The United States Navy is paradoxically the most traditional and innovative of America’s armed services. It is also by far and away the most diverse in terms of missions and capabilities. In addition to its fleet of cutting-edge surface ships and submarines, the Navy possesses its own ground force—the Marines—and an air force, both land and carrier-based, which has greater strike capability than the air forces of most developed nations. The Navy’s supercarrier battle groups function as mobile military cities, extending American power and influence across the entire globe.
Because the Navy bears primary responsibility for guaranteeing freedom of the seas, and because it invariably finds itself at the center of the international community’s response to geopolitical crisis, violent and otherwise, it could very well be said that the U.S. Navy is a world institution as well as an American one.
The purpose of Craig L. Symonds’s The U.S. Navy: A Concise History, is to explain in broad strokes how this enormously powerful and complex institution came to be what it is today, and to describe its myriad contributions to the nation’s wars, as well as to American foreign policy. With admirable economy, Symonds traces the sea service’s evolution from its origins in the Revolution as a scrappy, ad hoc force punching well above its weight against the mighty Royal Navy—with more than a little help from the French Navy—up through the War of 1812, where its record was a mixed bag of startling successes on the Great Lakes and in the great frigate duals (e.g., the USS Constitution vs. the HMS Guerriere) on the open ocean, and outright defeat on the east coast, where American gun boats proved no match for British ships of the line as they landed forces and sacked Washington.