Book Review: Congress Buys a Navy: Politics, Economics, and the Rise of American Naval Power, 1881-1921


by Paul E. Pedisich

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 288. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1682470776

The Politics of “The New Navy”

A former Naval War College professor, Dr. Pedisich examines the 40 year rise of the U.S. Navy from virtual insignificance to virtual parity with the Royal Navy. This is a very detailed work, chapters at times covering just a year or two, as Pedisich sorts through often complex political, economic, isolationist, nationalist, imperialist and anti-imperialist, and navalist arguments over whether to build a fleet, what it should look like, and how to pay for it. The outcome of these debates was, of course, the led to the creation of the “New Navy” in the 1880s and the subsequent steady growth of the fleet through four decades.

Pedisich’s primary interest is the economic, fiscal, and especially political aspects of expanding and manning the fleet. He also draws attention to the ways in which the building of the new fleet ran into technological difficulties – the first few ships of the “New Navy” were not state of the art – but ultimately led to the development of an elaborate industrial and physical infrastructure to both build and maintain the ships, subjects often neglected in works on navies.

Pedisich devotes much less attention to the development of strategy, fleet organization, and the like, so while we hear much about Navy Yards, there is less on the Naval War College, and little on fleet maneuvers, which the Navy began to undertake with regularity during this period.

Congress Buys a Navy is a good read for the serious student of naval history, but is probably less worthwhile for the naval buff or the novice.

Note: Congress Buys a Navy is also available in several e-formats.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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