17 books directly related to navy 📚

All 17 navy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

Why this book?

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.


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

Why this book?

Published in 2000, this reference book makes previous chronologies of the Navy at war out-of-date.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…”.


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

By John B. Lundstrom,

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

Why this book?

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” of naval aviators faced a numerically superior enemy equipped with better planes and nevertheless prevailed. 


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

By Alvin Kernan,

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

Why this book?

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 events he experienced are decidedly undramatic but insightful, vivid, and elegantly written.


In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

By Doug Stanton,

Book cover of In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

Why this book?

When the USS Indianapolis was sunk in WWII by a Japanese submarine the survivors expected that because they were overdue, U.S. search planes would find them within a day. The survivors, however, spent days in shark-infested waters in the Pacific under the searing sun by day and strength-sapping cold at night. Stanton brings the story to life by focusing on four survivors, including the ship’s Doctor and the ship’s Captain McVey. We feel their will to live and the pain they must endure.  

McVey was later court-martialed because he failed to have the ship zig-zag at night, but the author shows how the Navy was unjust as it used him as the scapegoat for a series of blunders no fault of the Captain.  I love a book that exposes a cover-up and Stanton delivers.


Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

By Waldo Heinrichs, Marc Gallicchio,

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

Why this book?

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.


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

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

Why this book?

With the main body of the Imperial Japanese Navy bearing down on them, four ships—three destroyers Heermann, Hoel, Johnstonand one destroyer escortSamuel B. Roberts—peel off. The bold, aggressive actions of their captains caused Japanese Admiral Kurita to order his battleships, heavy and light cruisers to abandon their attack on the U.S. invasion fleet off the Philippine island of Leyte. In the annals of modern naval warfare, this is the classic David versus Goliath action. 

Other than those who study U.S. Naval history and the war in the Pacific know about this battle in detail. The focus has always been on Halsey’s chase of the Northern Force consisting of Japanese carriers which was a decoy and Halsey’s decision to take his battleships with his carriers. Even with the actions of the U.S. destroyers, it was a “near thing.” Had Admiral Kurita been more aggressive, he would have realized that his ships could have destroyed the U.S. invasion fleet off Leyte and inflicted a crippling loss. A Japanese victory would have had serious strategic repercussions as well as cost many senior officers their careers.


Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway

By Jonathan Parshall, Anthony Tully,

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

Why this book?

Shattered Sword changed the way historians think about the Battle of Midway. While the results will never change, Parshall and Tully provide insight and perspectives that have never before been explored. And in doing so, they help clear up many of the inconsistencies in both Japanese and American books on the battle. 

This is the first history of the Battle of Midway in which the authors looked at the ships operating logs and compared them to events. What you learn is that the U.S. Navy’s and the Imperial Japanese Navy’s operating doctrines were very different. The Japanese did not improve their damage control practices after the Battle of the Coral Sea, and their indecision at Midway was caused by one part culture, one part lack of intelligence, one part arrogance and one part carrier launch and recovery doctrine and failure to follow proper ordnance handling procedures. The result was a disaster.


The Battle of Midway

By Craig L. Symonds,

Book cover of The Battle of Midway

Why this book?

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.


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

By James D. Hornfischer,

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

Why this book?

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.


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

By Evan Thomas,

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

Why 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.


Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor

By Walter Lord,

Book cover of Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor

Why this book?

I got this book as a teenager. As a WWII history buff, I read it cover to cover so many times that the cover wore off. This is a complete account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. From the workers dipping soup with their oily hands to eat on breaks while trying to free men from the capsized USS Oklahoma to the use of coke bottles to store donor blood, it is a gritty account of the bravery of the U.S. forces caught by surprise by the attack. While newer books on Pearl Harbor have been published, this one is still my favorite.


Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945

By Ian W. Toll,

Book cover of Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945

Why this book?

The third and final book of the epic Pacific War Trilogy, Twilight of the Gods is the story of the crushing of the once venerable Japanese Empire. At just under 800 pages the book describes in the great detail the coming apocalypse for the Japanese war machine. While 1943 was pivotal with the war in the Pacific having essentially been won by the Allies, it was 1944 and 1945 where the real murder of empire happened. In these two years of horrendous fighting, hundreds of thousands died for what was clearly a lost cause. The Japanese tried one last time at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but were massacred by the incredible might of the U.S. Navy and combined forces. Toll brings the reader into the little details of the war, and how they affected everything.


The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

Why 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.


The Civil War at Sea

By Craig L. Symonds,

Book cover of The Civil War at Sea

Why this book?

A lucid overview and fresh perspective will enlighten even a knowledgeable enthusiast of the topic while providing to new readers a solid grounding before engaging in more detailed studies. This short history by a foremost naval historian (170 pages plus ample notes and a bibliographical essay) fulfills both objectives. The chapters are thematic beginning with a review of the technological revolution in ships and guns, and then covering the distinct naval theaters from the encircling blockade, to the unique river war, major coastal campaigns, and worldwide commerce warfare. They contain insightful assessments of principal personalities including the secretaries of the navies and commanders on both sides. The flyleaf correctly describes the book as “an authoritative operational history of Civil War navies that is both readable and concise.”


Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway

By Elliot Carlson,

Book cover of Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway

Why this book?

The first biography of Captain Joseph Rochefort, who led “Station Hypo”, the Navy’s code-breaking unit in Hawaii. Tragically, those running the U.S. cryptanalysis effort in Washington had decided to focus on breaking Japan’s diplomatic code. Only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were Rochefort and his team permitted to throw all their efforts at breaking Japanese naval codes. Their work led to America’s resounding success at Midway, only months after the disaster at Pearl. Carlson does an admirable job of bringing to life one of the forgotten men of the war.


Shrouded Loyalties

By Reese Hogan,

Book cover of Shrouded Loyalties

Why this book?

This lesser-known gem was my favorite book of 2019. You take a World War II-style submarine war but throw in horrifying new supernatural powers, and then pitch it against Cthulu-style interdimensional monsters and you start to have an idea of the gloriously-insane trajectory of this book. That may sound over-the-top at a glance, but I promise this is a grounded read that’s flush with complex interweaving relationships, and an unrelenting pace that constantly throws new, bigger dangers at the characters before they’ve had a chance to catch their breath. This book is far better than it has any right to be.