The best books about the navy

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

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The Two-Ocean War

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Book cover of The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War

This book was published in 1963 on the heels of the fifteen-volume set by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison. I served in the U.S. Navy, Pacific theater of war, and found this supplemental work by Morison to complement particular portions of his fifteen-volume series.


Who am I?

William L. McGee is an award-winning World War II Pacific war historian. His writing career has spanned six decades — three of them in marketing and sales in the broadcasting industry. He is a WWII veteran of the Pacific theater and an atomic veteran of Operation Crossroads, the postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946.


I wrote...

The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

By William L. McGee,

Book cover of The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

What is my book about?

Under one cover, William L. McGee provides a definitive account of all the Solomons campaigns — Southern, Central, and Northern. Winner of the Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award for History. The Solomons Campaigns, 1942–1943 is the second of three volumes in McGee’s acclaimed series, Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII. “The series will form a definitive account of naval, sea, and land operations in the South Pacific.” – Library Journal

The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II

By Robert J. Cressman,

Book cover of The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II

Published in 2000, this reference book makes previous chronologies of the Navy at war out-of-date. My co-author and wife, Sandra McGee, uses this chronology to create social media posts, such as “On this day…” or “75 Years Ago Today…”.


Who am I?

William L. McGee is an award-winning World War II Pacific war historian. His writing career has spanned six decades — three of them in marketing and sales in the broadcasting industry. He is a WWII veteran of the Pacific theater and an atomic veteran of Operation Crossroads, the postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946.


I wrote...

The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

By William L. McGee,

Book cover of The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point

What is my book about?

Under one cover, William L. McGee provides a definitive account of all the Solomons campaigns — Southern, Central, and Northern. Winner of the Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Award for History. The Solomons Campaigns, 1942–1943 is the second of three volumes in McGee’s acclaimed series, Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII. “The series will form a definitive account of naval, sea, and land operations in the South Pacific.” – Library Journal

The First Team

By John B. Lundstrom,

Book cover of The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

First published over thirty-five years ago, The First Team remains the definitive account of the naval air war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Lundstrom, examined almost every relevant record in the National Archives and Naval Historical Center, arranged for the translation of  Japanese materials, and corresponded with, or interviewed dozens of naval aviation veterans, including the legendary John S. Thach and E. Scott McCluskey.  The book includes seven appendices that provide detailed information on subjects ranging from naval flight training to “Fundamentals of Aerial Gunnery” to a detailed list of the makeup of every fighter squadron embarked on the five U.S. carriers in the Pacific from December 1941 to March 1942. 

Unusual for such a detailed work, it also provides the reader with a genuine feel for the desperate and contingent nature of the Pacific war from Pearl Harbor to Midway when the U.S. Navy’s “First Team”…


Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   


I wrote...

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

By Ronald Spector,

Book cover of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

What is my book about?

On the day of Japan’s surrender, General Douglas MacArthur declared in a radio address “ today freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the March.” The question, after Japan’s “Greater East Asia“ crashed in flames was, whose freedom? And, the freedom to do what In the burnt-out ruins of the old empires of the British, the Dutch, the French, and the Japanese?

Everything was up for grabs and new wars soon broke out all through the territories just “liberated” from the Axis. In Indochina and Indonesia Nationalists fought bloody battles against the British Commonwealth forces that had supposedly come to “liberate” them. In China there were two claimants for power,  Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Zedung; in two Korea two as well, Kim Il Sung and Syngmun Rhee. The thousands of Japanese soldiers still in Asia fought for all sides. Indeed, it might appear to some observers that World War II never ended, everybody just switched sides. In the Ruins of Empire was a New York Times Book Review “Editor”s Choice” book.

Crossing the Line

By Alvin Kernan,

Book cover of Crossing the Line: A Bluejacket's Odyssey in World War II

Though less well known than Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed or Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary, this is one of the finest memoirs of World War II and one of the few by an enlisted sailor. At his death at 94, Alvin Kernan was a recognized expert on Shakespeare with long years on the faculties of Yale and Princeton but in 1940 he was a seventeen-year-old boy from the mountains of Wyoming who enlisted in the Navy because he was unable to meet a small cash fee connected to his college scholarship. 

Kernan was aboard the carrier Hornet when it carried Doolittle's Raiders to Tokyo,  during tthe Battle of Midway and when it was lost during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942. He served aboard two other aircraft carriers and advanced from ordnance-man to aerial gunner and chief petty officer. His descriptions of the dramatic…


Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   


I wrote...

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

By Ronald Spector,

Book cover of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

What is my book about?

On the day of Japan’s surrender, General Douglas MacArthur declared in a radio address “ today freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the March.” The question, after Japan’s “Greater East Asia“ crashed in flames was, whose freedom? And, the freedom to do what In the burnt-out ruins of the old empires of the British, the Dutch, the French, and the Japanese?

Everything was up for grabs and new wars soon broke out all through the territories just “liberated” from the Axis. In Indochina and Indonesia Nationalists fought bloody battles against the British Commonwealth forces that had supposedly come to “liberate” them. In China there were two claimants for power,  Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Zedung; in two Korea two as well, Kim Il Sung and Syngmun Rhee. The thousands of Japanese soldiers still in Asia fought for all sides. Indeed, it might appear to some observers that World War II never ended, everybody just switched sides. In the Ruins of Empire was a New York Times Book Review “Editor”s Choice” book.

Implacable Foes

By Marc Gallicchio, Waldo Heinrichs,

Book cover of Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

This is simply one of the finest books to be written on the final critical two years of the Pacific War, with extensive detail on the Japanese side of the conflict and plenty of new insights into the better-known American story. It is a big book, but this was a large conflict both in terms of space, time, and the resources deployed. It was also chiefly a story of amphibious naval warfare, an original and significant development in modern warfare that too often gets understated. By the end of the conflict, the American armed forces had created the shape that they were to employ for the next half-century in projecting power overseas.


Who am I?

I am a professional historian who has been writing books for more than forty years. Most of the books have been about war and dictatorship in the first half of the twentieth century. My last book, The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, developed my long interest in air war history, which goes back to my first major book written in 1980 on air warfare in World War II.


I wrote...

Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945

By Richard Overy,

Book cover of Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945

What is my book about?

Instead of focusing on the war as a result of the failures of Versailles and the great power contest with Hitler’s Germany, the book argues that the crises of the 1930s and the war were a consequence of the spread of European empire in the last part of the nineteeth century. Japan, beginning in 1931 in Manchuria, Italy in 1935 with Ethiopia and Germany in 1938-9 with Czechoslovakia and Poland, were all trying to build up territorial empires based on race that imitated the empire-building of Britain, France and the other imperial powers. The search for territory to rule imperially sparked the broader crisis that led to war, while the war itself was about bringing Axis imperialism to an end.

After 1945 the other territorial empires rapidly collapsed, bringing to an end 500 years of European expansion and creating a new world of nation states. This is a global story about a war that created our current global order.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

By James D. Hornfischer,

Book cover of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour

The Battle of Samar Island, which is the subject of this book, is one of the most extraordinary naval battles in all human history. In October 1944 a massive Japanese battle fleet encountered a small US Navy task force just east of the Philippines. Woefully outnumbered and outgunned, the diminutive American escort vessels protecting a handful of light carriers charged headlong at their foes – 1,500-ton destroyers taking on 60,000-ton battleships – and forced the Japanese into a disorganized retreat.  The courage, determination, and self-sacrifice of the crews of the destroyers and destroyer escorts – the “Tin Can Sailors” of the title – would be unbelievable if they weren’t so well-documented.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing on maritime, naval, and military subjects for nearly a quarter-century, beginning with my first published work, “Unsinkable – The Full Story of RMS Titanic” in 1998. My fascination with ships and the sea originated with my father, who served in the US Merchant Marine in the Second World War. His experiences in the North Atlantic in 1943-44 gave me to understand that no matter how large and powerful – or small and fragile – a ship may be, it is her crewmen who brings her life, and sometimes go to their deaths with her. It’s their stories that matter most when recounting the naval battles of any war, and these five books are among the best at presenting them.


I wrote...

Pearl: December 7, 1941

By Daniel Allen Butler,

Book cover of Pearl: December 7, 1941

What is my book about?

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the "hinge of Fate" turned and the course of history was utterly changed. How – and why – did the Empire of Japan and the United States of America collide in blood and flames that Sunday morning when the sun rose and the bombs fell?

Pearl: December 7, 1941 recounts how America and Japan let peace slip away, so that on that "day which will live in infamy," more than 350 warplanes of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a stunning attack on the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet no one in America thought was possible. Ultimately, it's a story of emperors and presidents, diplomats and politicians, admirals and generals – and the ordinary sailors, soldiers, and airmen who were caught up in the fire and fury of a war they never knew was coming.

Shattered Sword

By Jonathan Parshall, Anthony Tully,

Book cover of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

Parshall and Tully have produced a reevaluation of the Battle of Midway which makes exhaustive and critical use of Japanese sources. To this point, the sole Japanese source was Fuchida Mitsuo’s Midway, which Shattered Sword shows was “irretrievably flawed.” In contrast to previous histories of Midway, Shattered Sword pays careful attention to the critical elements of naval warfare: ship design, training and tactics, decision-making. It also debunks eight further elements of “common knowledge” concerning Japanese planning and conduct of the battle. The result is a fundamentally new and detailed analysis of Midway.


Who am I?

I have always been interested in military history and wanted to become a professional soldier. I benefitted especially from three years as the American liaison officer on the staff of the German 12th Panzer Division. German Army organization, planning and decision-making, troop leadership, and training are outstanding and made a deep impression on me. I received a superb education as a historian at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, which required history to be written from original source documents, not secondary sources uncritically accepted. My standards emphasize attention to detail in military planning and operations, and archival work in English, German, and French. As do the authors that I have selected.


I wrote...

The Real German War Plan, 1904-14

By Terence Zuber,

Book cover of The Real German War Plan, 1904-14

What is my book about?

There never was a “Schlieffen Plan.” This assertion is based on masses of previously unused German war games and archival war planning documents. The “Schlieffen Plan” required 96 divisions in a one-front war against France, when Germany never had more than 72 divisions in a two-front war against France and Russia. Real war plans do not require 24 “ghost divisions.” Contrary to “common knowledge,” Schlieffen did not have an aggressive war plan, and he never intended to attack Belgium or France. The Russians and French executed a simultaneous attack on Germany: all the initial battles took place in East Prussia and German Alsace. Schlieffen saw this coming, and planned to counter-attack on German territory. The younger Moltke never actually had a plan, but was improvising. 

The Battle of Midway

By Craig L. Symonds,

Book cover of The Battle of Midway

Perhaps the best book on the epic World War II Battle of Midway, Craig Symonds brings together all the pieces that became the turning point in the Pacific War. Looking at the leadup to the battle from both the Japanese and American perspectives, Symonds shows how the Japanese, in their typical style, created a battle plan that was overly complicated for its objective. Symonds explains how American Joe Rochefort and his eclectic band (he even had commissioned naval musicians) worked to bend (but not entirely break) the Japanese naval code. This allowed the Allies to surmise Midway as the Japanese target and set in place their own battle plan. Symonds clearly explains how the codebreaking efforts played a huge role in this battle of battles.


Who am I?

I have had the opportunity to write (I have written over 30 college textbooks on technology, most of them in the area of cybersecurity), study (my PhD dissertation was on cybersecurity), teach (I have taught at colleges and universities my entire career about technology, networking, and cybersecurity), and research (I have published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles) on the topic of cybersecurity. But I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the average computer user who struggles with how to protect their technology devices. This has helped drive my passion to focus on practical cybersecurity for everyone.


I wrote...

Security Awareness: Applying Practical Security in Your World

By Mark Ciampa,

Book cover of Security Awareness: Applying Practical Security in Your World

What is my book about?

Cybersecurity attacks are a major worry for technology users today. Yet cybersecurity defenses are a major puzzle for technology users today. What steps should you take to protect your technology? Which steps are the most important? How do you install software patches? Should you have antivirus software on your mobile device? What does a firewall do? How can you test your computer to know that it is not vulnerable? Knowing how to make and then keep technology devices secure can be a daunting task. This book provides you with the knowledge and tools you need to make your computer and related technology equipment—tablets, laptops, smartphones, and wireless networks—secure. The revised 6th edition will be available Fall 2022.

Neptune’s Inferno

By James D. Hornfischer,

Book cover of Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

All of Hornfischer’s histories deserve to be on this list, but Neptune’s Inferno is my personal favorite. Guadalcanal is justifiably thought of as the heroic struggle of Marines to take and hold the island, but they could not have done so without the sacrifices of thousands of sailors in the surrounding waters. Hornfischer’s smooth style guides one through multiple battles over a four-month campaign, including two of the darkest moments in U.S. naval history: the fiery nighttime battle of Savo Island that initially saved the beachhead and the opening round of the climatic battles of mid-November 1942 that numbered two admirals among the American dead.


Who am I?

Walter R. Borneman is an American military and political historian. He won the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize in Naval Literature for The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King, a national bestseller. Borneman's other titles include Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona; MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific; and 1812: The War That Forged a Nation.


I wrote...

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

By Walter R. Borneman,

Book cover of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea

What is my book about?

Learn how history's only five-star admirals triumphed in World War II and made the United States the world's dominant sea power. Only four men in American history have been promoted to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet: William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey. These four men were the best and the brightest the navy produced, and together they led the U.S. Navy to victory in World War II, establishing the United States as the world's greatest fleet.

Sea of Thunder

By Evan Thomas,

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

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.


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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