Tom Ricks discussing the book in Foreign Policy:
Adm. Dave Oliver’s appreciation of how Rickover created the nuclear Navy
BY THOMAS E. RICKS NOVEMBER 19, 2014 – 10:51 AM
One of the best books I read all summer was an advance copy of a study of Adm. Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy. Against the Tide is written by retired Rear Adm. Dave Oliver, a former sub commander. At times it reads like a thriller, at other times like a great study of management practices. It is even funny at times.
I didn’t realize that Rickover had a mediocre Navy career until he was nearly 50 years old. He was in the Navy throughout World War II but never served in combat, and indeed only commanded one ship, a minesweeper, and then only for a few months.
He built the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, out of used and spare parts. The hull was a diesel sub under construction, the auxiliary diesel engines from a ship that had been sunk.
Oliver has a lot of great lines in this book, many offering insights into the Navy. Among them:
–“Torpedomen are the Navy poet laureates of profanity.”
–“The conflict between diesel and nuclear submariners was somewhat akin to a religious war.”
–“Never relax around a badger or an admiral.”
–“Rickover taught that if one does not have at least three independent check systems for what is considered important, one does not have a system. However, often no number of independent checks will suffice to discover a problem people have previously never seen.”
–“It is difficult to maintain two separate cultures on board one ship.”
Oliver’s anecdotes about his own career, such as breaking into a shipyard commander’s office at night to rifle his files, reminded me of something that Arthur Hadley once wrote, that, “Generals and admirals are the most undisciplined of men.” I would add that they also tend to be very determined, especially when they think they are right.
My sole gripe about the book is that there is a lot of great stuff buried in the footnotes, like the fact that the USS Seawolf nearly sank in Jan. 1968, when she ran aground at high speed and tore off her stern planes and rudder. “She was extraordinarily lucky to survive, as the subsequent court-martial inquiry uncovered. (I was the inquiry recorder.)”
“Oliver, like his mentor Rickover, is an unconventional and unorthodox man who believes that strong and ethical character guided by a moral compass underlies personal responsibility. He sees these traits as the foundation for good management and good leadership, a view that could serve contemporary leaders in government and industry well.”
—THOMAS ENDERS, chief executive officer, Airbus Group
“Against the Tide captures the extraordinary technical advances Admiral Rickover drove into American industry and the cultural changes he insisted on within the nuclear Navy. . . . Dave Oliver describes the uniquely successful management style Rickover established that resulted in the nuclear Navy’s major contributions to our winning the Cold War and to the continued untouchable safety record of today’s nuclear Navy.”
—ADM. FRANK L. “SKIP” BOWMAN, USN (RET.)
“In America today we face two significant challenges: strengthening our economy and protecting our nation. Against the Tide provides invaluable insights into both of these issues and illustrates the symbiotic relationship between them. Adm. Hyman Rickover was a unique American, and his legacy of excellence, vision, and patriotism still offers lessons to us today.”
—BOB RILEY, former United States Congressman and 52nd Governor of Alabama
“Admiral Oliver weaves a series of fascinating, often humorous stories around the leadership/management principles of Hyman Rickover, providing unique insights into the challenges, intrigue, and successes of the nuclear Navy. Not just another book on leadership, this book spells out an approach to balancing process discipline and innovation in the development of large-scale, complex systems operated in the most unforgiving of environments.”
—JIM ALBAUGH, retired president and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes; president, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics