ON SEAS OF GLORY by John Lehman


Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy
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Bombastic title aside, an engaging if quirky history of the US Navy.

Former naval aviator Lehman (Making War, 1992), who went on to become Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, is clearly a history buff. From his early chapters on, he mixes general history with thumbnail biographies of naval figures (beginning with the Revolution), not necessarily the most important. He then adds descriptions of battles and other incidents that strike his interest, and doesn’t hesitate to express personal opinions. Despite impressive engagements, the Colonies’ navy exerted little influence on the Revolution’s outcome. Privateering (really legalized piracy) was another matter, requiring much of the British fleet to devote itself to protecting commerce and stirring English merchants to call for peace. Lehman feels historians give privateering insufficient attention as a major weapon in warfare and suggests that our navy could put it to use today against, say, Iraq or Iran. He agonizes over government neglect of the navy after the war of 1812, delights in the fireworks of the Civil War, agonizes over the sea force’s decline afterward, delights in its rebirth at the end of the 19th century, and grumbles as it shrinks after WWI. He perks up, however, with WWII, describing with enthusiasm the war’s politics, strategy, and epic battles, and pausing for technical details and biographies of significant naval figures (as well as lesser ones, such as his father). As the cold war begins, Lehman reveals his conservative credentials, fuming at restraints on naval action in Korea and Vietnam and the refusal to unleash our power in the face of Soviet subversion. A happy ending comes with the election of Reagan, an avalanche of money for the Navy, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On Seas of Glory delves no deeper than the History Channel would, but its digressions, anecdotes, and prejudices make for an entertaining read.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-87176-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001