Is There a Good Book about the Coast Guard?

I was recently asked if there was a good text to explain the Coast Guard, and I have to say I had no answer. Anyone have any recommendations that in a single volume explain the services roles? Any documents on-line?

13 thoughts on “Is There a Good Book about the Coast Guard?

  1. Rescue Warriors is good, Brotherhood of the Fin is good for Rescue Swimmers. Quite a bit of good real life accounts out there, including Deadliest Sea.

  2. Have been researching CG matter for over 50 years and I can say with some authority that there is NOT ONE COMPLETE HISTORY of the USCG in ONE VOLUME that I have been able to discover. Many have attempted the job but none have fully succeeded. Perhaps this should be a call to action for someone to try again. In the meantime my personal favorite as a jumping off place to learn about the service is: The United States Coast Guard 1790-1915; A Definitive History (With Postscript 1915-1949) by Stephen H. Evans, Capt, USCG. Published bu USNI it is out of print but used copies are available for a reasonable price from AMAZON.COM.

  3. Though fictional I really liked ‘Coast Guard Ahoy!’ It was written in the 40’s (I think) and there us no eBook for it. But you can find it on Amazon for about $4 bucks used.

    • The reason there is not one comprehensive work on the Coast Guard is because it is not possible. The primary reason involves there not being One Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is an organization of cobbled together agencies; each with their own identities and cultures. These individual cultures persist to the present. Another reason is publication. No publisher will print a volume that could reason a couple thousand pages. Who would buy it and what would it cost? Even lightly done books today of less than two hundred pages are costing from $50 to $100. The last problem who would do it? In 1880, Captain Horatio Smith wrote the service’s first historical (using the word loosely) article and in it he commented the Revenue Cutter Service lacked a historian.

      Evans book may have the words Coast Guard in the title but it is not about the Coast Guard. It is about the Revenue Cutter Service and it, as do many past and present books, relies heavily on the 1932 edited work of Captain Smith’s articles from the 1890s with some minor updates.

      I have stated many times, the Coast Guard does not need, nor should it have, a single volume history. No other service has this. The smallness of the Coast Guard makes it perfect for a host of monographs where greater detail may be used. I have been amazed that no one wonders why there is not a series of works on the Coast Guard during WWI, WWII and, for that matter, Vietnam. The latest operations in the Persian Gulf will be equally lost.

      There are many very bad books out there. They simply copy the works of other authors and involve very little, if any, original research. You may want to see the books of Dennis Noble. He writes mostly about the Coast Guard’s humanitarian culture, but also works in criticisms that are appropriate for any historian.

      The Coast Guard has been a very poor steward of its history. In the last years, there has been an initiative to develop a larger historical program, but as most things; the Coast Guard wants to do it on the cheap. There is also a plan to develop an official Coast Guard History course (for credit) at the CGA where there has never been one before. We’ll not hold our breath on this either.

      Researching and writing Coast Guard history is a very difficult task. It takes imagination and plain hard work because there is not one source one may search for those historical truths. It is a mixed bag of many different areas and because many are lazy, or untrained, they only pick the surface material rather than dig, or dredge, deep into the bottom of the historical pond.

      If the Coast Guard wants substantive history, then it must consider hiring professional historians and allow them to publish the history warts and all. Without truthful history, how are we to know the mistakes and successes?

  4. Bill,
    I have spent time as a Marshall Scholar and the challenge of writing a big history like we are talking about takes the work of many. Often we see these big comprehensive works on a great person but they are built on the smaller projects of other scholar that did the tough research. Often a writer like Jon Meecham is really putting the vision together of others. The other part is funding who is willing to pay for such things? It takes time, travel and money. And most good research jobs pay very little. I worked at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as a Director. We payed our scholars about $35’000 a year. Which is good but not enough to attract many of most brillant.

    Just my two cents if the Coast Guard does not fund it full-time no one will ever be able to take the research of others and combine it into a few volumes. With the length of the USCG history it would be impossible to write a good history in one book it would have to be broken down into segments and volumes. Even George Marshall took a few volumes to finish his complete history that is still not done.

    Patrick M. Campbell

    • If they are serious about doing a CG history course at the Academy, I suppose they could do it with only a single professor, but are other history courses being taught there now. Is there a history department?

      Normally college professors are expected to do scholarly research. If we have history professors, it would be reasonable to expect them to do research and writing about Coast Guard history.

      • Chuck, With a topic as big as that it will take more then just a few but that would be a start. But history is never easy to find and it will take a number of historians challenging each others ideas so we don’t get this white wash bs that usually shows up on the USCG website.

  5. Patrick, One of the problems with Coast Guard history is that few, if any, are ever challenged about the this they do. There is a general sense, more like acquiescence, to a published work that what has been written is correctly researched and complete. We both know this is not true.

    There is also the problem if one of the perceived icons of Coast Guard history is challenged, the challenger is branded a heretic, or worse, a revisionist. My comment is why anyone would want to revise a history that has noticeable errors of fact. I have a manuscript I began while undergoing chemotherapy several years ago and a drugged mind made things more clear. I suppose Poe may have been on to something. It is a historiographical piece of the Coast Guard. I want to provide a sense of how the Coast Guard got to where it is and why. It is largely critical, not so much of the past, but the more recent and present where the mistakes and misinterpretations should be easily recognizable, but for some reason, are not. I am not a trained historiographer but have read many of the greats and no-so greats in the sub-discipline.

    Coast Guard History is consensus history and few authors have ever challenged that consensus because to do so would challenge the ‘One Coast Guard’ theory and simply buck the trend. The Coast Guard needs more ‘honey-badger’ historians to take on the conventional histories and perhaps open some doors to better research. Better research just may open some avenues to funding that, I agree, is the life’s blood of good history.

    Chuck there is a history department at the CGA but they don’t write CG history.

    • Bill,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I think to often people often like the soft history that comes out. But historian’s have to take guesses and choices what to print. And I find a history that provides no critical feedback is wasting my time. The best brightest have weaknesses and we must exam the good and bad. Even the USCG history is formed out of compromise and debate. If my present research was not focused elsewhere I would enjoy doing some research into the history. But I don’t have time to travel to where the primary sources are located.


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