The Recipient’s Son, by Stephen Phillips

by Peter on April 27, 2013

Recipient's SonThe Recipient’s Son is many things. It is a sensitive novel about a young man’s coming of age. It is a revealing novel about life in the somewhat closed educational institutions of the armed forces – in this case the US Naval Academy. For readers who are outsiders relative to these institutions – like me – it provides what seem to be authentic and realistic glimpses of a strange world where honor and discipline is in focus, but where power, politics, individual aspirations and inability to understand threatens to undermine and destroy a fragile system, based on notions of justice quite alien to the outside world.

In The Recipient’s Son Stephen Phillips tells a story of a young man without parents who struggles with the legacy of his father: For a long time all Donald Durango knew was that his father was killed in Vietnam. Then he learned, more or less by accident, that his father was a war hero, that he had received a Medal of Honor posthumously.

Because of the medal, Durago was able to get into the Naval Academy. He wanted that. But he didn’t really know why he wanted it. He struggled with his motivation and for a long time performed badly. Then something happened that made him understand his legacy, and assisted by friends and mentors – a feared master chief, a roommate, his girlfriend – he decides to try to stretch toward loftier goals. Gradually he finds the confidence to pursue a military career.

But just as things start shaping up, Donald Durango will meet his greatest challenge, one that will make him or break him. A superior officer who sees a wonderful new opportunity to promote his own career sets in motion a process that has the potential to take all Durango has struggled so hard to achieve.

The Recipient’s Son is a very interesting and well-told tale of a young man lacking identity and full of self-doubts coming to grips with his past and present and accepting the challenge of serving his country. The novel is subtitled «A Novel of Honor», a very apt title: It is a book to enjoy and a book to learn about honor from.

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Pirate AlleyPirate Alley is a little outside the normal for this blog. Sure, it’s about pirates. And about naval action. But while it reads like fiction, it is unfortunately not fiction. For unpleasant as it may be, piracy is for real, and this book is written by a former commander of US Task Force 151 off Somalia. It’s the real deal. It’s subtiteled “Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia“, and that’s what it is about.

Piracy off the coast of Africa is a major international problem. It is important to notice that piracy is a problem in many other areas as well; the pirates off the coast of Africa simply get the most attention. The author of this book directed operations that disrupted several hijackings and resulted in the capture of sixteen Somali pirates. After running head-on into a U.S. policy of catch-and-release, he realized that there was more to fighting piracy than just catching youngsters armed with AK-47s and RPGs.

Pirate Alley, co-written with journalist Michael Hirsh, is a very readable yet authoritative introduction to the subject. The authors explore every aspect of Somali piracy, from how the pirates operate to how their actions have impacted the world economy. They examine various attempts to solve the problem, including placing armed guards aboard merchant ships, and highlight the best ways to outfit ships for travel through high risk areas. It’s an interesting and important book!

“Terry McKnight brings unparalleled experience and exceptional insight to bear on how the Navy can better address the modern piracy issue. Nor does he rest on his laurels; he addresses the issue with comprehensive research and interviews, as well as an open mind, as he looks at all the options. He offers ideas and solutions, and then backs them with well-considered reasoning. A must-read for anyone struggling with this complex issue.”

–Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA)

“Pirate Alley is a compelling read that vividly shows how difficult it is to deal with the situation in the seas off Somalia. For the first time we hear from a pirate hunter and see the pride of those sailors serving under him, from a variety of navies. But there is also frustration from those like McKnight who must grapple with government bureaucracies, political interference, and commercial indifference to the plight of thousands of people.”

–Daniel Sekulich, author of Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern Day Pirates and Ocean Titans

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The Greater The Honor, William H. White

by Peter on April 16, 2013

The Greater the HonorHistorical fiction is educational. The Greater the Honor is a naval fiction novel, well- researched and based on historical facts about the Barbary War. Until relatively recently, I didn’t know anything about the Barbary Wars or even about American naval presence in the Mediterranean at the very beginning of the nineteenth century. Then I read the very interesting Pirates of Barbary, by Adrian Tinniswood. And recently I reviewed two other novels about the Barbary Wars, the excellent A Call to Arms and the sequel For Love of Country, both by William C. Hammond. And now this novel by naval historian and author William H. White. At this pace I will be an expert on America’s forgotten war in a few more years!

The First Barbary War was America’s first military conflict since the end of the Revolution, and took place in the far away Mediterranean. It targeted the quite powerful states, governed by robber barons supporting bands of pirates, on the Northern rim on Africa. While some European nations seemingly came to accord with the pirates and were able to carry out trade in the region in relative peace, the Americans were not willing to be held ransom.

In The Greater The Honor, William H. White describes this interesting war using a fictionalized form. Interestingly, while he writes about a number of well-known historical characters and their actions, he chooses to tell the story through a fictional character, the young and quite green midshipman Oliver Baldwin.

Using young Baldwin in this fashion is a device that works quite well in The Greater The Honor. It allows White to let the story unfold in a very natural manner and also permits him to show and explain a good bit about sailing, sailing ships and life in the US Navy in those early days, from an interesting observation point in the hierarchy of the ship.
Also quite interesting is that White chooses not to make Baldwin the hero of the story: he is the center, but certainly not the center of gravity in this tale. Rather, the heroes are the names many will recognize from the history of these wars: Commodore Edward Preble, Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Isaac Hull, James Lawrence, and several others.

However, having a young central figure that isn’t really the center of things requires a difficult balancing act by the author. In my opinion, White does a very good job of this, but sometimes I feel he dwells too much with the inner life of Mr. Baldwin. Perhaps also White is a little too eager to educate the reader at times.

That said, this is well-told, very interesting, and quite accomplished tale of an intriguing and strange war. The historical setting is well-described and the tales of bravery and heroism portrayed in an engaging, fast-paced, and exciting manner. The Greater The Honor is an entertaining tale of the US Navy during the Age of Sail.

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True Colours by Alaric BondTrue Colours is the third installment in Alaric Bond’s Fighting Sails series. It is set in 1797 and deals with the very difficult period when the British Navy was more or less crippled by mutiny at Spithead, the Nore, and several other harbors while being at war with the French and her Dutch allies. We meet again most of the characters from the previous book, The Jackass Frigate, including Captain Banks, Frasier, and Flint. And, of course, the scene is the jackass frigate HMS Pandora.

Pandora has been on convoy duty and returns around the time of the mutiny. The dissatisfaction that seems to be brewing everywhere even spreads to Pandora, and she is touched by the historical events and experiences an attempted mutiny. However, she escapes and is eventually ordered out to join the North Sea fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan.

The mutiny is actually a pretty sad affair. The mutineers’ claims were very reasonable and they behaved in a civilized manner, after having been more or less neglected by the Royal Navy for 150 years. The mutiny should never have been necessary. Bonds’ portrayal of the event is generally balanced and quite interesting.

In the North Sea, Admiral Duncan is trying his best to contain the Dutch fleet with a few old and worn out ships. His situation is so desperate that he attempts to pretend he has a much larger fleet by a cleverly organized ruse de guerre! As it turns out, that’s a difficult sell: the Dutch are much better informed than the Admiral assumes…

The Dutch take the time they feel they need to prepare, then move out. And when they do, one of the most famous battles in British naval history ensues: the battle of Camperdown. What a battle it was-with the Royal Navy outnumbered against the tough navy of the Dutch! Duncan’s tactic of breaking the Dutch line was later used by and attributed to Admiral Nelson. Alaric Bond’s description of this battle in True Colours is one of the best I have read. Bond is able to convey the overall development of the battle in an exceptional manner.

True Colours is wonderful book, well-written, full of living, breathing characters and with lots of naval action. It confirms Alaric Bond’s standing as one of the best contemporary writers of nautical fiction in the Age of Sail. Also, the novel is quite suspenseful and very entertaining. Highly recommended.

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Airship: Design, Development and Disaster, by John Swinfield

March 4, 2013

For most, airships represent a tremendously appealing, glamorous and perhaps even romantic technology that has completely failed. Once it was viewed as incredibly promising and interesting for a wide range of applications – for military purposes and for long range transportation of goods and people. Then came the disasters of USS Akron (see image of […]

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Hazardous Duty, by Michael Winston

March 3, 2013

“Hazardous Duty” is the third book in Michael Winston’s nautical fiction series featuring Jonathan Kinkaid, but the fourth in terms of publication date. After writing the third book in the series, Tidings of Victory, the author seemingly decided to write one more book in the series, and make it the third book in the series. […]

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The Jackass Frigate, by Alaric Bond

February 19, 2013

The Jackass Frigate (a name sometimes used for small ‘sixth rate’ frigates) is the second book in Alaric Bond’s Fighting Sails series. I was very favorably impressed with the first book, and was looking forward to this one. The book begins with a scene that sets the tone for most of the book: Two old […]

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British Battleships of World War One, by R. A. Burt

February 14, 2013

This is the new, revised edition of a classic work on British battleships, British Battleships of World War One, New Revised Edition is the full title. I have to start out by saying that it a magnificent book: It is in hardcover, printed in a large format (9.6×11.2 inches) on high quality paper, and has […]

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