Sea Stories Cover

Sea Stories

My Life in Special Operations

William H. McRaven

Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2019, 352 pages

Book Review published on: December 30, 2021

From time to time a really good book comes along, one that embraces the reader from the first page, making it difficult to do anything other than to keep reading, to keep turning the pages until none remain. Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations belongs in this small, select group of classics all because Adm. William H. McRaven, first off, knows how to tell a good story. His “life in Special Operations” is packed with incredible stories we all know, like the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Capt. Phillip Richards from the hands of Somalian pirates, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and many other amazing stories of survival and steadfast service in war and training over his thirty-seven-year career as a Navy SEAL in special operations.

McRaven weaves together an anthology of life stories consisting of eighteen chapters in loose chronological order that appear like episodes in an action series and tell of his sense of adventure, formation of character, and how he overcame obstacles large and small along the way. Yet, in each chapter he pauses to share a heartfelt reflection, sometimes a nugget of wisdom or call it a life lesson, and to recognize those who helped him along the way, a tribute to a coach, or a tender appreciation to fellow warriors, or a remembrance of the fallen.

Sea Stories begins with a young McRaven in France during the early 1960s surrounded by his parents and their friends in a smoke-filled officers’ club telling stories of World War II like dogfights with the German Luftwaffe. Here, the young McRaven falls in love with a good story and develops a passion for adventure. McRaven’s masterful ability to recreate events in the environment in which they occurred comes as close to virtual reality as words can bring you. McRaven never sensualizes any of his subjects but goes to great lengths to give layers of detail to enable the reader to step into the story and observe from within. He uses this writing style in the many situations where his life was in peril. For instance, he slowly and completely breaks down a freefall parachute incident where his chute failed to properly deploy and his reserve parachute wrapped up around his leg. This occurred all the while with the earth and sky rapidly spinning around him until the moment both parachutes fully inflated, tearing apart his pelvis.

More than just a memoir, Sea Stories provides detailed descriptions of Navy SEAL operations beginning with the fabled SEAL BUDS training and goes on to give many historical accounts of significant special operations since 9/11. McRaven’s wide viewpoint that comes with his progressively larger commands and responsibilities gives the reader insights from the strategic level beginning with the president down to the women and men on the ground executing the mission. Additionally, we get a look behind the curtain in what normally would remain in the classified realm which comes through in his detailed description of Operation Neptune Spear, the raid to kill bin Laden. The book also includes a substantial collection of color photographs depicting important moments in this remarkable warrior’s life.

Not only will Sea Stories appeal to those in uniform, military historians, and leaders in and out of government, but it will also appeal more widely to people from all walks of life reinforcing the fact that Sea Stories became a New York Times bestseller. As for me, I found this book to be the best I have read in a long time, going cover to cover before I could set it back down.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Ronald T. Staver, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas