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Reviewed by:
  • American Admiralship: The Moral Imperatives of Naval Command
  • John B. Hattendorf
American Admiralship: The Moral Imperatives of Naval Command. By Edgar F. Puryear, Jr. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59114-699-2. Notes. Index. Pp. xviii, 647. $36.95.

A lecturer and well-known author of books on generalship in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, Edgar Puryear turns his attention in this book to the accepted ideas of leadership in the U.S. Navy. Using as a foundation what he had learned from other services, Puryear approaches this subject by examining the standard published biographies of the best-known American admirals of World War II—Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, William F. Halsey, and Raymond A. Spruance—along with key Cold War leaders such as admirals Arleigh Burke and Hyman Rickover.

With this basis in the literature, he expands his study with the insights of the leading American flag officers of recent decades, utilizing personal interviews and oral histories, to get at the issues that they emphasize as fundamental elements of naval leadership in high command. Among the key recent naval leaders whose ideas he has explored are former chiefs of naval operations, Thomas H. Moorer, Elmo Zumwalt, James L. Holloway III, Thomas B. Hayward, James B. Watkins, Frank B. Kelso II, Carlisle A. H. Trost, Jay L. Johnson, and Vern Clark, along with other prominent flag officers such William J. Crowe, Robert L. J. Long, Charles R. Larson, Kinnaird McKee, Paul David Miller, Bruce DeMars, Jeremiah Denton, James B. Stockdale, and Stansfield Turner.

Using these sources, Puryear organized his book into topical chapters that deal with the eight qualities for successful American military leadership that he has identified through his several studies: (1) willingness to put service before self; (2) the desire and strength of character to achieve positions that require making tough decisions; (3) a sixth sense that enhances judgment; (4) an aversion to "yes men"; (5) a maturity in perception and judgment attained through lifelong professional reading; (6) mentorship reflecting the need to develop the most promising men and women under one's command; (7) delegation of leadership responsibility among subordinates; (8) acceptance of personal accountability along with the ability to fix problems rather than to blame others when things have gone wrong. [End Page 557]

For each of his topical areas, Puryear has produced chapters composed of long anecdotal quotations from oral histories and personal interviews that he has conducted. Typically set in indented type, these quotations go on for four or five pages, sometimes without a break and sometime with a line or two of the author's transition to focus the subject at hand. Within each thematic chapter, short transitions are made from the thoughts of one flag officer to those of another, but Puryear's carefully selected extracts remain on focus, although sometimes repetitive, as they provide illustrations of the subject in the context of specific situations, while at the same time staying away from abstract or theoretical analysis.

One misses a discussion of whether or not there is distinctiveness to naval leadership and command experience in contrast or comparison to that in other services. While the insights on World War II naval leadership are derivative from published materials, the book makes a substantial contribution to the literature on naval leadership as well as provides documentary evidence through the author's interviews with key recent leaders on a number of specific situations in recent American naval history.

John B. Hattendorf
Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 557-558
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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