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The influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783 (original 1890; edition 1957)

by A. T. Mahan

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409426,011 (3.91)7
Member:cannon
Title:The influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783
Authors:A. T. Mahan
Info:New York, Sagamore Press, 1957.
Collections:Your library
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Tags:military history

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The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1890)

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Such a hard long slog, but useful points were made. Especially about the roots of sea power and how sometimes the best way to seize land is to hold the seas. Some of the book has been overtaken by technology such as ship tracking satellites, but many of the books overarching ideas make sense. Alas the actual accounts of sea battles were completely eye glazing to me. ( )
  dcornwall | Jan 2, 2014 |
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 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. ( )
  steve.clason | Nov 23, 2012 |
First published 1890, this book now belongs on every Top 10 of military strategic thought, along with the works of a Clausewitz. Within purely naval strategy, it's a barely disputed Top 1. Light reading it isn't. Drawing mainly from the Age of Sail, Mahan's substance may (or may not) be partly dated. But his repetitive style, however nourished by sharp & fresh details, hints of a bygone age.

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

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 only its trade. You must specifically engage its armed fleet, in bold, decisive battles. Not its commercial vessels, colonies, or even supply posts alone. Destroy, annihilate 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 rules was French Admiral Pierre 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 eluding him. Precisely because his success was so obviously shackled, here he represents how further afar France or any nation might reach, the moment they more consistently imitate the English way. ( )
3 vote nielspeterqm | Dec 26, 2010 |
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. The perennial relevance can be applied to the Chinese who have developed a killer weapon that specifically takes out American aircraft carriers. The Chinese are applying their offensive weapons as the Americans once took their defense and build up of a Navy seriously.

Cf. The Naval War Of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt. Da Capo Press (1999), Paperback, 500 pages.
1 vote gmicksmith | Aug 10, 2008 |
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The first and most obvious light in which the sea presents itself from the political and social point of view is that of a great highway; or better, perhaps, of a wide common, over which men may pass in all directions, but on which some well-worn paths show that controlling reasons have led them to choose certain lines of travel rather than others. These lines of travel are called trade routes; and the reasons which have determined them are to be sought in the history of the world.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486255093, Paperback)

Influential classic of naval history and tactics still used as text in war colleges. Read by Kaiser Wilhelm, both Roosevelts, other leaders. First paperback edition. 4 maps. 24 battle plans.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:25 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The definite object proposed in this work is an examination of the general history of Europe and America with particular reference to the effect of sea power upon the course of that history. Historians generally have been unfamiliar with the conditions of the sea, having as to it neither special interest nor special knowledge; and the profound determining influence of maritime strength upon great issues has consequently been overlooked. This is even more true of particular occasions than of the general tendency of sea power. It is easy to say in a general way, that the use and control of the sea is and has been a great factor in the history of the world; it is more troublesome to seek out and show its exact bearing at a particular juncture. Yet, unless this be done, the acknowledgment of general importance remains vague and unsubstantial; not resting, as it should, upon a collection of special instances in which the precise effect has been made clear, by an analysis of the conditions at the given moments. -- from Preface (p. [iii]).… (more)

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