Book Review: The Admirals -- Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King: The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea


by Walter R. Borneman

Boston: Back Bay / Little, Brown, 2013. Pp. xvi, 576. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index, reading group guide. $18.00 paper. ISBN: 0316097837

America’s Fleet Admirals and Their War

Borneman, who has written widely in history, from the French and Indian War through World War II, takes a look at the senior leaders of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War. 

Borneman uses  an interesting approach. Rather than, as many authors of collective biographies do, treat each man separately, he weaves their lives and careers together. This not only tells readers a lot about each man, but also gives them a good look at the life, work, and development of the U.S. Navy from the late nineteenth century through the end of the World War II, and how the interactions of these officers helped bring the war at sea to a successful end. 

Borneman is very good at comparing and contrasting the personalities and experiences of his four admirals, who differed much in character and command style, from the laid back Nimitz to the hard charging King, yet managed to work together toward a common goal. He wisely devotes about half his text to the period before Pearl Harbor. This permits him to explore each man’s life in some detail, while  exposing the reader to the social and class aspects of the prewar naval officers corps, still a rather exclusive club of middle class men of Protestant “Old American” stock. 

Borneman also brings in many other officers, giving brief accounts of the careers, and is not shy about handing out criticism or praise. His treatment of Leahy, the most senior of the four, is very valuable, as most works on the war overlook his role in the war. Borneman is particularly sympathetic to officers such as Spruance and Fletcher, who are also often neglected in accounts of the war, or in the case of the latter, unjustly denigrated. 

Of value to anyone interested in the World War II at sea, The Admirals also serves to point out a number of ways in which the Navy may have been better at preparing men then for high command as compared to now.

The Admirals is a must read for anyone interested in the Navy in the twentieth century, the Second World War, and naval policy and strategy.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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