Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (Illustrated)

by Alfred Thayer Mahan

Paperback, 2016



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CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2016), Edition: Ill, 214 pages


Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) was an American naval officer, considered one of the most important naval strategists of the nineteenth century. In 1885 he was appointed Lecturer in Naval History and Tactics at the US Naval War College, and became President of the institution between 1886-1889. This highly influential volume, first published in 1890, contains Mahan's analysis of naval warfare and tactics between 1660-1783. Mahan discusses and analyses the factors which led to Britain's naval domination during the eighteenth century, and recommends various naval strategies based on these factors. His work was closely studied by contemporary military powers, with his tactics adopted by many major navies in the years preceding the First World War. This volume is considered one of the most influential published works on naval strategy, and is invaluable for the study of naval warfare both before and during the First World War.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SkjaldOfBorea
First published 1890, this book now belongs on every Top 10 of military strategic thought, along with the works of a Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. Within purely naval strategy, it's a barely disputed Top 1. Light reading it isn't. Drawing mainly from the the Age of Sail, Mahan's substance may (or may not)
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be partly dated. But his repetitive style, however nourished by sharp & fresh details, surely hints of a bygone age.

Still, it's a masterpiece. Mahan set himself a simple but decisive task: to explain why England's Royal Navy, from mainly 1660 to 1783, became the most decisive maritime force in history. His answers circle, with hypnotic iteration, around 3 main insights:

1) For ambitious nations (or any state hoping to defend itself against these), a credible naval policy is such a multiplier of strength that it has become fatal if not inconceivable to neglect this dimension.

2) An armed navy never rests on a vacuum, or on a merely militarist policy, but draws its resources & power from an even healthier, flourishing commercial navy. This insight, or instinct, is the innermost "secret" of England's maritime empire.

3) Yet to undermine an enemy sea power it won't do to attack its trade. You must specifically engage its armed fleet. Not its commercial vessels, colonies, or even supply posts alone. Destroy the warships that safeguard all that. Such was England's strategy, time after time. France stubbornly insisted on the opposite doctrine, & ended up as the also-ran.

To Mahan, a flamboyant exception proving these principles was French Admiral Pierre André de Suffren. Almost alone among his compatriots he understood war in English terms, conducting it even better than his enemy. Yet without support from his peers & superiors, decisive victory kept eludíng him. Precisely because his success was so obviously shackled, he demonstrates what France or any nation might achieve, the very moment they sit down & copy the English way.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
A classic that is said to have been inspired by Theodore Roosevelt in which Mahan argues that any nation wishing to maintain its strength must possess a strong navy.
LibraryThing member steve.clason
This is one of the foundational works of maritime strategy and puts Mahan in a category with history's other great strategic thinkers; Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Moltke, Giap, Mao. Like those others, Mahan's tactical doctrines, and so the examples and illustrations taken from his writings, are obsolete
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and mostly irrelevant in the world of modern weaponry. Like the others, also, his strategic doctrine is suspect, but his influence is so great that everyone writing on maritime strategy gives him at least a hat-tip.

The Japanese, arguably, based their entire naval strategy during WWII on Mahan's ideas, and his work is cited increasingly by Chinese strategists as they hurry to build a blue-water navy, two facts which argue for Mahan's continued relevance. The period he writes of here was during the age of sail, and descriptions of maneuver can be hard to follow, but the combat operations he details can be read through quickly without losing sight of the strategic ideas.

Spoiler: A nation's strategic power rests on it's control of the seas. Control of the seas depends on production, commerce, and colonies (which provide friendly, foreign ports), and the purpose of a navy is to ensure these dependencies through an ability to destroy the enemy fleets.
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LibraryThing member nandadevi
Well sometimes a classic is book that is good to own, but not to read. Innovative as it might have been in it's day, it's more significant on reflection for creating history (arguably being an inspiration for the Japanese, German and US heavy investment in sea power in the early 1900's), than as
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history. At it's core it's an essentially tedious account of the projection of political power by the British navy in the days of sail and empire, and rather tediously makes a great deal of battle tactics rather than the influence of trade and communication. There is a theme here that is very relevant today - witnessing China's creation of a deep water navy - but this isn't the book that has much (any more) to say about it.
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214 p.; 11 inches


1539887596 / 9781539887591
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