Learning War examines the U.S. Navy’s doctrinal development from 1898–1945 and explains why the Navy in that era was so successful as an organization at fostering innovation. A revolutionary study of one of history’s greatest success stories, this book draws profoundly important conclusions that give new insight, not only into how the Navy succeeded in becoming the best naval force in the world, but also into how modern organizations can exploit today’s rapid technological and social changes in their pursuit of success.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the Navy created a sophisticated learning system that led to repeated innovations in the development of surface warfare tactics and doctrine. The conditions that allowed these innovations to emerge are analyzed through a consideration of the Navy as a complex adaptive system. Learning War is the first major work to apply this complex learning approach to military history permitting a richer understanding of the mechanisms that enable human organizations to evolve, innovate, and learn.
Reviews and Recognitions
In October 2020, Learning War was made part of the Commandant of the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program.
The former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral John Richardson, has recommended Learning War to new Admirals, Retired Flag Officers, members of his staff, and other naval officers. It was part of the CNO’s 2020 reading list.
“Quite simply, if you are a serving officer and propose to read even one work of naval history this year, this book should be the one.” —Dale C. Rielage, Naval War College Review
“Hone examines the United States Navy of World War II through his lens as a management consultant…. The real hero here is not an individual but a large, complex organization, the American Navy, that quickly grew from second-rate status to become the world’s premier maritime force.” —Thomas E. Ricks, The New York Times.
“Hone deftly blends a traditional historical narrative with a study of doctrinal development as seen through the lens of modern complexity theory. This work will be of interest to naval historians, naval professionals, and anyone with an interest in organizational development and innovation.” —Robert T. Jones, US Army Command & General Staff College
“… this is an important study that dramatically advances our understanding of innovation and the importance of non-technological factors, particularly the development of learning systems, in successful innovation. It will be of use to scholars of both innovation and the U.S. Navy, as well as those with a general interest in those subjects. It offers a valuable case study in successful, long-term innovation in a complex, bureaucratic setting.” —Stephen Stein, The Strategy Bridge.
“Hone’s methodology sets a standard worth replicating for future doctrinal studies that could look at anti-air or anti-submarine warfare. Given the swarth of history covered and Hone’s conclusion that the United States Navy was ahead of its time in its ability to absorb knowledge and put critical lessons learned to practical use, Learning War should be considered for classroom use at academic institutions that offer coursework on naval warfare.” —David F. Winkler, Ph.D., Naval Historical Foundation.
“… this book should be read by both the Canadian Navy’s operational and engineering staff when they serve in such roles as maritime requirements or doctrinal development. As a small navy, the RCN has the ability to be more innovative. We have done it in the past and we can continue to do it. This book is a good primer on how this can be done.” —Gord Forbes, the Naval Association of Canada.
“Learning War is a complex book full of detailed technical naval information, military jargon, and acronyms. Yet, it offers a unique and important window on naval history. This is at times an ambitious read, but quite rewarding. It is… an excellent choice particularly for former naval officers, and a conduit for insight into the complexity of naval warfare for officers of sister services.” —Louis Arthur Norton, The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord
“This superb work is a breakthrough in our understanding of how the U.S. Navy developed professionally and managed high velocity technological change in the decades prior to its supreme test in World War II. It reflects deep research distilled into a fast paced narrative that explains how so much of the Navy’s overall outstanding performance in the war flowed from an institutional culture prepared to adapt and best apply new technology. This work has importance not just to historical understanding of the U.S. Navy in World War II, but also much more broadly to institutional cultures across the board.” —Richard B. Frank, an internationally recognized Asia-Pacific War historian, is the author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire
“Trent Hone’s latest book fills a key gap in the literature about the modern U.S Navy. Building on his previous scholarship in articles and the book he co-authored with his father Tom (Battle Line, USNI 2007), Hone provides the thread of the evolution of the U.S. Navy’s doctrine for combat from the late 1800s to the end of World War II. The Navy revealed here was at the forefront of military institutions as a progressive, flexible, learning organization that enabled the Navy’s unrivaled successes during World War II in the crucible of war.” —John T. Kuehn, Professor of Military History, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, author of America’s First General Staff (USNI, 2017)
“In Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898-1945, Trent Hone’s primary focus is surface warfare, the way the navy’s battleships, cruisers and destroyers fought the Pacific War. Yet he also offers a sophisticated, multi-level analysis of just how the modern navy functioned as an institution and how its leaders learned to think, innovate and command. Highly recommended.” —John B. Lundstrom, author of Black Shoe Carrier Admiral
“I loved this book! Hone brings a unique perspective to the study of the U.S. Navy’s triumph in WWII, exploring how sound decisions taken decades beforehand allowed the Navy to ferociously adapt itself to the crucible of mortal combat. This is a thorough, illuminating, yet engagingly written work—an impressive addition to the scholarship on the Pacific War.” —Jonathan Parshall, co-author, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
“A good read … [and] a technical journey into complexity science!” —The NAVY Magazine
4/5 Stars. —Manhattan Book Review