Military Book Reviews

The Admirals

The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King: The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea by Walter R. Borneman (Little Brown & Company, 2012, 576 pages)

The Admirals is intriguing and well-written and a meticulously researched portrait of four admirals. The books tells of the influences of the men’s career choices, but also how they shaped the war in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and how sea power evolved to lead to victory over Japan in World War II.

This book consists of three parts: Sailors, 1897-1918; Ships, 1918-1941; and Admirals, 1941-1945.  

Chester W. Nimitz, William Halsey Jr, and Ernest King were some of the best and most well-known leaders in US naval history. But Borneman also tells the reader of William Leahy who played an instrumental role in World War II. 

The Four Admirals and Leadership

At the beginning of the book, Borneman writes of each of the admirals’ lives; and he skillfully illustrates how their military lives intertwined in the years leading to the Second World War. He also showcases other leaders that played a part such as Admiral Spruance, General MacArthur, Admiral Kimmel, Admiral Fletcher, Roosevelt, Eisenhower. Through the lens of these leaders, significant events like the Battle of Midway, the Battle of Coral Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf unfold once again. Overall, it is a dive deep into US military history without having to read a textbook or four biographies!

Borneman brings the admirals alive and draws the readers in at each and every turn.  Furthermore, the book delivers leadership lessons from the admirals’ career choices, key roles during the war, and their different personalities. Vice Admiral Roland Smoot once commented on the leadership of all four admirals, saying they had, “the ability to make men admire them one way or another.” Smoot also describes each man. Nimitz was the most beloved man. Halsey had a way of influencing others regardless of the situation. King was a hardened martinet gentleman. And, Leahy was open-handed and never let his feelings interfere.


Admiral Nimitz played a major role in the US naval history as Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet and the Pacific Ocean Areas.  He also served as the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1945 to 1947.  One of his biggest accomplishments during the early years was the conversion of the fleet from gasoline to diesel submarines and building the first nuclear-powered submarine.  Nimitz was also the lead in developing underway replenishment techniques to allow longer sustainment at sea.  To Nimitz, leadership “consists of picking good men and helping them do their best for you.  The attributes of loyalty, discipline, and devotion to duty on the part of subordinates must be matched by patience, tolerance and understanding on the part of superiors.”


Admiral Halsey was the Commander in Chief for Third Fleet and South Pacific Area.  He was the last one to join the rank of the four-star admirals and was known for his “hit hard, hit fast, hit often” mantra and his “can-do” leadership. He also recognized that it was the bravery of others that got him to where he was, and by showing appreciation–he sent his vice admiral’s stars to the widows of Rear Admiral Callaghan and Rear Admiral Scott. 


Admiral King was the only admiral to hold the title as the Commander in Chief, US Fleet (COMINCH) and CNO during World War II.  During his tenure at shore duty, he influenced the changes in naval training and career paths for the next generation. He also never earned his submarine warfare insignia while serving in the submarine community. In a thought-provoking statement about his doctrine of calculating risks, he said, “the minute you try to be strong everywhere, you have only the men available–-it means you will be weak everywhere.” A powerful message in so many ways.  


Admiral Leahy served as the CNO in the late 1930s before he retired from the service. A few years late, he was recalled back to active duty as Roosevelt’s foremost military adviser and consultant. He was the first officer to hold the title of a five-star admiral.  Largely unknown by the public, Leahy and King participated in the major strategic decisions behind the scenes that led to Nimitz and Halsey’s roles during the war.  Leahy once addressed graduating midshipmen, “all have to a greater or lesser degree something else that is intangible…a combination of loyalty to ideals, tradition, courage, devotion, clean living, and clear thinking…it reaches far beyond the corps and comradeship.”

The Admirals is a remarkable book for those who enjoy reading military history or merely admire these great leaders. Their story is captivating and filled with many personalities and complicated relationships at play. A must for bookshelves of anyone in the military, leaders, and history lovers.

Dong Logan is an officer in the US Navy and contributed this review. She can be reached at:

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