Book Review: USS Lexington (CV/CVA-16)

USS Lexington (CV/CVA-16): From World War II To Present-Day Museum Ship (Legends Of Warfare: Naval), by David Doyle

Before reviewing this book, I think it is worthwhile to point out that as a reviewer I have some advantages in appreciating this book and its approach because I happen to be someone who has visited the USS Lexington as a museum ship in the Gulf of Mexico at Corpus Christi, nearly two decades ago, and this book brought back fond memories of my exploration of this notable aircraft carrier. Obviously, as a reviewer one has a lot of potential areas for bias, both positive and negative, and positive nostalgia about one’s travels, such as this book evoked, is certainly a powerful motivator of positive bias. Having recognized and acknowledged this bias and its potential affect on my own view of this book, I can say that this book is obviously written to appeal to a certain audience of which I am a part of, namely those who have a passionate interest in the history of World War II, who have an interest in military technology and enjoy seeing the way that a ship changes as a result of various refurbishments which give it technological advances to better further its abilities to do its job, and who are willing and able to engage in military tourism to visit battlefields as well as historical museums such as the ship now is. If this sounds like you, this book offers considerable enjoyment and instruction.

This book is a relatively short book of about 120 pages or so divided into four chapters and filled mainly with photographs about the USS Lexington itself or its historical context (especially in World War II) that detail the ship’s life over time from its origins as a replacement for its sunken predecessor to its present life as a museum ship. The book is organized in a largely temporal fashion, beginning with an introduction that discusses the ship and its specifications and its role and a discussion of its interesting and notable history. After that there is a look at the ship’s construction and commissioning (1), on the West Coast of the United States as it was prepared for the Pacific War. The largest section of the book, taking up more than 60 pages, provides a lot of pictures about the ship in combat, with its various paint jobs as attempts at camouflage, as well as its various refits and fixes during the course of its rough experience in the war where it survived torpedo attacks and kamikazi attacks while its pilots racked up an impressive amount of kills of Japanese pilots (over 450 in total) (2). After that a chapter discusses the modernization of the ship after it had been put in the reserve fleet for a few years (3), including some of the women who served on the ship through the decades, and finally, the book closes with a look at how the ship fares today as a beloved museum ship off the coast of Texas (4).

This book and others like it [1] use photographs as a means of showing change through time as well as fixing the past in a particular place and time. The combination of the fixity of photographs as long as the context that they provide when put together gives this sort of historical work a great deal of power in that it allows us to get a panoramic view of how it is that a ship can change over time and ponder the extent to which these various versions of a ship can be considered one and the same vessel despite the way that it changes in terms of its tower structure, its color, its armaments, and so on. By and large this book makes a strong case for the worth of capturing history in the moment and the way that looking at the same thing over the course of a long period of time, at least a good 60 or 70 years, can provide a great deal of insight to how it is that some things change but some essential things endure, and make us want to visit historical places and explore historical artifacts as a way of understanding and recapturing the past. This is an enjoyable effort overall, and if it is mainly of interest for its images, the context and structure and organization of those images presents a subtle lesson as well that is no less important for would-be historians seeking to understand the popularity and the role of military tourism.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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