The U.S. Navy SEALs are famous for their exploits at home and abroad. They have TV shows, movies, books, and news coverage selling America a version of what and who they are — accurate or not.
But there is a deep and authentic history available that showcases the Teams and what they have accomplished since their creation on January 1, 1962.
“If the public learns the action-packed, humbling origin of the Teams, they will not only see the importance of American innovation and dedication to liberty,” said Caitlin Steinberg, Executive Director of Operation Green Faces, and a historian studying Navy SEALs and is currently writing a book about the exploits of legendary Native Alaskan Navy SEAL Sol Atkinson. “But the inherent value in investing in “risky” programs such as NASA, ARPANET, the human genome project, and Naval Special Warfare.”
So we asked actual Navy SEALs and SEAL historians what books they recommend. Here’s what they said.
To understand the brotherhood of Navy SEALs
“Fearless” by Eric Blehm is about the daring nature of Adam Brown, a SEAL who served in the elite SEAL Team 6 and was often described as a courageous man of faith, and wholly devoted to his family. He died on March 17, 2010, in Komar Province, Afghanistan, charging toward the enemy after his men were pinned down during an intense gunfight. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor, and a Purple Heart. This book describes the circumstances that motivated him to be the man he was.
Former commander of SEAL Teams 2 and 6, Capt. Rick Woolard (ret.) is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the UDT-SEAL Museum. He recommends reading “Fearless” if you want to really understand the brotherhood felt between frogmen. Woolard even goes so far as to describe this book as “the best book ever written about Navy SEALs.”
To learn the true history of Navy SEALs
“By Water Beneath the Walls: The Rise of the Navy SEALs” by Ben Milligan, who served as a Navy SEAL from 2001 to 2009, is the definitive history of Navy SEALs. Over the course of eight years, Milligan poured everything he had into writing this book so the SEAL community would have a resource that covered every aspect of their long, prestigious history.
“Every few weeks, I was off to a different archive or off to a different house, rooting through closets or digging out letters — just trying to stitch this thing together,” Milligan said. “[…] it was never a chore. There was never a day that I was like, I don’t want to do this, and there was never a moment that I wasn’t doing it.”
With the insight only a SEAL can provide, Milligan captures the evolution of modern-day Navy SEALs from their early days in Underwater Demolition Teams to their capture/kill counterterrorism missions in the War on Terror. Milligan also details how other American special operations units contributed to the SEALs’ creation and evolution.
The best Navy SEAL memoir
“The Naked Warriors: The Story of the U.S. Navy’s Frogmen” by Francis Douglas Fane and Don Moore takes you into the formative years of the Navy SEALs’ ancestors, the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, from scouting missions in reefs laden with mines to clearing beaches for the main landing force. Fane, once the commanding officer of Underwater Demolition Team 13, provides riveting first-hand insight into what it was like to be a UDT diver during World War II and the Korean War.
Fane included details about the infrastructure he set up that is still in use by modern SEALs. “The Naked Warriors” has inspired generations of SEALs and will likely continue to do so.
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The best Navy SEAL novel
Steinberg recommended “Men in Green Faces: A Novel of US Navy SEALs” by Gene Wentz as one of the most entertaining fiction books about Navy SEALs. Wentz, a former SEAL himself, provides a captivating look into one SEAL’s experience during the Vietnam War.
The story follows Navy SEAL Gene Michaels, with his M-60 and a Bible in hand, as he traverses firefights throughout Vietnam, from classified operations deep in enemy territory to brutal interrogations.
Though some elements of the book are based on real life, the book itself is an entertaining fictional depiction of SEALs conducting missions in a war that was defined by maritime and jungle operations.
The most controversial Navy SEAL book
“No Easy Day” by Mark Owen, the pen name used by former SEAL Matt Bissonnette, details his experience as one of the SEALs who took part in the mission to kill Usama bin Laden in a daring cross-border raid into Pakistan, maybe revealing a little too much in the process. The autobiography was published in 2012, a little more than a year after the mission took place.
Bissonnette’s book drew heavy criticism and a federal lawsuit after the book was published without the Department of Defense’s review. In a lawsuit against his former attorneys who advised him to skip the pre-publication review, he claimed that his reputation had been tarnished and he lost his security clearance.
The U.S. eventually settled their lawsuit with Bissonnette, ordering him to turn over all past and future book proceeds and pay the government’s legal fees, totaling over $6 million. The government never formally accused him of revealing classified information.
But, Bissonnette maintains he only wrote the book to get the truth out about the raid. In interviews, he said the world should know about the operation that killed America’s number one enemy, Usama Bin Laden.
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