The book illuminates the changes--technological, institutional, and functional--of the U.S. Navy from its days as a small frigate navy through the age of steam and steel to the modern era of electronics and missiles. Historian Craig L. Symonds captures the evolving culture of the Navy and debates between policymakers about what role the institution should play in world affairs. Internal and external challenges dramatically altered the size and character of the Navy, with long periods of quiet inertia alternating with rapid expansion emerging out of crises. The history of the navy reflects the history of the nation as a whole, and its many changes derive in large part from the changing role of the United States itself.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Symonds (Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings), professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, succeeds at what is arguably the historian's most demanding task: compressing a complex subject and a career's worth of expertise into a concise analysis. He focuses on the patterns and events that made the U.S. the world's greatest sea power, a process of oscillation "between periods of quiet torpor and moments of frenetic expansion." Critics have consistently and successfully argued that playing a world power's role is not a desirable American goal. Naval expansion has been correspondingly reactive, responding—usually as a last resort—to threats and crises, whether by Barbary pirates, Imperial Japan, or the Soviet Union. Symonds presents these as legitimate concerns and depicts the Navy as an instrument of power that has enabled a measured demonstration of U.S. interests. A carrier offshore, for instance, does not pose the immediate threat of tanks on the border. To a degree, American naval dominance is negative, reflecting the absence to date of long-term challengers. In that context, the U.S. Navy plays supranational constabulary roles. Its operational missions incorporate disaster relief, deterrence, and peacekeeping. Symonds's solid examination demonstrates that the Navy has been anything but a mere apparatus of imperialism and power projection. (Nov.)