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A Review: The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won The War At Sea

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Many readers would consider it a long book, but if you are interested in military history (especially World War II history) or naval history The Admirals:  Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won The War At Sea  by Walter R. Borneman is a book to put on your reading list.  It tells the stories of the United States Navy’s four Fleet Admirals and how they won the World War II war at sea.  I appreciate the research Borneman put into the is book, he makes use of a lot of primary sources, particularly the papers of each of the four Admirals instead of relying just on biographies and histories.  As the book develops, it allows him to show not only the Admirals’ public opinions but in many cases their private opinions as well.  The end result is a simply magnificent book.

The Admirals is not a book about battles, tactics, or strategy; it is a book about personalities, the chemistry of those personalities, and leadership.  The Admirals tells the story of Fleet Admirals William Leahy, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and William Halsey.  Beginning with their time at the Naval Academy, Borneman follows their careers as the officers develop; showing how their career paths and experiences influenced their positions and performances during World War II.  As their career paths crossed, especially those of King, Nimitz, and Halsey you can see how the chemistry between the Admirals developed and how it influenced their teamwork during World War II.  The book truly does a great job of showing how four very different personalities and styles of leadership came together not only win the war at sea (in the case of of King, Nimitz, and Halsey) but help develop the grand strategy of the war as a whole (in the case of Leahy and King).

Many are familiar with Admirals Nimitz and Halsey but not as familiar with Admirals King and Leahy.   As an avid reader of World War II history, particularly that of the Pacific War, I was already quite familiar with King, Nimitz, and Halsey but I learned quite a bit about Admiral Leahy.  Leahy is an underappreciated figure of World War II and The Admirals shines a light on how important he was to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman first as a diplomat to Vichy France and then as advisor to both Presidents.  Borneman doesn’t smooth over rough personality edges either; no attempt is made to hide King’s irascibility.  Admiral King was not an easy man to work for and the book makes no attempt to indicate otherwise.  I do think that even though it is mentioned briefly, Admiral King’s organization of the war against the U-boats in the Atlantic is overlooked as the book concentrates primarily upon the Pacific War and the development of war plans at the various leadership conferences throughout the war.  The book doesn’t shy away from controversy either.  Halsey’s actions at the Battle of Leyte Gulf have long been debated; Borneman states as much and indicates that Nimitz and King privately felt he erred.  He also points out Halsey’s mistakes in handling two typhoon situations and the loss of life as a result of Halsey’s decision making during them.  Admiral Raymond Spruance also gets a considerable amount of attention in The Admirals and you get the distinct impression that had the decision been left up to him, Borneman would have appointed Spruance not Halsey as the fourth Fleet Admiral.

The Admirals is one of the best books I have read recently and I strongly recommend it.  I found it hard to put down; it really is an excellent read.  As a student of history, I have long been more interested in why something happened as opposed to simply what happened and when.  This book delves into the personalities of the naval leadership helping to illuminate why they made decisions and how the chemistry of their personalities influenced their actions.  As a supervisor, I read about four very different leadership styles and how they were all successful.  Hopefully I can carry these lessons forward in my day to day duties.  Even though I bought the Kindle version I plan on buying a hardback copy as well; I enjoyed it that much.  It is a book that I must have on my bookshelf not just in electronic form.


1 Comment

  1. […] suggestion because this was a terrific read, probably the best book I’ve read since The Admirals by Walter Bourneman.  Allan Grice was a London firefighter in the 1970′s, transferring from […]

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