In This Review

At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century
At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century
By Ronald H. Spector
Viking, 2001, 463 pp.

There has been an enormous amount of writing -- scholarly, official, fictional, and autobiographical -- about the experience of combat on land. But until now, its counterpart at sea was confined largely to the memoir and the novel. This work fills that gap. An experienced and prolific historian, Spector fought with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam and headed the U.S. Navy's history program; both experiences show in a work that is (as he puts it) "an interpretive history" rather than a chronological depiction or an analytical summary. He touches on a multitude of questions: How did commanders view orders? What were the relationships between enlisted sailors and officers during combat? Who invented new tactics for aerial combat at sea, and how were they disseminated? No work of this kind can be definitive, but this volume both satisfies in its own right and provokes more questions than any historian could hope to answer in one lifetime.