My Top Ten List

Photo of Tom Finley

Tom Finley

Quad Cities Librarian/Senior Instructor

Hometown: Quincy, IL
Education: Western Illinois University (BA); University of Kentucky (MSLS)
Favorite Book: Catch-22
Favorite TV Shows: Arsenal football, Kentucky basketball. There is nothing else on TV worth watching!
Favorite Film: Star Wars. And I don’t call it “A New Hope”, because that’s not what it was called when I first saw it at the State Theater in Quincy in 1977. I went back and saw it 15 times that summer because I figured I’d never get the chance again. Slight miscalculation on my part.

I have always held a fascination with the ocean and the seafaring life, to the degree that I signed away four years of my life and served as an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy. While circumstances have seen me take up the library profession, I will always remain a sailor at heart. Naval history is my favorite subject, and the U.S. Navy was never more victorious nor in greater peril than during WW II.

So, here are my top ten favorite books about the U.S. Navy and the Second World War:

Cover of The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise


10. The Big E: The story of the USS Enterprise — Edward Stafford. This is a classic ship’s history of the USS Enterprise, CV-6. She is arguably the greatest warship in our nation’s history, with 20 battle stars earned during WW II. I read this book initially at age 10 or so, but have re-read it dozens of times since. It sparked my interest in the Navy and naval aviation enough that I wanted to live the experience. So I did!

Image from Walk in the Woods


Image from The Ask


9. The First Team/The First Team and Guadalcanal Campaign — John Lundstrom.
Lundstrom’s two volumes on the Navy’s fighter pilots during the first 12 months of the war are superb. It is fascinating history and he is an excellent writer. He sorts out all the details and names and events while keeping it interesting. History is so much more palatable when the narrative is strong.

Cover Art: Wake of the Wahoo


8. Wake of the Wahoo — Forest Sterling.
The author was a Yeoman 2nd Class on Mush Morton’s USS Wahoo, one of the first U.S. submarines to experience extended success after a frustrating first year of war. The narrative is from the perspective of an enlisted sailor onboard a fleet submarine during wartime and it is raucous and profane, just as it should be. By fate or by Providence, Sterling received orders at the very last minute and missed the Wahoo’s final patrol. She was sunk in La Pérouse Strait with all hands in autumn 1943 after wreaking havoc in the Sea of Japan.

Cover Art: Aircraft Carriers


7. Aircraft Carriers : A Graphic History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events — Norman Polmar.
This concise and voluminous treatment on the development and subsequent employment of aircraft carriers covers all the bases, from the great fleet carriers to the mass-produced escort carriers. This book is the best first place to start if you want to know about naval aviation.

Cover Art: The Jolly Rogers


6. The Jolly Rogers: The story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17 — Tom Blackburn.
I always loved the fighter pilots and Fighting 17 were colorful and aggressive as a fighter squadron ought to be. The first Navy squadron to deploy the superb F4U Corsair, they were booted off the USS Bunker Hill because the new aircraft was still not carrier ready. Instead, they were deployed to the Solomons where they were heavily involved in the reduction of Rabaul as a forward operating base for Japan. With a pirate’s skull and crossbones painted on the cowl of their Corsairs, the Jolly Rogers were the scourge of the Solomons.

Cover Art: The Two-Ocean War


5. The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War — Samuel Eliot Morrison.
You need to begin someplace, and Samuel Eliot Morrison’s two volume history of the naval war is a logical starting point. Morrison was commissioned as a Naval Officer in 1942 (at age 55) and spent the next ten years writing the history. If you are up for a more in-depth treatment, then skip the 2 volume set and look for the 15 volume set. It’s all there. If you have the time.

Cover Art: Silent Victory


4. Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan — Clay Blair, Jr.
The U.S. Navy defeated the Imperial Navy in dozens of surface and air actions throughout the war. But the Navy defeated the nation of Japan primarily through a ruthlessly effective submarine offensive. We successfully starved Japan of material goods to the point that they didn’t have fuel for their ships or aircraft by the end of the war. To have a full appreciation and understanding of Pacific victory, one cannot ignore the submarine campaign. Clay Blair’s book should be on your reading list.

Cover Art: Shattered Sword

3. Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway — Jonathan Parshall, Anthony Tully.
Midway was the great victory for the U.S. Navy, effectively breaking the back of the Japanese carrier force (four carriers sunk) and halting what had been a very one-sided offensive up to that point. Much has been written on the topic, but I will recommend this more recent history (from 2006) because it corrects many inaccuracies from earlier tomes. It is written with a focus on the perspective from the Japanese side of the battle, and is a fascinating read.

Cover Art: Helldiver Squadron


2. Helldiver Squadron — Robert Olds.
In early 1943, VB-17 was tasked with taking the Navy’s new and temperamental dive bomber, the SB2C Helldiver, into operational status. Written during the war, just after Bombing 17 finished their deployment, it is a micro view of the naval war, written by a newspaper journalist who lived and worked on board ship with the squadron as the Navy ratcheted up the offensive in 1943. I first read one excerpted chapter from this book in an aviation magazine during the 1970s and was captivated by the story. I was thrilled when I discovered the entire book some 15 years later while working at my first library position at SIU-Med. I-Share is awesome!

Cover Art: Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea


1. Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea: The Daring Capture of the U-505 — Daniel Gallery.
I will finish my list with a book by a fellow Illinoisan, Rear Admiral D. V. Gallery. In 1944, he was the C.O. of the USS Guadalcanal, an escort carrier fighting the U-Boat scourge in the Atlantic. Captain Gallery decided we needed to capture a U-Boat, so he devised a plan and then actually went and did it. It is high adventure on the high seas and every unbelievable detail is true. The U-505 now sits at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago. Dan Gallery went on to publish 10 books and numerous articles during retirement. He tells sea stories as well as anyone I know.

Last bit of "bling" — me then and now.

Image of Tom Finley (Then) Image of Tom Finley (Now)