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  • November 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    U.S. Navy Auxiliary Vessels: A History and Directory from World War I to Today

    Ken W. Sayers

    Military men often say. “Amateurs talk tactics. Professionals talk logistics.” What is true for the army and air force goes double for the navy. You cannot fight if you cannot get there. Since steam replaced sail you cannot get there unless you have fuel. Even if you have fuel, you cannot win without the food, supplies, and ammunition to fight.

    U. S. Navy Auxiliary Vessels: A History and Directory from World War I to the Present, by Ken W. Sayers, brings much needed attention to one of the most important, yet often overlooked part of the United States Navy: its fleet logistics chain. The book provides a ready reference to the ships that have made up this force for over 100 years.

    Sayers divides his book into three parts. Part I covers Combat Logistics and Fleet Support Ships.  Combat logistics ships have the capability of providing underway replenishment to fleet units. Fleet support ships operate on open ocean to support combatant forces. Part II covers Support Ships, vessels designed to provide general support to combatant forces or shore bases. Part III is a directory of inactive United States Navy auxiliary ships.

    Within each section, ships are sorted by type, alphabetically by United States Navy code (AKA, AO, etc.) A brief explanation of the purpose of that type of auxiliary is provided, followed by a history of the class: when it was first used, and the subsequent use and eventual abandonment of the type (if applicable). This is followed by a roster of all ships of that type used by the Navy, selected specifications of the important classes of these ships, and histories of the significant ships in the type discussed. Service dates of the ships not given individual histories are listed in the notes section at the end of each section.

    One interesting result of this sorting is the most modern types of auxiliaries tend to be listed first, as today’s navy leans more heavily on combat logistics and fleet support ships than on support ships not designed for open ocean work. Another interesting observation is the increasing trend towards multi-mission combat logistics ships in the modern navy. The fleet tanker and underway replenishment ship of World War II have merged into a single ship capable of delivering “beans, bullets, and black oil.”

    While not a comprehensive history of every auxiliary (which would likely require a library needing a ship to carry) the selected history approach used by Sayers allows U. S. Navy Auxiliary Vessels to provide a comprehensive overview of 103 years’ worth of United States Navy auxiliary ships. The histories are brief, but informative, and the text is not dry. It is engaging and readable. He even lists Constitution in the Support Ships section, making a credible defense of that placement.

    In all, U. S. Navy Auxiliary Vessels is a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in the modern navy, from World War I on, especially readers seeking information on post-World War II auxiliary ships. It delivers detailed information in a concentrated package.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, vii + 353 pages
    • Photographs, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00
    • ISBN: 9781476672564

    Reviewed by Mark Lardas, League City, Texas

  • November 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    “Our Little Monitor” The Greatest Invention of the Civil War

    Anna Gibson Holloway & Jonathan W. White

    Few Civil War ships have been as written about as USS Monitor. Many books and articles about the first-of-its-kind warship and the Battle of Hampton Roads, which served as its proving ground have been published. This new work by Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White is positioned to become the definitive work about Monitor. This should come as no surprise, as there may be no one in the field as knowledgeable about this ship as Dr. Holloway. As curator of the USS Monitor Center at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, she became immersed in the history, archaeology, and lore of one of America’s most famous warships, first turning that knowledge into a doctoral dissertation, and then this book, which deserves a place on the shelf of everyone with an interest in the American Civil War. Here, the story of Monitor is told with great care and detail, without becoming mired in minutiae.

    The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “The Monitor in History and Memory” details the history of Monitor from conception to demise to ultimate discovery and recovery. The opening chapter begins the story by discussing the standing of both the Union and Confederate navies at the outbreak of war and the conversion of USS Merrimack to CSS Virginia by the Confederates. From this starting point, the authors examine the politics of the Union Navy as its officers and other government officials debated building armored warships, until finally contracts were let for building Monitor and others. Chapters 3 and 4 cover the building of Monitor and the Battle of Hampton Roads.

    Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are quite possibly the most interesting in the book. Chapter 5 looks at Monitor in popular culture, beginning immediately following the battle. Songs and poems were written about the ship, many consumer items were produced using images of the ship and the battle, and national interest soared. Images of the ship continued to be used in advertising well into the twentieth century. Chapter 6 explores the thoughts of people across the spectrum immediately following the battle. While many in the country were ecstatic about this new era of naval history, the officers and sailors often viewed things differently. Though widely touted as heroes, many of the men on board did not agree. Some felt as though they had not even been in a battle, one officer stating, “we haven’t done much fighting, merely drilling the men at the guns a little.” Another wrote to his wife, “there isn’t even danger enough to give us any glory.” In 1866, Herman Melville wrote in a poem about the ship, “War shall yet be, but warriors/Are now but operatives.” These sentiments ring true today, as modern warfare has brought us to the point where drones can do much of the fighting and killing. Chapter 7 tells the story of the last two months of Monitor’s life, ending in the ship’s loss off Cape Hatteras, the details of which are still chilling today.

    The final chapter of the first part of the book conveys a very detailed account of the search for and discovery of the wreck, as well as the recovery of the engines and turret. The authors also discuss the attempt to identify the remains of two sailors found in the turret, and their eventual interment at Arlington National Cemetery, which provides a fitting ending to the story.

    The second part of the book is a collection of original documents related to the Monitor, each with added context. Some are letters written about the ship or life on board; others are articles from a variety of newspapers nationwide. There are stunning, full color photographs of designs for other types of ironclads, improvements to Monitor, and other various and sundry inventions that were sent to President Lincoln. This portion of the book is not only interesting to read, but also a good reference.

    The Kent State University Press did a marvelous job producing this book. The pages are glossy like a textbook, but of heavier stock. The full color illustrations throughout bring the book to life. Aside from the Mariner’s Museum collections, material from the Library of Congress, National Archives, and NOAA are used extensively. The quality of this volume is impressive. The research is excellent, the bibliography is solid, and the writing is fluid. Highly recommended!

    •  Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2018
    • 7-1/4” x 10-1/2”, hardcover, xix +283 pages
    • Illustrations, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9781606353141

    Reviewed by Andrew Duppstadt, North Carolina Division of State Historic Sites

  • November 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding from Antiquity to Modern Times

    Joachim Müllerschön

    Every once in a while a new book is published that defies simple classification but, simultaneously, turns out to contain so much useful and intriguing information that it cannot be ignored. The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding is just such a work. Its title would classify it instantaneously as esoterica, of interest only to a minute audience of obsessive researchers, but the reality of this book is very different.

    One central component of Müllerschön’s work is a breathtakingly thorough chronological analysis of the pigments and binders used through history to manufacture blue paints. This alone makes The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding essential reading for professionals working in most aspects of historic restoration, renovation, or reconstruction, well beyond the confines of maritime contexts. Within the narrower field of ship models, reference to this analysis will be essential for restorers of historic models and those wishing to create accurate new models. His chronology provides all the data necessary to ensure that the specific pigments and binders are appropriate for the period of the model.

    The second main component illustrates the use of this great variety of blue paints. Müllerschön draws on museum and gallery collections for images of models and contemporary artwork that demonstrate the range of usages through time.

    A third possibly quite fortuitous element is the history of ships and boats that Müllerschön’s illustrations create. It is quite possible to read The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding as an outline history of shipbuilding from ancient Egypt to present-day recreations of historic vessels.

    A work like this ultimately stands or falls on the quality of its presentation. Print-on-demand works generally do not have a high reputation but The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding defies this. The quality of image reproduction and typeface presentation is excellent and adds greatly to the work’s utility.

    The Colour Blue in Historic Shipbuilding confounds expectations. Its topic indeed is esoteric but the book’s content and presentation give it a wide-ranging value and importance far beyond the limitations of its title

    •  Norderstedt: BoD -Books on Demand, 2019
    • 7-3/4” x 11”, hardcover, 200 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, references. €76.80
    • ISBN: 9783749419883

    Reviewed by Paul E. Fontenoy, Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • November 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Before the Battlecruiser: The Big Cruiser in the World’s Navies, 1865-1910

    Aidan Dodson

    The historiography of warship technology in the second half of the nineteenth century is dominated by analysis and discussion of developments in battleship design, essentially, the competition between protection and artillery that culminated in the emergence, in the very early 1900s, of the dreadnought type. Battleships also became the defining metric for contemporary determination of relative naval power.

    Aidan Dodson’s Before the Battlecruiser, however, illuminates the development of “big cruisers” during the same period. In general, these vessels, compared with their battleship contemporaries, were faster, not quite as heavily armed, and less well protected. They were constructed to serve as major warships in more distant waters, as commerce raiders, or as fast scouts for the battlefleet. Just as battleship development culminated in the dreadnought type, so these large cruisers evolved into the battlecruisers of the early 1900s. But this story has received very little previous attention. Much more has been written about torpedo boats and destroyers or submarines than on these large cruisers.

    This lack of attention is quite remarkable because the technological developments embodied in these cruisers made them major factors in and drivers of contemporary naval doctrines. Their development and use as powerful, long-ranged raiders underpinned a major thread of naval strategy built around campaigns against commerce rather than decisive encounters between battlefleets. Their construction and deployment as capital ships outside European waters enabled and then consolidated much of Europe’s colonial expansion in the later nineteenth century. Their ultimate emergence and deployment as heavily armed fast elements for battlefleets drove efforts to develop true fast battleships.

    The most remarkable detail that emerges from Before the Battlecruiser is sheer scope of the big cruisers’ operational contributions during this period. Big cruisers, either in their own right or as major components of battlefleets, engaged in almost every significant naval combat, and a host of lesser skirmishes, during the later nineteenth century. Cumulatively, these ships saw appreciably more action than their battleship contemporaries.

    Dodson’s exposition of this story is presented in two sections. A very thorough analysis and description of the origins, development, and operational employment of these bog cruisers fills the first half of the book. This text is supported by a quite excellent selection of photographs, all clearly printed and many rarely published before. The second half is a catalog of the more than two hundred ships of this type that entered naval service. The catalog presents the usual vital statistics one expects, supported by small sketch broadside representations to scale of the ships. A considerable number of these sketches either come from contemporary editions of Brassey’s Naval Annual or Jane’s Fighting Ships or are rendered in the same style.

    Before the Battlecruiser is a major contribution to the literature of naval development in the later nineteenth century. It is a beautifully presented, thoroughly analyzed, and lucidly written presentation of a  long-neglected topic. It needs to find a place in the library of any serious student of warship history of the period.

    •  Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2018
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018
    • 9” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, 304 pages
    • Photographs, diagrams, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $57.95
    • ISBN: 9781473892163

    Reviewed by Christopher Conlan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • August 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War

    Joseph McKenna

    As there are hundreds of books on American Civil War maritime history and the blockade of the South, one has to question what makes McKenna's book stand out among his colleagues’ writings? The author states in his introduction that he hopes to rectify "little mistakes" made in American writings that have been perpetuated due to the lack of British records. Certainly, McKenna has gone to great lengths to provide new information in his endnotes and to document as much source material as possible. To a degree, his notes are more substantial than the body of his text. For example, and perhaps for the sake of brevity, McKenna tries to oversimplify Lincoln's policies in 1861: "One of the main planks of Lincoln's policy had been the abolition of slavery. For the present, the South needed its slaves." However, according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, in Team of Rivals, in his inaugural address President "Lincoln moved to calm the anxieties of the Southern people…he had ‘no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so.'" While this was disconcerting to many in his abolitionist base, it was not until later that Lincoln publicly provided his policy on ending slavery.

    While the author's endnotes are quite good, his documentation for the volume of data in his introduction and subsequent chapters go unlisted. While most American Civil War historians understand that the blockade covered over "3,500 miles (5,600km) of Confederate Coastline, with 189 harbors, rivers and inlets," there is no endnote to allow the reader the ability to seek out this data and know if it was pulled from Robert Browning, William N. Still, Jr., or another historian that has written on the blockade. One must also understand that while the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion is a great resource, it too, must be put into the same context as newspapers and other letters; it cannot stand alone.

    Throughout his book, McKenna makes use of ship manifests and information on their captains and crews to develop an interesting and broader picture of this international venture. The list of vessels in alphabetical order showing builders and runs gives researchers an excellent primer. While he did use reliable sources from archives to assist him, he also quotes the writings of James Sprunt and lectures from the Ladies Memorial Association (now the United Daughters of the Confederacy) which are deeply immersed in Lost Cause rhetoric. While many scholars today shy away from the post-war hyperbole, McKenna weaves it into his encyclopedic entries to add a dash of excitement.

    McKenna does present new information in a format that is consumable for the average reader. He uses newspapers, archival information, and personal accounts to introduce us to those in Great Britain who built vessels, ran the blockade, and aided the South in the Confederate war effort. For those who have read Clyde Built: Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War and Masters of the Shoals, British Blockade Runners in the American Civil War will be a good addition to their collection.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2019
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, vii + 209 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9781476676791

    Reviewed by Lori Sanderlin, North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

  • August 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea

    John Lehman

    On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, symbolizing the collapse of the Soviet Union and its defeat in the Cold War. Economic exhaustion precipitated by its strenuous efforts to match and surpass the military prowess of the United States abruptly brought the Soviet Union to its knees, ending a forty-year conflict.

    John Lehman’s Oceans Ventured tells the story of one of the most important factors in this victory. The United States Navy expanded and updated its forces, developed cutting edge technological solutions, and demonstrated a consistent ability to project overwhelming power forward into waters the Soviet Union regarded as sacrosanct. In response, the Soviet Navy was compelled to demand an ever-increasing share of the nation’s budget to build up its own strength to repel the intrusions. When combined with parallel accretions to its already huge land and missile forces, these expenditures overwhelmed the Soviet Union’s economic resources and led to its collapse.

    Dr. Lehman’s narrative often reads like a thriller. Because of his background as a frontline naval aviator, he is able to project the tension and excitement of these operations into the waters of the Soviet bastion. Simultaneously, his academic, administrative, and policy background enables him to incorporate the critical political and doctrinal components that underlay the development and execution of the United States Navy’s forward power projection mission. In addition, his personal participation as Secretary of the Navy in the process lends particular strength and authority to the narrative.

    This latter, however, is also a limitation upon Ocean Venture’s ready acceptance as a definitive source. Because of Lehman’s direct involvement in the story, it is both intensely personal and highly political. Lehman can tell an authoritative story but, because much documentation pertinent to the narrative remains classified, he cannot use it to underwrite his thesis and no outsider can access the evidence to validate or discredit him. This cuts to the heart of his proposition that there was a radical change in naval doctrine with the Reagan administration. It may well be true, but the inaccessibility of much of the evidence to support it makes it an assertion rather than a fact.

    Oceans Ventured vividly and powerfully tells the story of the Navy’s indispensable role in winning the Cold War. It has serious limitations, in part from secrecy restrictions, but it also is a superb starting point for further research and discussion on this very important topic.

    • New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxix + 330 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $27.95
    • ISBN: 97803932542549

    Reviewed by Patrick Clark, Northeastern University

  • August 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The World of the Battleship: The Design & Careers of Capital Ships of the World’s Navies 1880-1990

    Edited by Bruce Taylor

    From the outset The World of the Battleship disconcerts, not least because the subtitle on the dustjacket—The Design & Careers of Capital Ships of the World’s Navies 1880-1990—is markedly different from that in the book itself—The Lives and Careers of Twenty-One Capital Ships from the World’s Navies, 1880-1990. The latter, in fact, far more accurately describes this book’s content than the former.

    Almost as disconcerting is the realization that it is almost easier to determine what this book is not than to review what it accomplishes. It is not a technical history of capital ships even though it contains a considerable amount of technical data. It is not an operational history despite each of its essays including appreciable coverage of operations. It does not focus on diplomatic, strategic, or procurement policies but devotes quite some space to these concerns.

    If The World of the Battleship is none of these, what then is it? The shorthand answer is that it is a social history of capital ships that presents the stories of the operators within the context of the technologies, military operations, and national diplomatic, strategic, and procurement objectives pertinent to each of the vessels described in this collection of essays.

    Editor Bruce Taylor’s accomplishment is that he makes what could have been an incoherent collection of disparate stories into a compelling unified presentation of the maritime world of the capital ship. This is even more remarkable when one realizes that the essays present the perspectives of twenty-one different nations and that less than a quarter of the contributors are native English speakers.

    Taylor’s introductory essay immediately sets the tone, bringing to the forefront both the international dimension of the capital ship’s technologies and the societal implications (financial, industrial, diplomatic, operational, and personal) of these vessels. The successive essays, even though all have very different perspective, combine to reinforce this presentation of the social history of battleships.

    One could argue with some of Taylor’s choices. Is Scharnhorst the best platform to tell the Kriegsmarine’s story and one wonders whether Rivadavia might be a more effective representative for Argentina, especially as its rivals Brazil and Chile have dreadnoughts as their storytellers. He also admits the omission of some potential platforms; it is unfortunate that the rare opportunity to tell a part of the Royal Siamese or Royal Portuguese navies’ stories was missed. Nevertheless, The World of the Battleship is a remarkable, innovative, and compelling work whose sum brilliantly succeeds in being greater than its individual parts.

    • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2018
    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018
    • 9-3/4” x 10-1/2”, hardcover, 440 pages
    • Photographs, tables, notes, bibliographies, index. $76.95
    • ISBN: 9781848321786

    Reviewed by Christopher Conlan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • August 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Victory Without Peace: The United States Navy in European Waters, 1919-1924

    William N. Still, Jr.

    Victory Without Peace is the final volume of William N. Still’s groundbreaking study of the United States Navy’s operations in European waters. By 1919, when this book begins, the “war to end all wars” was over, the United States and its allies were the victors, the country was eagerly awaiting the return of its troops, and there were expectations of an economic “peace dividend” not least from the drawing down of the nation’s armed services.

    For the Navy, hopes for a rapid return to the routines of peacetime operations were quickly dashed. Allied leaders were determined to prevent the re-emergence of strong states in what had been the Central Powers (Imperial Germany, Austria Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire). During the conflict and in its aftermath in the peace negotiations, prominent politicians, most notably Woodrow Wilson, deliberately (and, most probably, quite cynically) played the card of national self-determination to break up the states of the old Central Powers, encouraging the creation of a string of nation-states from the separate nationalities of these empires.

    What none of these politicians envisaged were the full ramifications of this ploy. They quickly learned that these various nationalities were not willing to be coerced into forming tidy nation-states that would fulfill the expectations of the Allied powers by containing the rumps of the defeated empires. Instead, national self-determination became the rallying cry for a plethora of ethnic, racial, or cultural groups seeking independence. The consequences were instability, regional conflicts, ethnic cleansings, and genocides.

    Allied leaders needed to bring this situation under control if their grand plan for European peace were to come to fruition. Military operations were necessary. Naval forces were particularly attractive for these missions because it was much easier to disengage them from situations than to extract ground troops. Thus the United States Navy found itself thrust into “operations short of war” in the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Adriatic, and even in the Baltic. The numbers were quite small and most vessels were light craft, such as destroyers, but operations were relentless and potentially dangerous.

    The Navy also took on two other major missions during the period immediately after the war. Much of the organization and administration for shipping home millions of troops fell to it. The massive mining campaigns undertaken mainly in the North Sea, the English Channel, and the mouth of the Adriatic to obstruct the passage of U-boats during wartime now had to be cleared to make these waters safe for merchant shipping. Almost all of this hazardous task was undertaken by the United States and Royal navies, both of which suffered quite noticeable casualties for peacetime in the process.

    Still’s study of this often-overlooked period of United States naval operations is best described as magisterial. It is a comprehensive, deeply researched, brilliantly expounded, and lucidly presented story whose resonance with the Navy’s missions in the early twenty-first century is unmistakable. Victory Without Peace is a fitting conclusion to Still’s trilogy.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018
    • 7-1/2” x 10-1/2”, hardcover, xi + 368 pages
    • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $68.00
    • ISBN: 9781682470145

    Reviewed by Edward Hamilton, University of Chicago

  • May 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The U.S. Navy against the Axis: Surface Combat 1941-1945

    Vincent P. O’Hara

    In The U.S. Navy Against the Axis: Surface Combat, 1941-1945, Vincent O’Harapresents an excellent analysis of the United States Navy’s surface engagements during World War II. He argues that some historians have been too quick to give full credit for the American naval victory in the Pacific to the advent of naval air power and submarine warfare. O’Hara does not deny that those aspects of the naval war were crucial components of the American success, but he vehemently argues that the surface fleet also played a vital role in securing victory. He argues further that it was the Solomons Campaign’s many surface engagements that decided the outcome of the war in the Pacific, allowing the American surface fleet to develop the confidence and tactical understanding necessary to win the war.

    O’Hara provides a brief introduction to the major themes and considerations of surface combat in World War II. For those unfamiliar with the field, this material enables adequate comprehension of the author’s arguments. The bulk of the book is organized into twelve chronological chapters, each comprised primarily of individual battle narratives that chronicle every major American surface engagement of the war. This format allows O’Hara to demonstrate the evolution of surface battle doctrine and technique over the course of the war. The history is based primarily in operational reports and logs, allowing detailed accounts of even minor engagements. When possible, he resolves or addresses contradictions between American and Japanese accounts, often bringing a sense of clarity to the uncertainty faced by participants.

    O’Hara presents readers with undeniable evidence that the air and submarine power of the Japanese and American navies did not render the surface fleet obsolete. In fact, he demonstrates that it was surface vessels that often played decisive roles in key battles, accomplishing objectives that air power could not handle alone. O’Hara does not merely ignore the contributions of carriers and submarines. Rather, he demonstrates that carriers needed fire support from battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on several occasions and shows that it was in times of collaboration between surface vessels and carriers that some of the most impressive victories were accomplished.

    O’Hara has included numerous engagement maps and tables showing battle and ship statistic, as well as a useful section of photographs from the period. These resources offer a means to mentally follow the battle narratives, which are often filled with complex tactical maneuvers. O’Hara has documented his research in extensive notes, leaving academic readers with a valuable bibliographic resource for further study. The book also includes a concise but adequate index that makes it a useful resource for both researchers and readers searching for mention of a particular topic.

    The U.S. Navy Against the Axis: Surface Combat, 1941-1945 is a thoroughly researched work that fills a crucial gap in the understanding of the naval victory in World War II. Its organization is both logical and methodical, weaving an overarching narrative between the magnified explorations of specific engagements. O’Hara’s narrative brings character and definition to the cold facts of naval engagements. This volume stands out as a defining work on American surface warfare in World War II.

    • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, xvi + 364 pages
    • Photographs, maps, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781682471852

    Reviewed by Noah S. Shuler, East Carolina University

  • May 15, 2019 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates

    Eric Jay Dolin

    As Eric Jay Dolin notes, both in his introduction and in his acknowledgements, there is far from a shortage of books about pirates, let alone about those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although publishers probably are little concerned about adding to this number (the public’s fascination with the topic practically guarantees good sales), any new work faces a challenge if it is to be seen as more a positive contribution to our knowledge of the subject rather than just a money-making project.

    Dolin’s “twist” (as he terms it) is to focus his attention on those pirates “who either operated out of America’s English colonies or plundered ships along the American coast.” This concentration succeeds admirably in bringing a distinctive coherence to the author’s presentation; it enables him to tie together what otherwise could well be disjointed tales of individual pirates and their actions.

    An even more important outcome of the author’s “twist” is the ease with which it allows him to contextualize these disparate pirate biographies. The single most significant lesson that emerges fromBlack Flags, Blue Watersis that piracy did not occur in a vacuum. Pirates functioned within a larger society. On a practical level, they needed bases from which to draw resources and operate, safe havens in which to refit and recuperate, and markets for their loot. More broadly, even these outlaws needed at least tacit acceptance into American colonial society at large. Dolin succeeds admirably in correlating the rise and fall of piracy in this era with the degree to which the colonies embraced or rejected the pirates.

    Readers paying attention to Dolin’s avowed geographical focus may wonder why so many of his subjects’ home bases, such as Jamaica and the Bahamas, seem to be outside the limits of this area. One can infer that the author, like contemporary English administrators, viewed England’s American colonies as components of a unitary system, his deliberate decision to focus on the colonial perspective inhibits the ability of many United States readers to comprehend this reality because it is only implied and never explicitly explained. Readers swept along by the narrative pace probably will not notice, but it is an irritant nevertheless.

    Although Dolin makes some use of primary sources, the bulk of his references are to secondary material, and some of those he considers “impressive” themselves are based very heavily on other secondary sources. The decision to offer only a select bibliography makes life more difficult for those interested in following up on the author’s notes. A substantial number of his sources do not appear in the bibliography so, quite often, finding a specific source can require working back through the notes to the first time it appears. Oddly enough, after discussing the authorship of A General History of the Pyratesand concluding it was not Daniel Defoe, the book itself is listed in both the notes and bibliography under Defoe.

    Overall, Black Flags, Blue Watersis a first-rate synthesis of writings on its subject told in a compelling voice, and its distinctive emphasis on the American colonial perspective on the topic certainly is fresh and thought-provoking.

    •  New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2018
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxix + 379 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95
    • ISBN: 9781631492105

    Reviewed by Caroline Mackenzie, University of Tennessee

The Nautical Research Guild regularly publishes reviews of books about naval/maritime history and ship modeling.  Each issue of the Nautical Research Journal includes several book reviews, but there are often more book reviews than the Journal can accommodate. 

The listing below includes book reviews for each issue of the Journal starting with Volume 58.  You may browse the reviews by the issue of the Journal, by book title, or by author.

Book reviews marked 'Journal Only' (and are not clickable) are found in the pages of the listed issue of the Nautical Research Journal.

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