Run Silent

by Bernard Dy

Article Type: Book Review
Article Date: January 08, 2002

Philip Kaplan should be a familiar name for fans of the coffee table book format. His Fighter Pilot: A History and Celebration and Fly Navy: Naval Aviators and Carrier Aviation—A History have both seen review here on these pages. His works often focus on military aviation but he also writes about navy subjects, and Run Silent is the latest in this vein. Like other Kaplan books, Run Silent is a fine work.

Chock full of images.

Pictures Perfect

The color photos are always the first draw in coffee table books, and Run Silent delivers nicely here. The picture quality is outstanding, with crisp detail. There are no blurred or out of focus pictures, no signs of moisture on the camera lens and even the layout of the images in the book minimizes the spread of photos across the center gutter. Illustrations stand in for submarines whose lifetimes ended before the advent of popular photography, and this was the only place where Run Silent could have used more graphics. Kaplan's text starts at the beginning of submarine warfare, and the early contraptions the pioneering submersible researchers came up with sound fascinating. There are only a few glimpses of them in the early part of the book.

Battery-powered 1885 French Goubet submarine.

The pictures parade the submarine through history, picking up where the drawings leave off, and continuing through the WWII diesel boat era, the cold war, and even capture some of Hollywood's submarine moments. Many of the external shots are of the lethal leviathans at dock. The motion shots are a more breathtaking, with the surfaced submarines displacing water as they slice through the sea. There is a lack of any underwater photography, but an abundance of interior shots catalog the crews at work.

Under the Sea

The crews are in fact the focal point of the book. Kaplan's text does cover some submarine development history and highlights selected incidents, such as the Kursk tragedy of 2000. But the majority of the narration samples a cross section of submarine life from the perspectives of the crews and officers. Each chapter is almost a stand-alone piece, their collection reading like an assembly of magazine articles. One of the larger chapters looks at the issue of submarine crews and the unfortunate requirement that they spend time away from their families. It's got plenty of heartbreaking photos of loved ones at tour departures and arrivals. Another chapter discusses the general career path of US Navy submarine officers. "The Downside" discusses dangers of the submarine profession and others look at the typical day of a crewman. Quotes from interviews with British and American officers add impact through the chapters.

USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730)

Run Silent thus doesn't provide an encyclopedic overview of submarines or really work as a reference to their battle record. It's more of a lifestyle book, though still solidly entrenched in the interests of the same type of people that would enjoy the other types of books. The book has some reference value, however, and in addition to sporting an index it smartly opens with a glossary to assist readers unfamiliar with nautical terms. Run Silent is a wonderful ride, thanks to Kaplan's easygoing style and super photo work. Detail photos show off such things as uniform insignia, tour patches, and other boat-labeled trinkets like cigarette lighters. The crew shots are interesting too; the American crews live in cramped spaces, but they must eat well because several of the photos feature grinning, portly fellows. They certainly deserve credit for their attitude and loving their jobs.

A Mess Specialist whips up some dessert.

Several sidebars straddle the main text and add a valuable ambiance. Some quote famous poems, others are lines from movies such as Crimson Tide, and a few are trivia pertinent to submarine history. A few are recipes for navy staples, such as navy bean soup or stuffed cabbage. The recipes aren't very useful for readers unless they're planning big parties, however, as the quantities are usually for 100 portions. It's a hoot to see the chef in the galley busy making a dish on a tray the size of dining room table. Hardly worth batting an eyelash over for readers familiar with other 'cities at sea' like aircraft carriers, but still a rare look at the sailor's life. Photo captions are also well done and generally thorough though sometimes they don't include dates.

US Submarine in the Pacific during WWII

Coffee Time

Kaplan closes with a couple of nice chapters. In one he recounts his experience as a guest on the USS Jefferson City. In the final one he visits with several submariners and asks them what motivated them to join the submarine force. It's a great way to finish the book.

The excellent photos and text make for satisfying reading and Run Silent would make a great gift any time of year. This book is a great mate for a cup of coffee and a lazy weekend afternoon.

Just a sample of the many pictures of submarine propaganda over the years.

Relevance to Combat Simulations
Sub Command is the first game I thought of when reading Run Silent. Silent Hunter II came up too, but Sub Command's a better play and represents the epitome of modern sub games for the PC. Future sub simulations may be far and few between, so enjoy this book and sim combo while you can.

Readers can find Run Silent at and most retail book sellers. Arum published it in 2002, ISBN 1-85410-815-8.

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