Book Review -‘Progressives in Navy Blue: Maritime strategy, American empire and the transformation of US naval identity 1873–1998’ by Eric Grove

By Eric Grove, published March 2021


During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the United States navy was transformed. The ‘old navy’ of wooden cruisers devoted to constabulary duties and monitors to be mobilized for coast defence was transformed into a steel navy primarily organized for war. Its capabilities were demonstrated against Spain in 1898. This has traditionally been seen as the building of a navy to achieve imperial and industrial objectives but this view is convincingly questioned by Scott Mobley’s new study.

He argues that the period saw a change from an imperial, constabulary orientation, making the world safe for a the American merchant fleet, to a warfighting fleet primarily devoted to national defence in a changing, globalized world of potential rival powers. This was part of a pioneering exercise in the ideology of US ‘progressivism’ that took hold a little later in civilian social and economic urban planning bureaus early in the twentieth century.

The only drawback with the book is a lack of a detailed grasp of warship history. The main thrust of the book, however is intellectual, cultural and institutional and it is hard to criticize Mobley here.

The book is fluently and clearly written, although a little repetitive at times. Its thesis is well and convincingly supported by copious endnotes, that take up over 90 pages. Progressives in Navy Blue is a landmark work that augers well for the Naval Institute’s Press new series, ‘Studies in Naval History and Sea Power.’ It is very reasonably priced and deserves the widest readership …

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Filed under: Atlantic | WW1 | Interwar | WW2 | Other (Twentieth C) | Nineteenth Century | Other (Nineteenth C) | Pacific
Subjects include: Navies | Shipbuilding & Design | Strategy & Diplomacy

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