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  • 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

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

    Florida’s Lost Galleon: The Emanuel Point Shipwreck

    Edited by Roger C. Smith

    The discovery of the Emanuel Point shipwreck in 1992, subsequent field excavation campaigns and field school work, associated historical research, ongoing conservation of recovered artifacts, and public outreach programming all are the substance of this relatively brief and highly readable work. The wreck itself, part of the expedition led by Tristán de Luna to create a settlement in Florida as the starting point for an overland bypass around the treacherous Bahamas Channel, is the earliest to be found to date in the state. The efforts associated with the site also laid the foundations for vibrant subsequent nautical archaeological work undertaken by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, the University of West Florida, and public projects through the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

    This compilation, edited by Roger C. Smith, of submissions from practitioners intimately involved in the project is very different from many other archaeological reports. The style is personal without glossing over the necessary technicalities, so that the reader is drawn into the project as it unfolds. The various authors manage to convey a palpable sense of the excitement of working on every aspect of this site without in any way diminishing the academic rigor of the presentation. Despite containing pieces from seven contributors, including several with more than one author, there are virtually no jarring transitions, a tribute to the skill of the editor.

    The Emanuel Point shipwreck is a very important site, not least because the environmental conditions in Pensacola Bay over the centuries allowed for the survival of an appreciable body of hull structure and a substantial assemblage of artifacts. The hull remains suffice to evidence that this was one of the larger ships of Luna’s fleet, indicate that it was a veteran of the Atlantic passage from Spain to the New World, and demonstrate the drama of the wrecking itself.

    Archaeologists have recovered more than five thousand objects from the site and the process of conserving and analyzing this assemblage is ongoing. The historical record shows that survivors of the hurricane that struck the fleet salvaged large amounts of materials and cargo for their survival. What was left behind suffices to tell a compelling story of how the mariners, soldiers, and colonists lived aboard, the necessities they brought with them, and even indications of cargoes carried on previous voyages. Equally education al is the discussion of the conservation processes that enabled the survival and analysis of these objects.

    One of the most exciting aspects of this book is its exposition of the programs created to involve the general public, avocational archaeologists, and students in local schools in participating and learning from the various aspects of the work on the discovery.

    Florida’s Lost Galleon is a stunning addition to the literature of nautical archaeology. Its combination of accessibility and rigor makes it a model for generating accessible archaeological reportage.

    •  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2018
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xvii + 299 pages
    • Illustrations, diagrams, appendix, references, index. $34.95
    • ISBN: 9780813056760

    Reviewed by Kelly Hanson, University of Southern California

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

    Ironclad Captains of the Civil War

    Myron J. Smith, Jr.

    Myron J. Smith, Jr., emeritus library director and professor at Tusculum University in Tennessee is best known for the wealth of scholarship he has contributed on the Civil War navies in the western theater. In this, his latest volume, he has produced an excellent reference source for anyone interested in the history of the navies and ironclads of the period. In the Introduction, he acknowledges that his forty-five years of research and eight previous books, especiallyCivil War Biographies from the Western Waters(MacFarland, 2015), established the basis for this most useful encyclopedia.

    In the foreword, Mark F. Jenkins establishes the importance of this volume, stating “in many ways, these men were at least as interesting as the strange new ships they served aboard,” and “As fascinating as the ironclads themselves undoubtedly are, the men deserve at least as much attention.” Jenkins and Smith both speak to the appeal the ironclads have for both serious scholars and amateur enthusiasts of the war, mainly due to their uniqueness. Over the broad span of naval history, they are a quickly fleeting moment in the evolution of ship design. Bringing into focus the human element helps to put these ships into a broader context.

    The biographies contained in the volume are typical of this type of work. Each entry includes name, dates of birth and death, service (USN or CSN), the name(s) of the ironclad(s) commanded, and as full a biography as possible. In a useful appendix, Register of Ironclad Captains, the author lists each ship in alphabetical order (Confederate followed by Union), and a list of the commanders for each. The volume is well-illustrated throughout; if there is no image of the person, an image of the ship they commanded is included. Concluding each biography is a list of sources used. One need only look at the extensive bibliography to see how well-researched this book is, and the author gives credit to many institutions in his acknowledgements.

    While this volume will prove useful to any student of the Civil War navies, the price is likely to be prohibitive. The paperback version is listed at a price of $75, and even the Kindle edition is over $30. Given the cost, many readers will have to look for this volume in their nearest library.

    • Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2018
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, 262 pages
    • Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $75.00
    • ISBN: 9781476666365

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


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

    Rough Waters: Sovereignty and the American Merchant Flag

    Rodney Carlisle

    In Rough Waters, Rodney P. Carlisle studies the emotional symbolism attached to the United States flag and its merchant marine fleet. According to the author, American naval and political figures adhered to an eighteenth century gentleman’s honor code. As a result, the language, rhetoric, and values associated with the gentleman’s honor code frame the government’s approach to national and international politics. Carlisle argues that the United States flag, as an extension of American identity, embodies the emotional, symbolic, and cultural values of the nation. Consequently, the treatment of merchant ships operating under the United States flag abroad is considered a matter of national honor. Merchant vessels occasionally ignite conflict between the United States and other global powers. The appropriate response to the insult of the flag’s honor, as per the gentleman’s honor code regarding duels, is a display of force. Nevertheless, Carlisle argues, since 1939 the United States has avoided participation in a war to defend national honor due to the change in nationality of flags on American-owned merchant vessels.

    In his analysis of post-Revolutionary and Antebellum maritime history, Carlisle fails to account for the other contributing political, societal, and economic factors that led to historical maritime events and military confrontations. While the argument regarding the flag and its ties to national honor as instigators of maritime conflict is compelling, the intervention of the American military in the examples used by Carlisle can be described as a nation protecting its economic interests. As is, Carlisle’s exclusion of the numerous political, economic, and societal issues that influenced maritime events and conflicts makes his examination of post-Revolutionary and Antebellum history one-dimensional.

    Additionally, Carlisle argues that the United States was able to remain neutral at the beginning of World War II because merchant ships owned by American corporations began to fly foreign flags. As a consequence of the flag change and transfer in registries, the American flag and national honor were not at risk at sea. It was then unnecessary for the United States to interfere when American-owned foreign-flagged ships carrying cargo to the Allies were attacked. Nonetheless, as Carlisle states, there were government officials who saw the transfer of flags and registry of ships transporting cargo for the Allies as a violation of the intent of the neutrality law, and, therefore, dishonorable. The politicians who disagreed with the decision to transfer ship registries to Panama contradict Carlisle’s argument. Thus, the United States’ maritime policies regarding trade with warring nations between 1939 and 1941 betray the gentleman’s code of honor that Carlisle describes.

    Despite these weaknesses, Carlisle presents a thought-provoking argument regarding the symbolism and national honor of the American merchant flag in connection to maritime conflicts. The text’s most noteworthy contribution to present scholarly literature is its discussion of maritime law and the “flight” of the flag. Carlisle’s book is a comprehensive analysis of the legal basis for today’s shipping industry and registry system. His discussion of the reasons and timing for the change in national flags onboard American merchant vessels is undoubtedly useful. Rough Waters, although flawed, is a valuable addition to current scholarship dedicated to the legal side of maritime history.

    •  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017
    • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xii + 278 pages
    • Photographs, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $31.95

    Reviewed by Anna D’Jernes, East Carolina University

     

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

    Shipmates: The Men of LCS 52in World War II

    Gary Burns

    Gary Burns’ Shipmates: The Men ofLCS 52 in World War II is an atypical monograph on the subject of naval operations in the Second World War. Burns provides background detail and emphasis on the events that led to conflict in the 1930s and 40s, in addition to focusing on the Pacific Theatre by turning a lens on the individual. The main focus of Shipmatescenters around constructing an interconnected narrative of the crewmembers of LCS 52 and their diverse yet similar backgrounds. To Burns, the men of LCS 52serve as a collective micro-history of a band of brothers who were similar amongst themselves, yet unique and often times extraordinary from other servicemen in WWII.

    Shipmatesfamiliarizes readers with the Landing Craft Support (LCS) ships that were vital in the American war effort, especially in the Pacific. These ships, nick-named “Mighty Midgets,” were fitted with an arsenal of weaponry and shallow drafts to enable close encounters during the island hopping of World War II. Chapters 1 and 2 serve to give readers an introduction to Burns’ methodology and writing: seeking to understand the training and enlistment motivations of diverse individuals. The historical actors of Shipmatesinclude Lt. Harper, master navigator-turned-captain of the LCS 52, and Muscco C. Holland. Holland was a sailor with previous service on the USS Kearney, a ship that Germans attacked before the United States officially declared war. Also included is the story of Ulysses Johnson, the only African-American sailor who served on the LCS 52. Gary Burns accomplishes his thesis by placing these individuals in their own separate cultural contexts, while also paying careful attention to the similarities (such as enlistment motivations, family life, and education) that connected many of the men of the LCS 52.

    Researchers should use Shipmatesto rethink their approach to dissecting and constructing individual servicemen and women during wartime. With his discussion of enlistment motivations, Burns’ flowing writing style lets readers ponder issues such as the economic difficulties resulting from the Great Depression, race relations in America and the exploitation of African American soldiers, and the importance of documenting WWII veterans via oral histories. Readers should be cautioned that some of Burns’ citations are a bit light, seeming not to fully represent the detailed narrative that Burns constructs. Despite this drawback,Shipmatesis a well written, refreshing look at wartime service in WWII. Hopefully, other researchers will learn from Burns and continue with this tradition of turning the focus toward the individual. 

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2016
    • 6” x 9”, softcover, x + 197 pages
    • Photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
    • ISBN: 9781476666877

    Reviewed by Jacob Parks, East Carolina University

     

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

    John Banister of Newport: The Life and Accounts of a Colonial Merchant

    Marian Mathison Desrosiers

    Marian Desrosiers interprets a qualitative assessment of newly found ledgers in John Banister of Newport. These ledgers detail everyday expenditures for one of the most active merchants of Newport, Rhode Island between 1746–1749 CE. Meticulous entries denote quantities, purchasing and selling prices, origins and destinations, along with specific ships used for the import or export of goods. Luxuries, everyday necessities, food staples, naval stores, cloth, building supplies, and enslaved persons are shown in these ledgers. The entries provide an assessment of shipments through Rhode Island during this period of economic expansion.

    Desrosiers demonstrates the shrewdness of Banister as a merchant, arguing that Banister was a philanthropist, who diversified his holdings, quickly learned from contentious investments, and became an economic force through employing many residents to expand and shape Newport in ways still evident today. Moreover, the expenditures of the Banister family are within these ledgers and reflect the lifestyle of a merchant rising in social standing. In an ironic twist, Desrosiers argues that, despite being an accomplished international producer, Banister was concomitantly a major consumer.

    Banister made several donations to his church, orphans, the community, and educational institutions, impacting the community more than himself. Public records show Banister built and rented properties, a shipyard, and a wharf. After low returns on investments in privateer and Letter of Marque ships, he abandoned future ventures. A transition from businessman to the gentry lifestyle can be seen when he buys and moves into a countryside manor. Additionally, family expenditures reflect opulence, luxury goods common to the social elite, and a Harvard education for one of his sons.

    Many of the arguments put forth by Desrosiers are logical and transparent in historical records. The ledgers themselves show a drastic increase in net worth for those years. Social networking through marriages and business partnerships placed Banister in the presence of wealthy social elites, many of whom consumed his goods or elicited his services to export theirs. On the topic of slavery and the slave trade, it appears Desrosiers tries to address the topic but not condemn Banister’s participation. To denigrate Banister is contrary to Desrosiers’ aim to applaud him and his accomplishments. Avoidance serves only to vitiate the discussion of how influential and pivotal icons that participated in enslavement should be perceived. 

    Overall, this book provides insight into everyday transactions of colonial merchants. Research covers the entire life, business, and legacy of John Banister with a focus on the 1746–1749 CE ledgers. The statistics are straightforward and contain just enough detail to show relevance but not affect readability. Notes, bibliography, and index are thorough and resourceful. Page and print size are large, a pleasant deterrent to eye strain. Desrosiers’ writing style is best summarized as congenial and reflect his distinguished writing of history.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, xii + 234 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95

    Reviewed by Stephen Lacy, East Carolina University

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

    Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: The USS Chillicothe, Indianolaand Tuscumbia

    Myron J. Smith, Jr.

    In Joseph Brown and His Civil War Ironclads: the USS Chillicothe, Indianola and Tuscumbia, Myron J. Smith, Jr. provides a thorough analysis of one man’s contribution to the Civil War. The author gives the story of Joseph Brown’s life as one of the most successful but virtually unknown contractors of the war. He also describes the construction of each of the three ironclads built by Brown, telling of their strengths, weaknesses, and participation in various river actions. Finally, the author endeavors to clarify a part of the story of fighting on the Western rivers that was not addressed in some of his previous works.

    Smith makes excellent use of primary sources throughout his work despite the fact that Brown himself did not leave any personal papers. Instead, Smith pieces together the details of Brown’s life using numerous newspaper articles and the writings of other prominent individuals. He begins the book with an account of Brown’s life before the war as a local politician, steamboat captain, and businessman, emphasizing the federal connections that would later help him land the contracts for his ironclads. Smith then delves into the intricate process by which each ship was built, mentioning the various subcontractors and naval personalities and listing the contributions of each person. Smith also foreshadows the problems that each ironclad would eventually encounter by describing the many design flaws and scheduling problems that occurred.

    After dealing with Brown and his ironclads, Smith describes the service of each of the three ships during the war. In doing so, he provides an in-depth look at several battles that took place during the 1863 Vicksburg campaign. The Chillicothe, Indianola, and Tuscumbiawere all involved in this campaign to some extent. The organization of this section of the book is strictly chronological, helping to relieve the confusion caused by such a detailed analysis of the battles. The author does an excellent job of relating each little aspect of numerous small river actions to the overall context of both the fighting on the Western rivers and the Civil War as a whole. He does this, in part, by including the tactics that various commanders used to determine the ways in which ships would be utilized.

    After telling the story of each ironclad and the people who manned them, Smith relates the story of Brown’s life after the war as an influential St. Louis politician and businessman. Smith delves into Brown’s personal life, business transactions, and political policies in exhaustive detail. He thus adds more dimension to the short biography given in the beginning of the book.

    Overall, this book is extremely well-researched, with extensive use and quotation of primary sources. It is also logically organized into coherent sections, each containing a variety of maps and illustrations. Smith successfully creates a balanced and nuanced portrait of Joseph Brown, the ironclads that he built, and their contributions to the Western river fighting of the Civil War.

    •  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017
    • 7” x 10”, softcover, x + 384 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95
    • ISBN: 9780786495764

    Reviewed by Emily Dibiase, East Carolina University

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    Knickerbocker Commodore: The Life and Times of John Drake Sloat, 1781-1867

    Bruce A. Castleman

    Sloat’s work, which focuses on an often overlooked but important military figure, is superb. Commodore John Drake Sloat was an important naval officer from the time of the United States Navy’s inception during John Adams’s administration until the Mexican-American War, or for nearly one-half a century. During that time, his rise in the ranks involved him in military actions, political intrigue and important diplomatic maneuverings.

    Castleman criticizes Sloat’s lone other biographer, noting that the biography is quite dated and hagiographic. Thus, Castleman seeks to fill a gap in the literature by presenting a balanced account of Sloat. This he does; although Castleman’s book is on the whole laudatory of Sloat, he does not shy away from including primary source evidence that Sloat acted dishonestly when it suited his purposes. For example, Sloat falsely claimed, in a report to the State Department, to have hosted Simon Bolivar on a trip to South America to improve his hopes of being reimbursed for actually having feted lesser-known figures. There are other instances in the book where Castleman criticizes Sloat's military tactics.

    Castleman’s work is enhanced by his own combination of naval experience (he was a naval commander with twenty-four years’ service) and academic training. He explains cogently and clearly concepts that might otherwise escape a reader who lacks military training or experience. His background makes him an ideal author for Sloat’s biography, for the work is really a history of the United States Navy in its first several decades. Castleman takes seriously his mandate to tell of Sloat’s “life and times.” Thus the reader learns much about the history and methods of ship-building, the politics involved in advancing in the Navy’s officer ranks, of a Naval officer’s career path when he was not aboard ship, and the effects of political decisions like the 1808 Embargo to John Fremont’s exploration of California amongst others.

    Sloat's career had political aspects as well. He served, for example, as the Commandant of the Portsmouth Naval Yard in between assignments at sea and developed his own administrative and political skills in that capacity. In the course of tracing Sloat’s career, the author introduces the reader to several other leading figures of the day, naval and otherwise, including Fremont, Matthew Perry, Stephen Decatur, and Simon Bolivar.

    Castleman’s use and evaluation of the primary source material culled from the Navy’s archives, as well as Sloat’s own correspondence, is excellent. Moreover, his command of the secondary source material is impressive. He refers aptly and easily to numerous other biographies of virtually every other major naval and political figure of the time.

    Finally, Castleman’s prose is direct, forceful and a pleasure to read, without the academic or specialized obscurity that mars so many specialized historical works. The story is an important one, spanning from the formation of the United States Navy to the War of 1812 to the Mexican-American War, and Castleman tells it with skill. This is an important work, quite well done and worth reading.

    •  Albany: Excelsior Editions, 2016
    • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, xii + 325 pages
    • Illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
    • ISBN: 9781438461519

    Reviewed by Douglas Mock, University of West Florida

  • August 15, 2018 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

    The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie

    Jerry Kuntz

    In his work, The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie, Jerry Kuntz focuses on the evolution of diving in the United States from 1820-1891 with a particular focus on Lake Erie. He breaks the book into three main sections called The Pioneers (1820s-1852), The Heroic Age of Diving (July 1852-1856), and The Aftermath (1857-1891). Each section can be read on its own and stand-alone which is refreshing to see, but the reader receives the big picture through reading it in its entirety.

    Kuntz begins his work by discussing William Hanis Taylor and the evolution of his invention of Submarine Armor. This Submarine Armor included a cylindrical helmet and had the arms, legs, and torso covered in protective hoops of plate metal. Upon administrative changes in the company, which left William’s brother George W. Taylor in charge of the company, George joined with the Goodyear Brothers’s India rubber business. This then led to the replacing of the plate metal hoops with flexible coils of copper, over which rubber trousers would be pulled. They also composed a case of copper “for the head and shoulders, with India rubber arms attached. In front [of the helmet] is a small glass about three inches in diameter, to enable the operator to distinguish objects in the water.” These changes gave the diver more freedom to see and move around. The book moves on to discuss various wrecks that occurred on Lake Erie and the efforts involved to recover them.

    Of particular interest to Kuntz are the recovery efforts of the wrecks as he argues that the salvage voyages were instrumental in the development of diving equipment because of the trial and error the divers faced below the surface. For example, during the salvage of the steamer, The Erie, divers confronted many challenges such as high winds, the depth of the wreck, and equipment breaking. The book continues on to investigate pearl diving, submarines during the Civil War, and even describes an expedition to kill a monster in Silver Lake, New York. Each topic is interesting in its own right and is well presented. It is an excellent example of a popular history and who does not like a story about salvaging and searching for treasure?

    Kuntz begins the book acknowledging that he is neither a diver nor a naval historian, thus he frequently relied on other’s experience and expertise. He says he did this by approaching thirty-nine people who have knowledge and expertise of the subject to gain knowledge for this book.Kuntz also consulted a number of period newspaper articles, letters, and personal writings by some of the diver’s themselves such as Diving or, Submarine Explorations: Being the Life and Adventures of J. B. Green. Kuntz also uses some less reliable sources, such as Ancestry.com

    To conclude, the book is an interesting read, but it is likely to be better used as a good jumping off point for further research and not as concrete fact. It is more geared towards the general public who enjoy popular history as it lacks some scholarly detail, but flows well and is an enjoyable read.

    •  Albany, Excelsior Editions, 2016
    • 5-1/2” x 8-1/2”, softcover, xi + 196 pages
    • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $19.95
    • ISBN: 9781438459622

    Reviewed by Ashley M. Thomas, University of West Florida

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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