I’ve never met a great naval officer who wasn’t well-read. There are literally thousands of great books, fiction and nonfiction alike, which can help prepare you for service. Sometimes its best to read something that has nothing at all to do with the Navy, especially when you’re at sea. All that said, these are a few of my favorites.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. My first recommendation for any aspiring naval officer is Six Frigates, a masterfully woven narrative of our Navy’s formative years. I didn’t think I would enjoy this book, but I couldn’t put it down. It is just awesome, from the cynical swamps of politics all the way to the ferocious violence of sea battle. In these pages we learn that all the red tape, political maneuvering, price gouging, and supply-chain confusion that makes warships so expensive is as old as our Navy itself. We also learn that going cheap on warships just ends up wasting money—a lesson we re-learn every few years—and that superior warships are worth almost any price when their unique capabilities are required.
Next, I suggest the masterpiece of naval fiction The Caine Mutiny, especially for Ensigns and JGs. Set in WWII, this accessible but highly complex coming-of-age tale is obviously written by a Navy veteran. It’s not a war novel, per se—it’s about the Navy, which retains its distinctive character regardless of whatever war is going on, and regardless of whatever century we’re in. While the story is plenty engaging, if you can read between the lines you will find a different classic lesson of the authentic Navy experience in every chapter.
For Submariners: The rest of these suggestions are specific to those who wear or aspire to wear dolphins. They are all written for a general audience, though, so you still might find them worth reading even if you’re not a bubblehead.
This is almost obligatory, but if you haven’t read Blind Man’s Bluff, you kinda need to. It is a nonfiction (though not officially confirmed) account of classified submarine operations during the Cold War. It is widely regarded as the best nonfiction work on recent submarine operations, and is definitely the most popular. Many submariners refer their friends and family to it rather than attempting to explain what we do (“just read the book”). I won’t suggest that it’s perfectly accurate or that it’s a persistently thrilling page-turner, but because it’s so widely read, it has become our unofficial history and you should be familiar with it.
While less relevant today than the 60 years that followed it, the ~2.5 years of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific still pervades our identity as a Force. Especially for Pearl Harbor submariners, the iconography is everywhere, and if you’re not familiar with the history, then you should be. There are hundreds of books on this subject; I’ll narrow it down to two recommendations. For an easy and fun read, I offer the classic Run Silent, Run Deep. I especially recommend this for SOBC students—for an extra “historic” vibe, find the tattered old copy in the Groton base library. As for a nonfictional account, I think your best bet is Wahoo, where Dick O’Kane tells the story of Mush Morton and his crazy tactics, which marked the turning point in the Pacific submarine war.
Finally, I offer two modern leadership books by relatively recent submarine veterans. I acknowledge that books on leadership can be soul-crushingly lame, but these two are pretty good. The first and most recent is Turn the Ship Around by CAPT David Marquet. It’s really written by a CO for COs, but the anecdotes are entertaining and the lessons are valid for all ranks. More importantly, many of the practices he recommends have become widespread in our Force, with varying degrees of success. I guarantee that your CO has read this, and if you’re familiar with the source document you can better understand what your superiors are trying to accomplish. For a more generalized submarine perspective, I offer RADM Dave Oliver’s Lead On. Oliver draws from a wider depth of experience than Marquet, and I found his overall tone to be more gritty and down-to-earth. This was another book I couldn’t put down.