Military Book Reviews

Developing the Naval Mind

Developing the Naval Mind by Benjamin F. Armstrong and John Freymann (Naval Institute Press, November 15, 2021, 264 p)

Throughout the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, leading officers and strategists have advocated for formal colleges and schools for naval officers but have also made the case that true naval professionalism requires a career-long dedication to learning and to self-improvement. This was the impetus behind the very founding of the U.S. Naval Institute by officers who believed that the Navy’s lack of support for their education meant they needed to create their own organization for self-study and cooperative learning. Naval luminaries like admirals William Sims and Ernest King continued to campaign for self-study and the personal pursuit of professional knowledge during the twentieth century, distributing lists of suggested books for officers to read and promoting their ideas widely through speeches and published works.

While recommending that officers read broadly in pursuit of individual knowledge is an important part of creating a truly educated and professional Fleet and Fleet Marine Force, it is also important for leaders in the sea services to offer mentorship and create opportunities for discourse that encourages group learning. 
Developing the Naval Mind serves as a how-to manual and syllabus for leaders to create and lead wardroom, ready room, and work center discussion groups across the fleet to create a more educated and professionally engaged Navy and Marine Corps.


Developing the Naval Mind is a guide which naval professionals can lay the foundation of lifelong learning for themselves and for those they lead. The authors, Benjamin Armstrong and John Freymann, are both naval officers and permanent military professors assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy. Leveraging their prior experience as operators in the fleet and lessons learned as professors in the classroom, they provide a valuable toolkit for leaders intent on creating unit-based professional military education programs. 

The authors’ primary strength is illustrating the methods leaders used to develop professional seminars within their units. Preparing to guide adult learners is challenging and the new professional military educator may not know where to begin. The authors effectively shine a bright light on what can often be a shadowy endeavor. Of particular value are techniques drawn from the earliest days of the U.S. Naval Institute and the dialogue-based learning curriculum of St. John’s College.

Armstrong and Freymann provide a curated series of essential essays previously published in the professional journal of the sea services, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings. This how-to-manual and syllabus includes contributions from such naval luminaries as Alfred Thayer Mahan, William Sims, J.C. Wylie, Samuel Huntington, James Stockdale, Wayne Hughes, and James Mattis, among others. The topics include the gamut of professional development, which is leadership, tactics, operations, and strategy.

The authors’ overall theme is understanding how naval professionals think and how they should learn. More than that, the authors operationalize each of these essays for military educators. Each selection includes discussion questions crafted by the authors, equipping a seminar leader both with reading material and a path to guide a dialogue in seminar. Readers can use it as a template to develop syllabi tailored to the educational objectives of their own organizations.


One of the most powerful elements of the book is guidance on professional writing. This comprises both a compelling essay on how to write an article, and an appendix collecting pointers for those intent on professional writing. Readers might not initially appreciate the value of skillful writing in both teaching and leading, but the authors make the case for its critical importance. They offer a useful approach to writing using a ‘read, think, speak, and write’ model. This pairs with a supporting appendix that explores the unwritten rules of publishing new writers often learn over time, but must employ if they aim to publish successfully. Topics include how to find the right publication for your article, working with editors, formatting, publishing etiquette, and the essential issue of dealing with critique. This content alone makes the book worth the investment for those who have considered entering the arena of professional writing, as well as those seeking to refine their written communication to better support their day-to-day responsibilities.

Armstrong and Freymann wrote this book for naval professionals intent on charting a course for personal and organizational education outside of formal learning environments. It exceeds expectations. More than that, it serves as an optimal guide for military leaders of any service assigned to professional military education billets at any level. Often, such faculty do not receive training to teach adults, or the instruction is not optimal for adult learning. Developing the Naval Mind can serve as a premier textbook for military faculty in the school setting and for aspiring seminar leaders in the operating forces. 

Brian Kerg is a prior-enlisted mortarman, communications officer, operational planner, and nonresident fellow with Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare. He is currently the Northeast Asia Plans Officer at III Marine Expeditionary Force. Follow or contact him on twitter @BrianKerg.

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