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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who led "from sea to shining sea" during World War Two, 27 Oct 2012
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
Many years ago, I read 19 Stars: Study in Military Character & Leadership (1971) in which Edgar F. Puryear rigorously examines four U.S. Army Generals: Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall, and Patton. The title refers to the total of their stars, with only Patton having been awarded four at the time of his death.

I often wished there were a companion volume that focuses on their counterparts during World War Two, on four Five Star Admirals in the U.S. Navy: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King. I have always had an interest in military history and a keen interest in learning more about the preparation and deployment of those whose leadership can be the difference between life or death, victory or defeat, when battles are waged. Therefore I am deeply grateful to Walter R. Borneman for what I have learned from his book while acknowledging that I am unqualified to address any validation issues that others have.

Even used copies of 19 Stars are very difficult to locate. However, there are countless other, highly-praised and less costly sources for those especially interested in one or more of the four generals, Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall, and Patton as well as those that discuss one or more of the four admirals, Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King. Winston Churchill once observed that the United States and England are separated by a common language. The barriers to effective communication can be linguistic, cultural, and even anthropological. These barriers are especially difficult during wartime crises when those at the highest level of authority and responsibility must communicate, cooperate, and collaborate effectively despite their significant differences. Add other considerations such as ego, career advancement, public esteem, and media attention and it becomes even more obvious how complicated the relationships between and among military leaders were during World War Two. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill did little (if anything) to make them easier.

When examining Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King, Borneman focuses on issues such as these:

o Early indications of what they could -- and did -- achieve during their military career
o Greatest influences on their personal growth
o Greatest influences on their professional development
o Defining characteristics of their leadership style
o Most significant personal strengths and weaknesses
o Specific contributions to the Allied victory

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer's Market at which several merchants offer fresh slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now share a few of the passages in which Borneman's discusses the admirals when they attended the U.S. Naval Academy:

Leahy "the Judge," Annapolis: Class of 1897:

As a student at Annapolis, Leahy was solid but never stellar. He was content to play tackle on the B squad in football, and he sometimes seemed to float his way through classes...common sense seemed to radiate from Leahy's otherwise reserved and even dour personality throughout his life, and among his classmates it earned him the nickname `the Judge.'"

King, "Rey," Annapolis, Class of 1901: "If he graduated first in his class, King reasoned, he might become too visible for comfort during his career. Superiors' expectations might be too high. But if he graduated third or fourth, he would still have the prestige without as much of the scrutiny. It was a typical King rationalization, and he would take similar position in similar situations throughout his career."

Halsey, "Pudge," Annapolis, Class of 1904: When dangerously close to failing theoretical mechanics, Halsey "recruited the scholars in the class to tutor him and a few others similarly challenged. When the exam was over, Bill went to his father's quarters for lunch and was immediately asked if the results had been posted. `Yes, sir,' Bill answered, and then reported he had made 3.98 out of 4.0. His father stared at him for a full minute and then finally asked incredulously, `Sir, have you been drinking?'"

Nimitz, "Nim-i-tiz," Annapolis, Class of 1905: "By all accounts, Nimitz was a hardworking and even-tempered cadet who got along easily with subordinates, peers, and superiors alike. The [academy yearbook] Lucky Bag struck at the core of his personality by observing that he `possesses the calm and steady going Dutch way that gets at the bottom of things.' His identifying quote his senior year was from Wordsworth: `A man he seems cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows.'"

As is also true of CEOs in the business world, general officers in the military come in all shapes and sizes. That is certainly true of the four admirals whom Borneman discusses in his book. However, there are also resemblances such as those shared by Halsey and Patton, for example, and by Army General George Marshall and Leahy. Ultimately, they are best viewed and appreciated as imperfect human beings who were entrusted with making decisions that had life-or-death implications, not only for those they led but for countless others in or out of uniform. Here in a single volume is probably about as much about each of them that general readers such as I wish to know.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is a sign of the book's strengths that it leaves you both informed and wanting to know more, 1 Sep 2012
Mark Pack (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Walter R. Borneman's book is a very ambitious one, trying to squeeze into one volume four different characters each of whom could easily fill a multi-volume biography themselves. It's an ambition Borneman succeeds in matching, with the inevitable omissions not detracting too much from the book.

The book tells us of the careers of the only American 5-Star Admirals, all of whom served with great distinction in the Second World War. They are wrapped together into a story that, despite the need to cover four different people, is still cohesive, showing the reader not only how the individuals developed but also how naval technology and tactics evolved during their four careers and how the war in the Pacific was won.

Several of the key battles in the Pacific have generated many books in their own right, and Borneman skilfully balances giving the reader enough of an understanding of the controversies over some of the battles without getting mired too much into the details. Chances are you will be reaching for the internet or the bookshelf to find out more about the particular controversies which most interest you when reading the book - and triggering that level of further interest is a sign of an author succeeding. Borneman's copious notes and bibliography help with that, with the notes also including some interesting side-stories to the main narrative, such as on the efforts to end segregation in the navy.

What is missing then? Well, pretty much all of the naval operations by the US outside the Pacific. In particular, the battle against German submarines in the Atlantic gets only brief mentions despite its crucial importance to the outcome of the Second World War. Two important related questions are implied rather than discussed head-on. A range of US naval commanders were at various times criticised for not being aggressive enough in the search for a decisive naval victory over the Japanese. Individual cases are discussed by Borneman. What we don't get is much discussion of the strategic context: with the long-run clearly favouring the US over Japan, especially giving the two nation's comparative ship building rates, would caution not have been the strategically smart strategy? As with the British navy at Jutland in the First World War, draws were really successes given that it was the opponent who needed to land a knock-out blow. Related to that, what impact did the frequent media demands have on the judgements of senior naval officers - did that help tempt them to seek risk and short-term glory? Given Borenman's range of understanding, it would have been great to hear more from him on this.

No book, however, can cover everything - and it's a sign of the book's strengths that it leaves you both informed and wanting to know more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 30 Jan 2014
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This is an excellent well organised semi biography of most probably the greatest admirals in US Navy history. No punches spared as honest as informative. A must for any naval enthusiast.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Admirals who defeated Japan, 24 May 2013
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This book published in 2012 details the careers of the most important Admirals of the US Navy during World War 2 who became the then unheard of five star Admirals. The careers of each are discussed from their days in Annapolis, the United States Naval Academy which include personal stories / observations which enables one to understand these exceptional people as each developed the skills which enabled the eventual triumph of USA in the Pacific War. Also are discussed the political background and internal tensions between the various theatre commanders in the Pacific as to the strategy to be used.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King - The 5-Star Admirals..., 21 Mar 2013
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For a student of the Pacific Campaign absolutely indispensible and unputdownable! The biographical in warfare is inseparable from the logistical and the strategic. Great generals and admirals are both born and made, but I think probably more born.
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