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Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History

36 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195312119
ISBN-10: 0195312112
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A distinguished specialist in naval history and the Civil War studies five decisive moments in American naval history. In the Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry's modest fleet prevented a British invasion of the Northwest. The Civil War duel between the Monitor and the virginia touched off a building race in ironclads, something that the Confederacy couldn't possibly win. At the Battle of Manila Bay, Commodore George Dewey's victory proved the potential of the new steel-shell-firing navy and opened the way to American overseas expansion. In World War II, the Battle of Midway, if it didn't necessarily prevent a Japanese victory, certainly sped an American one and proved the worth of the carrier-based aviation that has been America's major maritime striking arm ever since. Finally, Operation Praying Mantis in the Persian Gulf proved that when one goes closer inshore, attackers lacking command of the air can still use missiles to noteworthy effect. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Symonds is the consummate storyteller, creating powerful images.... The whole book is an effortless read, presenting a natural flow of history beginning with the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 and ending with Operation Praying Mantis in 1988."--Linda Wheeler, Washington Post

"A riveting account of the morphing of the United States Navy from its humble beginnings in the forests and lakes of the North American wilderness to an awesome and overwhelming strike force that cements the United States' position as the world's remaining superpower and de facto policeman."--Proceedings (The United States Naval Institute)

"Without question, Decision at Sea is a riveting, well-researched account of the U.S. Navy in action. Historian Craig Symonds should be saluted for writing an important and living narrative that shows how sea battles shaped the course of American history." --Douglas Brinkley, author of Tour of Duty and The Unfinished Presidency

"Craig Symonds delivers American naval history in the tradition of Sir Edward Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. Combat at sea, from the Great Lakes to the Persian Gulf, jumps form the page in a vibrant, arresting narrative. Complementing each battle piece is an informed argument about the engagement's impact on the course of history."--Alex Roland, Duke University

"Craig Symonds, one of America's leading naval historians, has written a fascinating battle history that also provides thoughtful insights into the American character and the character of America at pivotal moments in the last 225 years. His prose is very accessible and provocative, particularly as he portrays what the future may hold for the U.S. Navy at the apogee of its power."--William S. Dudley, Former Director, U.S. Naval Historical Center

"Decision at Sea combines the wisdom of Alfred Thayer Mahan with the eminent readability we have come to expect from Craig Symonds. This book is destined to be a classic of both naval literature and national strategy."--Thomas Cutler, U.S. Naval Institute, author of A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and The Battle of Leyte Gulf

"Craig Symonds' Decision at Sea deftly integrates five vigorous battle narratives with a comparative analysis that highlights the changing character and recurring critical role the U.S. Navy has played in American history."--John B. Hattendorf, Naval War College

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195312112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195312119
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1.1 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Craig L. Symonds is Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy where he taught naval history and Civil War History for thirty years.
A native of Anaheim, California, Symonds earned his B.A. degree at U.C.L.A., and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida where he studied under the late John K. Mahon. In the 1970s he was a U.S. Navy officer and the first ensign ever to lecture at the prestigious Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. After his naval service, Symonds remained at the War College as a civilian Professor of Strategy from 1974-1975.
He came to the Naval Academy in 1976, and during his thirty-year career there he became a very popular professor whose Civil War classes were always over-subscribed. He was named teacher of the Year in 1988, and the Researcher of the Year in 1998, the first person ever to win both awards. He chaired the History Department from 1988 to 1992. He also chaired the Naval Academy Self Study for institutional accreditation, the Curriculum Reform Committee, and served on the Naval Academy Admissions Board. In addition to the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, he was awarded the Civilian Meritorious Service Medal three times. From 1994 to 1995 he served as Professor of Strategy and Policy at the Britannia Naval College in Dartmouth, England.
Symonds is the author of twelve books and the editor of nine others. In addition he has written over one hundred scholarly articles in professional journals and popular magazines as well as more than twenty book chapters in historical anthologies. Five of his books were selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and six have been selections of the History Book Club. His books have won the Barondess Lincoln Prize, the Daniel and Marilyn Laney Prize, the S.A. Cunningham Award, the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize, and the John Lyman book Prize three times. In 2009 he shared the $50,000 Lincoln Prize with James M. McPherson. He also won the "Annie" Award in Literary Arts given by Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Symonds was a Trustee of the Society of Military History, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Lincoln Forum, and the board of Directors of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. He was a member of the Lincoln Prize Committee and chaired the Jefferson Davis Prize Committee. He is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Committee. From 2005 to 1007 he was Chief Historian of the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, helping oversee the opening and promotion of that exhibit.
Now retired, Symonds is much in demand around the country as a speaker on Civil War subjects. He has spoken at Civil War Round Tables in twenty-seven states and two foreign countries, given tours of battlefields and other historical sites, and helped conduct leadership workshops based on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Craig and his wife, Marylou, live in Annapolis, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on July 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Decision at Sea" is a well-written description of six decisive naval battles, each of which illustrates a key period in the development of naval warfare.

The prologue reviews the Battle of the Capes, which enabled the French fleet to prevent reinforcement of Cornwallis' army at Yorktown and led to the American-French victory that effectively ended the Revolutionary War. This was a classic naval engagement fought between large wooden ships firing broadsides and sailing in line-ahead formation on the open sea.

The rest of the book is devoted to more thorough explorations of five other important battles (thus the subtitle), each of which is explored in detail:

The first is the Battle of Lake Erie, in which the Americans under Oliver Hazard Perry built a small sailing fleet and used it to defeat an equally small British force. The victory enabled America to hold on to the Old Northwest territories in the War of 1812 and ultimately to begin expanding westward without British interference. Though the battle was small and the scene was a lake (albeit a great one), the tactics and equipment used were basically similar to those used in the Battle of the Capes.

The Battle of Hampton Roads covers the slugfest between the ironclads Virginia and Monitor. Before the Monitor arrived on the scene, the ironclad CSS Virgnia had inflicted on the Union fleet at Hampton Roads the largest defeat experienced by the American navy before Pearl Harbor. The guns involved were much more advanced than those used in the Battle of Lake Erie and each ship moved under its own power, but the battle was still fought at close quarters where each combatant had a fairly good view of the other.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Roberts on December 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Err . . . I kind of wanted to write a review of this book until I read Mr. Holmes's below. I don't think I could ever top that, he says pretty much all you'd need to know about this book in a review.

I guess I'll just try to add a few things, beyond the tactics and technology which are the focus of the book.

In the section on the Battle of the Capes you get a very clear sense of how important timing is in the strategic sense for setting up Battles. The French were not the dominant maritime power in the American and Carribean waters, but the fates gave them an opportunity to mass a force that could defeat one half of a split British force, which then made them the dominant power. You can also see how, to a certain small degree, the Royal Navy was resting on it's laurels and how small inefficiencies in the way the British fought the Battle of the Capes cascaded into a decisive defeat.

The Battle of Lake Eerie impressed me with the sheer determination and drive of both sides. The Americans and the British practically had to build small shipyards, then naval bases, then a few handful of ships themselves, and then throw them at each other with little more than a few scraped together supplies, pseudo-sailors with next to no training, and a prayer. The leaders on both sides were clearly walking the razor's edge, and it shows how much leadership can make the difference.

The Battle of Manila Bay is very interesting, especially since it is so rarely mentioned in the literature despite the fact it announced America as a real power and gave us our only official colony. The most amazing thing about it was the extreme inaccuracy of the fire, an effect of technology outpacing tactics and training.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Sullivan on October 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Craig Symonds has long held a lofty place in the pantheon of outstanding American naval historians. I have enjoyed his scholarship and analysis for a number of years. His understanding and perceptions of the Early Republic Navy and the Navy of the Civil War era have been invaluable additions to American naval historiography, and his "Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy" in collaboration with cartographer William N. Clipson, in my estimation, ranks among the most useful and valuable works of recent naval scholarship.
I enjoyed this book immensely, for both its content and its style. Professor Symonds writes with academic vigor, yet most entertainingly, and uses superb organization of material and facts to enable the reader (and researcher) to easily track the flow of details. This is particularly true of the Midway battle in which multiple events are occuring simultaneously. Symonds manages to keep us informed by seamlessly knitting together the flow of events without overlooking the larger context of the campaign itself.
Perry's victory at Put-in-Bay halted a British invasion and saved the Northwest for the United States, but I would have preferred to see Macdonough's conclusive victory a year later on Lake Champlain as being the real "turning point" in U.S. fortunes in the War of 1812. Macdonough has always seemed to have taken a back seat to Perry but thoughtful naval historians, particularly Theodore Roosevelt and A.T. Mahan, have opined that Macdonough's battle was the more skillful in its management and execution, and it had significant consequences in that it prevented the British army from splitting New England from the rest of America (thereby enabling what would have been the annexation by Canada of most of what is now the state of Maine).
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