Book Review: US Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History

Norman Friedman has written some excellent Illustrated Design History books for several types of US Navy ships. Let’s look at one today.

Cruisers goes all the way back to early steam-powered warship designs, focusing on ships built for independent operation away from the fleet, or to screen the fleet from same. For my interests, I found it got really good once they were working on designs related to the Great War, and it stayed good until about the 1950s. At that point, missiles were “in”, and there weren’t many new cruiser designs because of the large number of existing ships to convert.

Friedman does a great job of covering various proposals, desired force structures, and treaties. Like the other Illustrated Design Histories, he traces design proposals, offering a large number of comparative characteristic tables as well as plenty of design sketches. There are also a good number of pictures which illustrate completed designs and how they were altered by war experience.

The chapters on the war experience are the best part of the book. Due to the large number of cruisers available during the Second World War, and the paucity of larger surface combatants, cruisers saw lots of combat. It’s really nice to read about design tradeoffs and expectations and then see how these worked out in actual surface actions.

The missile age eventually sees the end of the independent surface ship, at least in American design practice. As a result, there’s not much in the way of actual Cruiser designs covered; the Long Beach is featured, as are the Command Cruisers, but that’s pretty much the end of it. Being published in the mid 80s, not much is left to cover.

Note that while the ill-fated Typhon system is mentioned in depth, Aegis is covered only briefly here. It is covered in more detail, along with the Ticonderogas and Burkes in Friedman’s Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History. A review of that is forthcoming.

Now, as with any good review, let’s talk price and value. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. As such, pricing is inconsistent. In general, prices are high. A peek at Amazon as this goes to press (late November, 2018) shows a price of about $122 being the best available. Whether or not this is too much for you depends greatly on your interest. If you like Cruisers pre-1947 a lot, that’s a fair price for an out-of-print, detail-laden book. Otherwise, you may wish to watch and wait for a deal. I got my copy for just under $60, and it was in good condition. At that price, which is much closer to the print-run pricing, it’s unquestionably worth it for the student of naval history and design.

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