Since the advent of humankind thousands of years ago, man has been continually drawn to the sea. Be it exploring over the distant horizon, trading with partners thousands of miles away, or going to war against enemies abroad, human beings’ central relationship with the great bodies of water that cover our planet has dwindled little since we first climbed into the simple boats used by our ancestors. If your interest in oceans is as strong as others, here are five great books that were recently published on maritime history.
1. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Everyone who has taken a high school history course knows the outcome of the Lusitania. Larson’s take on the sinking of the passenger ship in 1915 by a German U-boat is one that makes the buildup to its sinking just as intriguing as the attack itself. Much like his other bestsellers, Larson builds a narrative around the event, detailing the preceding years of the ship, the maritime technologies involved in both the Lusitania and the U-boats, the international political situation in which the ship was sunk, and, most importantly, how the sinking pushed the United States to enter World War I on the side of the allies. The reader will, once again, be left in amazement at how well Larson narrates this important event in United States history.
Though many have heard the story of John Paul Jones, the XYZ Affair and French-American Quasi-War, and Thomas Jefferson’s fight against the Tripoli pirates, many do not know the full story of the development of the United States Navy. Toll describes the fierce debates that occurred between politicians almost immediately after the ratification of the Constitution, narrating the tale how the American government slowly came to realize that they could not maintain security and build trade on the backs of merchantmen alone. From an initial construction of six frigates, Toll gives the details of the opening years of the U.S. Navy in a book that maintains intense interest from the reader.
3. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly
Cordingly, a former head of England’s National Maritime Museum, dispels numerous myths and brings to light the real story of pirates in the “Golden Age” of piracy. A well researched work, Cordingly’s text brings to life a slightly different story of pirates, one that turns out to be far more bloody and tragic than legends have told.
4. The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King–The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea by Walter Borneman
Borneman’s The Admirals is an extremely well-written narrative history of the four men who, for the first time in United States’ history, rose to the rank of five-star admiral. Their leadership, strategic and tactical mastery, and, during important times, diplomatic skill helped turn the tide of the War into a victory for the United States. An important read for those interested in both U.S. Naval history and military history, particularly to see the beginnings of the modern U.S. military.
5. The Civil War at Sea by Craig L. Symonds
Much in the same way as his Lincoln and His Admirals, Symonds explores the naval war in the United States Civil War that re-positions the importance of the United States’ and Confederate States’ Navy back into its proper place in Civil War history. By describing the technological advances that preceded the Civil War, Symonds presents a well-constructed and related history of the maritime battles in the worst period of American history.
Which novels bring you back to sea?
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