Review: The Accidental Admiral – A Sailor Takes Command at NATO

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Change & Innovation, Complexity & Resilience, Leadership, Military & Pentagon Power, Public Administration, Security (Including Immigration), Threats (Emerging & Perennial)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

James Stavridis

5.0 out of 5 stars In Ike’s mold — a future Secretary of Defense or State or both if we are lucky…, December 11, 2014

This is three books in one, and none of them do justice to the author, who is easily considered by my naval officer colleagues to be a person of most extraordinary intellect and absolute integrity — he is considered a “five star” flag in every possible respect, and there are many of us whom he has mentored or who run with those he has mentored, who hope he will one day be Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State or both. I discussed this book with CAPT Scott Philpott, USN (Ret), among those selected by the author as an innovator, and this point cannot be overstated: to the extent the Services have toxic leadership that must be retired, those mentored by Admiral Stavridis and a few other leaders (General Tony Zinni, for example) are the vanguard for a new generation of leaders who are agile, clear, daring, frugal, and above all, able to bring to bear intelligence with integrity.

As I go through the book a second time, I see time and again evidence that this author was an original thinker who prospered in the face of massive bureaucratic resistance to change. I am reminded of how Admiral Crowe refused Admiral Rickover’s “invitation” to join the nuclear submarine force, risking career termination only to go on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Ambassador to the United Kingdom. There is absolutely no question in my mind but that this author is destined to return to government at the Cabinet level.

The first book, chapters 1-8, is a politically nuanced account of an extraordinary career. The author is one of two plebes from his Naval Academy class to make four star rank, the other being Marine Corps General John Allen. While there are portions of this first book that I might take issue with, I note with interest that the author uses quote marks as a form of loyal dissent, and a careful patient reading of this first third of the volume will yield some gold nuggets.

The second book, chapters 9-16, is where most of the lessons learned are to be found. This is a handbook for innovative leadership, and richly suited as a guide for mid-career officers and leaders in any domain, military or civilian. The word that jumps out at me, although it does not appear in the book, is “hybrid.” This may be the only senior officer that actually gets what I have been saying for 25 years, to wit, we not only need to get serious about all the non-state threats and all threats all the time (what he calls convergences, when many small threats come together to create a firestorm larger than any state can handle), but we must come together across all boundaries. He stresses multinational, inter-agency, and public-private alliances.

The third book is a combination of appendices, a world-class annotated bibliography that in divided between non-fiction and fiction, with the fictional works being of great historical and cultural importance, and a world-class index. Although “intelligence” is not properly presented in the index, there are a number of important references to intelligence successes and failures throughout the book, and it is therefore one that intelligence professionals should study.

Published by the Naval Institute Press, and including 24 pages of high-quality photographs, this is easily a five-star book, but one that does not quite do justice to the five-star admiral who uniquely blends military sagacity with strategic, innovative, diplomatic, cultural, and legal understanding. This book is a pre-quel — it avoids a direct confrontation with the powers that be, and hints at the revolutionary so ably concealing his potential in a diplomatic guise.

Among books authored or co-authored by Admiral Stavridis are:
Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command
Command at Sea, 6th Edition
Partnership for the Americas: Western Hemisphere Strategy and U.S. Southern Command

Comparable auto-biographies include:
Command of the Seas
Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat
From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War

Books not listed in the annotated bibliography that I recommend:
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
Modern Strategy
Surrender to Kindness: One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, & Trust

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