robbed approximately 250,000 mariners of their livelihoods, and, not infrequently, their lives, while also devastating Atlantic seaport communities and the loved ones left behind. Press gangs, consisting of a navy officer backed by sailors and occasionally local toughs, often used violence or the threat of violence to supply the manpower necessary to maintain British naval supremacy. But impressment helped to unite Britain and its Atlantic coastal territories in a common system of maritime defense unmatched by any other European empire.


Who am I?

Since the publication of my first book in 1988, my emphasis has always been on history as “story.” That is, the stories of men and women in past centuries with whom we share a common humanity but who faced challenges very different from our own. My goal is to bring their stories to as wide an audience as possible. Whether they describe Newfoundland fisherman in the 17th-century North Atlantic, expatriate Irish men and women in 18th-century Bordeaux, or colonial New Yorkers defying British authority on the eve of the American Revolution, the common theme is the impact of trade and the sea on the lives of ordinary people.


I wrote...

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

By Thomas M. Truxes,

Book cover of Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

What is my book about?

Defying Empire reveals the story of the bold New York City merchants who engaged in forbidden trade with the French enemy during the Seven Years’ War — together with the fate of the lone informer who dared challenge them. Ignoring British prohibitions designed to end North America’s wartime trade with the French, New York’s merchant elite conducted a thriving business in the French West Indies, insisting that their behavior was protected by long practice and British commercial law. But the government in London viewed it as treachery, and its subsequent efforts to discipline North American commerce inflamed the colonists. Through fast-moving events and unforgettable characters, historian Thomas M. Truxes brings eighteenth-century New York and the Atlantic world to life.

Beat to Quarters

By C.S. Forester,

Book cover of Beat to Quarters

Forester is the perfect author for a young reader of Historical Fiction, pertaining to the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars in particular. The action is so riveting you’ll swear you can hear the crash of the broadsides, and the defiant growls of the salty tars as they weigh into the enemy with cold steel. However, his real gift is his knowledge of those stately old square-riggers in which Horatio Hornblower sailed. Indeed, I was so engrossed, that by the time I finished the series, I felt that I had a working knowledge of them from stem to stern.


Who am I?

When I was very young, in our tiny hamlet on the Canadian prairies, I recall riding with other children in the Dominion Day parade. Each child was given a little flag to wave, but even then I noticed that while half were given the old dominion flag, the other half were waving the Union Jack. I couldn’t put it into words then, naturally, but later I recognized it as a feeling of being part of something grand – something far larger than myself or even my own country. Those were the dying days of the Empire and the world has moved on, but a fascination for our history lingers to this day.


I wrote...

The Adventures of Charlie Smithers

By C.W. Lovatt,

Book cover of The Adventures of Charlie Smithers

What is my book about?

"Humorous and highly entertaining." ~ The Review - "Poetic prose and humorous undertones that are wildly entertaining." ~ Serious Reading

The time is the nineteenth century. The place, the Serengeti Plain, where one Charlie Smithers – faithful manservant to the arrogant bonehead, Lord Brampton (with five lines in Debrett, and a hopeless shot to boot) – becomes separated from his master during an unfortunate episode with an angry rhinoceros, thereby launching Charlie on an odyssey into Deepest Darkest Africa, and subsequently into the arms of the beautiful Loiyan…and that’s where the trouble really begins. Maasai warriors, xenophobic locals, or evil slavers, the two forbidden lovers encounter everything that the unforgiving jungle can throw at them.

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

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.


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!

Lord Hornblower

By C.S. Forester,

Book cover of Lord Hornblower

Hornblower is a fantastic character, and the entire series is worth a read, but C.S. Forester got more accomplished throughout the series. Meticulously researched - and recently wildly popular, thanks to a TV series - the books are still much deeper, more resonant, and better!! Hornblower is in constant turmoil, too sensitive for his own good or for the crises every Admiral probably had to face, he is also so self-conscious that even in love - and he is very passionate - he can't quite let go. Combine that with a number of vivid females and still more interesting fellow officers - all with their own crosses to bear - and the Napoleonic war on the seas and... could not have been written better.

Who am I?

I’ve been “big-five-published” in contemporary fiction, Indie-published in speculative thrillers and I – only last year – rejected several publishers in favour of self-publishing books Jane Austen herself might have loved. A Jane Austen fanatic from an early age, I know most of the novels by heart, and appear to have succeeded (to some extent) in understanding her style. My Susan – a unique imagining of Austen’s Lady Susan as a young girl – is both award-winning and bestselling and my Harriet – an imaginative “take” on Austen’s Emma, has just been selected as "Editor's Pick - outstanding" on Publishers Weekly.   


I wrote...

Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

By Alice McVeigh,

Book cover of Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

What is my book about?

A highly original new “take” on Jane Austen’s Emma, by prizewinning novelist Alice McVeigh. In Harriet , McVeigh imagines a different Harriet Smith: a Harriet clever enough to pretend to be stupid, a Harriet capable of deceiving Miss Emma Woodhouse – a Harriet with a secret. She shares the story with the mysterious Jane Fairfax. 

“A dynamic take on a revered classic. This is still Austen’s Emma—but the story that unfolds through the recollections of these two “side” characters feels remarkably fresh… With or without an understanding of Emma, Harriet contains a fully formed narrative that should satisfy even the choosiest Austen fans… Readers will rarely find the words ‘page-turner’ and 'Jane Austen' in the same sentence, but McVeigh’s impeccably written Harriet certainly fits the bill.” - IndieReader

Flying Colours

By C.S. Forester,

Book cover of Flying Colours

"I find Hornblower admirable, vastly entertaining," said Winston Churchill in the best short review ever written. Forester takes you back 200 years to an age of wooden ships and iron men. Here you smell the powder, see the mainsails strain, hear the roar of cannon and the clang of steel – and learn more about the Napoleonic Wars than any textbook could convey. The Hornblower books are all electrifying, but to my mind, this is the best.


Who am I?

I had a rotten childhood. Stuck in bed with asthma, I couldn’t do sports; but I could roam space and time with books, especially science fiction. Yet when I tried to re-read my beloved sci-fi titles as an adult, I got a shock. The books with sound science had terrible writing; the well-written books were full of scientific schlock. I realized that if I wanted sci-fi that was both technically astute and rewarding to read, I’d have to write it myself. And so I did.


I wrote...

Sun's Strong Immortality

By William Illsey Atkinson,

Book cover of Sun's Strong Immortality

What is my book about?

A tiny faction of humans hidden in distant space has achieved the ultimate technology: Immortality without decay. But when the centuries-old First of this splinter group do not share power, what happens to the young? And what happens to the New Earth when a virulent Old Earth learns of its existence and starts to track it down? In this new series I look at the extremes of human mind, heart, and invention in clear and riveting prose. Here is great hard-science fiction -- literate, exciting, technically rigorous, and unputdownable.

Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet

By James P. Delgado,

Book cover of Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada

What could be cooler than underwater archaeology? This book tells the incredible story of how Mongol emperor Kublai Khan attempted to conquer Japan, not once, but twice in the late twelfth century. Both invasions were unsuccessful, and Kublai’s second fleet was sunk by a “divine wind” or kamikaze in the waters off Kyushu island in western Japan—only to be rediscovered in modern times by underwater archaeologists.


Who am I?

I grew up on the West Coast of the US and became fascinated with Japanese culture after I enrolled in a Japanese language course in college. I changed my major from geology to Asian Studies and went on to get a doctorate in Japanese history from Stanford. The first place I lived in Japan was on the western island of Kyushu, historically Japan’s front door to the outside world. This experience led to a lifelong interest in early Japanese foreign relations. Fun fact: despite being from the US I have now lived most of my life in Japan teaching history at a Japanese university.


I wrote...

Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300

By Bruce L. Batten,

Book cover of Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300

What is my book about?

Gateway to Japan spotlights four categories of cross-cultural interaction—war, diplomacy, piracy, and trade—over a period of eight hundred years to gain insight into several larger questions about Japan and its place in the world: How and why did Hakata come to serve as the country’s “front door”? How did geography influence the development of state and society in the Japanese archipelago? Has Japan been historically open or closed to outside influence? Why are the Japanese so profoundly ambivalent about other places and people? Enriched by fascinating historical vignettes and dozens of maps and photographs, this engagingly written volume explores issues not only important for Japan’s early history but also highly pertinent to Japan’s role in the world today.

The Rules of the Game

By Andrew Gordon,

Book cover of The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command

Gordon brings a wealth of higher education in Britain as well as service in the Royal Navy to this book, published by the prestigious Naval Institute Press (Annapolis MD) and winner of the coveted Westminster Medal for Military Literature. He focuses on the command and control difficulties that nearly turned victory to defeat for the Royal Navy at Jutland, but buttresses his battle arguments with a lengthy analytic digression – two-fifths of the book – on the traditions and practices of the British navy dating back centuries. This is the beauty of the book, in fact, a discussion so pertinent to military organizations hoping not to rest on past laurels that it is widely read by military planners in Washington D.C. today.   


Who am I?

I retired from Drexel University in 2015 after thirty-six years as a professor of German and European History of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My sub-specialty in the History of Technology carried over into publications that over the years focused increasingly on the German army and navy.


I wrote...

Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

By Eric Dorn Brose,

Book cover of Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

What is my book about?

World War One witnessed the largest engagement between capital ships (i.e. battleships, battlecruisers, and heavy cruisers) in modern times, seventy-two altogether at 1916’s Battle of Jutland fought by antagonists Great Britain and Imperial Germany. Even more “battle wagons” clashed there than in World War Two showdowns at sea like 1944’s Leyte Gulf. Accordingly, hundreds of books have been written about Jutland, including a spate of new works as the centennial approached in 2016. I thought it was necessary to write yet another book that synthesized this vast literature and rendered judgments where historians still disagreed. I also paid special attention to circumstances on both the British and German sides that affected the outcome of the battle – the analysis had to be comparative, not narrowly nationalist. This costly battle, a very expensive British victory, contributed mightily to the allied defeat of Germany.  

The King's Coat

By Dewey Lambdin,

Book cover of The King's Coat

This is a novel of historical fiction set in the time of the French revolution. The series is named after the main character, Alan Lewrie. This novel introduces you to this rapscallion of a character, someone who is a spoiled, and indolent 16-year-old young man. Against his will he will find his place in the world and it will be in the very last place he would have imagined, commanding a ship of the Royal Navy. The novels follow his travels and adventures as he rises through the ranks, and it was incredibly fun to watch the young man evolve and grow into the man he becomes.


Who am I?

I first found fantasy literature about the same time as I got into tabletop gaming, for me this was AD&D. Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Lieber, and Roger Zelazny were just a few of the authors that showed me what was possible. Writing my first novel cemented my understanding that I wanted to create the kinds of worlds that readers would want to experience. The kinds of worlds that would let them get away from their lives, if only for a few hours, where they could live a life of adventure and discovery. Just like the novels I recommended here did for me. 


I wrote...

The 7th Pre-Light

By Brett Mumford,

Book cover of The 7th Pre-Light

What is my book about?

My novel is a contemporary science fiction that revolves around a murder mystery and first contact. The story all takes place in an alien culture, and the main characters are a security technician tasked with finding the murderer and a researcher with the responsibility of analyzing the newest discovered race, humanity.

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