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Book Review, NRJ 59.4

November 15, 2014 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Naval Leadership and Management 1650-1950: Essays in Honour of Michael Duffy

Edited by Helen Doe and Richard Harding Woodbridge

Until recently, studies of naval leadership and management have focused on the contributions of strident individuals, such as Nelson and Drake, but studies of individuals and sweeping war narratives offer a limited view of “…how naval leadership worked in the context of a large, complex, globally capable institution,” like the Royal Navy. Helen Doe and Richard Harding’s Naval Leadership and Management, 1650- 1950 is an excellent overview of the points of entry scholars may take in order to develop a wider view of the evolution of leadership and management in the Royal Navy in the 300 years leading up to World War II. The book is a collection of papers presented at a conference held in honor of Michael Duffy, a scholar who has contributed much to developing this wider view of British naval leadership.

The papers included in this anthology explore various aspects of four main themes. The first section deals with the place of the hero in the navy. The main assertion of this section is that the Royal Navy was not effective simply because of one or two heroic individuals. Instead, the navy’s efficient organization, paired with strong leaders who were able to deal not only with battle strategy, but with mundane logistical matters, were the lifeblood of an effective navy. The second section explores organizational friction in command matters, such as the confusion over the chain of command with Marine officers between 1755 and 1797. The third section is concerned with the role of management capability in the exercise of naval power. One example of this is the licensing and incentivisation of privateering vessels between 1702 and 1815. The final section deals with the evolution of management and training in the Royal Navy, especially for officers.

Papers in each of these four strains offer analysis on a variety of topics, mining source material from the British National Maritime Museum, British National Archives, the British Library, and a variety of other naval document collections. Despite the variety of topics presented in the papers, Richard Harding ably presents the overarching themes and intent of the work in the introduction. This helps to tie all the contributions together and helps the reader discern the common thread that runs through each.

Ample footnotes throughout offer clarification and expansion of ideas, and identify sources for further research.

There are a few small aspects of this work that are unfortunate. Overall, the editing of the work is weak and grammatical and style errors are common throughout. Perhaps the most disappointing facet of this work is that the subjects discussed focus heavily on the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, leaving the twentieth century somewhat neglected. It would have been nice to see more works that focus on the years around the two World Wars, as this was a transitional time in which the Royal Navy had to overhaul its leadership and management approaches. That said, however, Naval Leadership and Management is an excellent starting point for expanding understandings of leadership and organization in the Royal Navy, and offers an exciting glimpse of what is to come.

  •  Suffolk: The Boydell Press
  • 2012 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 206 pages
  • Tables, notes, bibliography, index. $99.00

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Croatt, East Carolina University

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