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TORPEDOMAN
by Ron Smith, trade paperback,195 pages. Originally self-published by Ron Smith in 1993, many additional print runs since then.

Ron Smith served as a torpedoman on a U.S. Navy diesel sub in combat in the Pacific during W.W.II. This book is his first-person memoir of his gripping experiences at sea and on leave during that period. While lacking the sophisticated editing common to most books from bigger publishing houses, Ron's vivid and candid writing style in TORPEDOMAN pulls you close and doesn't let go -- so you won't mind sailing past the occasional typo or awkward grammar. Ron Smith "tells it like it was" from the deckplate level, and doesn't pull any punches. Atmospheric, enthralling, packed with fascinating trivia of life aboard the old "smokeboats," and with plenty of stirring combat action and great sailor's humor too, this is, simply put, a must-read volume. I was privileged to meet Ron at a submariner conference back in 2000, and he really impressed me. I was far more impressed by the time I finished reading TORPEDOMAN.

PRINCIPALS OF MARITIME STRATEGY
by Julian S. Corbett, hardcover, 351 pages. 1988 reprint, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.

Originally published in London in 1911, this book was reprinted as part of the U.S. Naval Institute's "Classics of Sea Power" series. Julian Corbett has been called "the UK's A.T. Mahan." (Mahan, by the way, who wrote many great books on sea power just a few years before Corbett did, is considered to be just about America's greatest theorist on the grand strategy of naval affairs.) SOME PRINCIPALS OF MARITIME STRATEGY is a true classic in its field, and grew out of notes Corbett prepared for the academic professional training of the Royal Navy's future officers -- the same way Mahan's primary books grew out of lecture notes he used at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Corbett's writing style is dense, but what he says is deeply thought out and very important. There are some interesting differences between what Corbett and Mahan say on some points, but this seems to be explained mostly by Corbett having analyzed things and drawn conclusions from a very UK-centric perspective. That is, both Corbett and Mahan studied some of the same historical naval battles and campaigns from before the American Revolution, and Great Britain was a direct participant in most of these battles while Mahan viewed them with more detachment and perhaps with greater objectivity. I highly recommend Corbett's book to any serious student of naval history and strategy.

THE FIFTY YEAR WAR: CONFLICT AND STRATEGY IN THE COLD WAR
by Norman Friedman, hardcover, 597 pages. 2000, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.

Norman Friedman is one of my favorite modern writers on naval affairs. His style combines depth of knowledge with clarity of prose in such a way that what might otherwise be ponderous tomes instead become lively page-turners. THE FIFTY YEAR WAR is no exception. In fact its content represents some worthy branching out for Dr. Friedman, as in this book he touches on many political, economic, and land-military issues that were as significant to the general flow and outcome of the Cold War as were the secret head-to-head jousting contests between U.S. and Soviet subs and certain celebrated undersea espionage capers. This book is extremely eye-opening, as some of it is based on new material that was only first declassified after the USSR collapsed, and some is based on Friedman's impressive ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated matters, and on his keen eye for telling details that credibly support shocking revelations. As one example, in the early 1950s Mao Tze Tung seriously urged Stalin to launch a full-scale nuclear war to the death again America. Mao's idea was that, since Russia and China combined had such a bigger population and land area than the U.S., they'd by sheer numbers inevitably be the ultimate winners, even if the U.S. had a larger nuclear arsenal at the time. Mao expected it would take about 200 years for the survivors to rebuild a semblance of modern civilization, but that civilization would be a purely communist one. Fortunately, Stalin declined Mao's kind offer. As another example, "detente" in the 1970s, as seen by several American presidents of both parties, was pitched to the U.S. public as a reduction of tensions with Moscow, when in fact detente was based on the belief, post-Vietnam, that the U.S. would eventually lose the Cold War and so had better reach an accommodation with the Kremlin before it was too late. Only when Russia made the mistake of invading Afghanistan, and Ronald Reagan moved into the Oval Office, was "detente" abandoned for an aggressive confrontational strategy that within a decade succeeded in ending the Cold War on favorable terms for America. THE FIFTY YEAR WAR definitely gives you a lot to think about!

PLAGUES AND PEOPLES
by William H. McNeill, trade paperback, 340 pages. 1989, Anchor Books, NY.

At a time when gobal concern about deadly pandemics is running at an all time high, it's useful to read this fascinating discussion of epidemics and their interplay with human migration patterns over the past several hundred years. Aside from being great reading on its own, PLAGUES AND PEOPLES can provide some perspective about current fears of Avian flu mutating into a lethal human strain and then spreading globally. Be very afraid! Fatal epidemics have repeatedly emerged from one isolated area and then moved outward killing millions as modern civilization's travel patterns expanded and changed. The section about how malaria originated in Africa but then began to appear in tropical climes worldwide, in exact concurrence with human movements on sailing ships during the Great Age of Exploration, is just one case in point among many. Even the origin of AIDS as possibly having been spread from monkeys to humans has certain disturbing parallels in one theory on the emergence of syphilis -- another sexually transmitted disease which used to amount to a slow and horrible death sentence. I won't say more. Read the book.

THE LITTLE ICE AGE: HOW CLIMATE MADE HISTORY, 1300 - 1850
by Brian Fagan, trade paperback, 246 pages, with maps and diagrams. 2000, Basic Books, NY

Just as PLAGUES AND PEOPLES gives a strong historical context for modern fears of a global disease pandemic, THE LITTLE ICE AGE provides insights and perspective for the current debate raging over what to do about global warming. The little ice age, as it became known, was a period of several centuries during which the earth's climate was unusually cold. The public health, sociological, agricultural, political, and military effects of this trend were profound. The freezing and then thawing of the little ice age occurred mostly before human production of greenhouse gases was big enough to have any significance, which suggests that our planet's climate is a more delicate and volatile thing even than many people realize. Unfortunately, some factors affecting average temperatures, and disrupting feedback-correction cycles built into the natural environment, seem to be beyond human control. These include dust and gases released from volcanoes, subtle cyclical fluctuations in the size and brightness of the sun, small but chaotic perturbations of the earth's orbit due to the gravitational tug of Jupiter, and random variations in the rate at which the earth is bombarded by high-energy cosmic rays from deep space. This would seem to suggest that humanity needs to do two things simultaneously, when so far we aren't doing a very good job of either: promptly reduce the greenhouse gases that we ourselves create, but also prepare for our home planet to get warmer anyway and for the sea level to rise. People, no matter how united in their purpose, can't fight the forces of geology and astronomy. THE LITTLE ICE AGE offers an object lesson on that.

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