Book Review – ‘The US Navy: A concise history’ by Johan Francke

By Johan Francke, published February 2021


In this concise history, Craig L. Symonds describes, among other issues, the role played by political decisions and political debate in the formation of the US Navy and, similarly, the influence of technological innovation. For the supporters of maritime policy, the importance of the navy was a matter of projecting state power and self-confidence. Others mainly saw the navy as an arm of defense that swallowed up lots of money and questioned whether the navy should play an international role: not only was this unnecessary but also dangerous for the US. In this political battleground, according to the author, it was only after the Second World War that the former ideology triumphed over the latter.

Symonds is emeritus professor of the US Naval Academy and author of a dozen books on the US Navy including The Battle of MidwayThe Civil War at Sea and the highly praised Decision at Sea. One quickly sees the author’s easy writing style, the omission of detail and superfluous issues in this concise naval treatise in which the foreword is just one and a half pages. Ten short chapters follow, dealing with the American Revolution (1775– 83); the emergence of the US Navy (1783–1809); the evolution of the permanent navy and the War of 1812; the navy as a police force against pirates, the slave trade, and ‘Manifest Destiny’ (1820–50); the transition from wood and sail to steam and iron, and the navy during the Civil War (1850–65); the ‘new navy’ (1865–1900); the navy during the First World War and the period 1900–39; the ‘two-oceans navy’ and the Second World War (1939–45); the confrontation with the USSR during the Cold War (1945–79) and the US Navy in the twenty-first century. Several charts have been added alongside discussion of important battles as well as photos and other illustrations. Towards the back there is a list of reference works for each chapter, and an additional ‘further reading’ list, also by chapter.

As a first introduction to the subject, this book is an excellent guide.

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Filed under: WW1 | Interwar | WW2 | American Revolution | Post WW2 | American Civil War | Eighteenth Century | Nineteenth Century | Other (Nineteenth C) | Other (Eighteenth C) | Twentieth Century
Subjects include: Navies

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