Samuel E. Morison

Samuel E. Morison books and biography

Samuel Eliot Morison

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Samuel Eliot Morison, Rear Admiral, Reserve (July 9, 1887 – May 15, 1976) was an American historian, noted for producing works of maritime history that were both authoritative and highly readable. A sailor as well as a scholar, Morison garnered numerous honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes, two Bancroft Prizes, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.




Samuel Eliot Morison was born in Boston, Massachusetts to John Holmes Morison (1856–1911) and Emily Marshall (Eliot) Morison (1857–1925) and named for his grandfather Samuel Eliot. He married twice and was the father of four children by his first wife, Elizabeth S. Greene. (One of these children, Emily Morison Beck became the editor of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.) After his wife Elizabeth's death in 1945, he married again to a Mrs. Pricilla B. Shakelford.

Morrison died on May 15, 1976 of a stroke at the age of 88, and his ashes are buried at Northeast Harbor, Maine.

Academic career

His schooling was typical for a member of a


Morison held that the experience and research should be combined for writing vivid history. For his Pulizer-winning Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Morison combined his personal interest in sailing with his scholarship by chartering a boat and sailing to the various places that Columbus was then thought to have visited.

Official Historian of US Navy during World War II

Statue of Morison on the Commonwealth Avenue mall.
Statue of Morison on the Commonwealth Avenue mall.

Unlilke World War I, for which the US military had not prepared a full-scale official history of any branch of service, it was decided that World War II would be meticulously documented. Professional historians were attached to all the branches of the US military; they were embedded with combat units to witness the events about which they would later write.

Toward this end, in 1942, he was commissioned into the Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. The result was the unmatched History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, a work in 15 volumes that covered every aspect of America's war at sea, from strategic planning and battle tactics to the technology of war and the exploits of individuals in conflict. A one-volume abridgement of the official history, The Two Ocean War, was published in 1963.

In recognition of his achievements, the Navy promoted Morison to the rank of Rear Admiral (Reserve). In addition, the frigate, USS Samuel Eliot Morison (FFG-13), was named in his honor. A bronze statue of Morison is on the Commonwealth Avenue mall in Boston.

The celebrated British military historian Sir John Keegan has hailed Morison's official history as the best to come out of the Second World War.

One of his research assistants on that project, Henry Salomon, went on to conceive the epic NBC documentary series Victory at Sea.


Most of these have been reprinted and reissued numerous times.

  • The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765–1848 (1913)
  • The Oxford History of the United States (1927)
  • Builders of the Bay Colony (1930)
  • The Growth of the American Republic (with Henry Steele Commager, New York: Oxford University Press, 1930 [as Oxford History of the United States; 7th ed., 1980]. Revised and abridged edition with Samuel Eliot Morison and William E. Leuchtenberg. Published by Oxford University Press in 1980 as A Concise History of the American Republic, rev. 1983.
  • Three Centuries of Harvard: 1636–1936 (Harvard University Press, 1936)
  • Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (1942)
  • History as a Literary Art: An Appeal to Young Historians (1946)
  • History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (1947–1962)
  • Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647 (ed.) (1952)
  • John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (Little, Brown and Company, 1959)
  • The Story of Mount Desert Island (1960)
  • The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War (1963)
  • The Oxford History of the American People (1965)
  • The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1971)
  • Samuel De Champlain: Father of New France (1972)
  • The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages (1974)
  • A Concise History of the American Republic (with Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenberg) (1976)


Lifetime achievement honors

  • Emerson-Thoreau Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1961)
  • Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1962)
  • Balzan prize for history (1962)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964)

Military and foreign honors

  • Legion of Merit with Combat Distinguishing Device "V"
  • Commander of the Order of the White Rose of Finland
  • Vuelvo Panamericano Medal, awarded by the Republic of Cuba (1943)
  • Cavaliero Ufficiale of the Italian Order, Ordine al Merito della Repubblica (1961)
  • Commander of the Spanish Order of Isabella the Catholic (1963)

Book prizes

  • Pulitzer Prize in biography for Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1943)
  • Pulitzer Prize in biography for John Paul Jones (1960)
  • Bancroft Prize for The Rising Sun in the Pacific (1949)
  • Bancroft Prize for The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1972)

(years listed are when prizes were awarded)

Honorary degrees

  • Trinity College, Hartford (1935)
  • Amherst College (1936)
  • Harvard University (1936)
  • Union College (1939)
  • Columbia University (1942)
  • Yale University (1949)
  • Williams College (1950)
  • University of Oxford (1951)
  • Bucknell University (1960)
  • Boston College (1961)
  • College of the Holy Cross (1962)


  • "American historians, in their eagerness to present facts and their laudable concern to tell the truth, have neglected the literary aspects of their craft. They have forgotten that there is an art of writing history." History as a Literary Art: An Appeal to Young Historians (1946)
  • "America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy." The Oxford History of the American People (1965)
  • "But sea power has never led to despotism. The nations that have enjoyed sea power even for a brief period - Athens, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, England, the United States - are those that have preserved freedom for themselves and have given it to others. Of the despotism to which unrestrained military power leads we have plenty of examples from Alexander to Mao." The Oxford History of the American People (1965)


  • Official U.S. Navy biography (
  • Keegan, John. The Price of Admiralty
  • Washburn, Wilcomb E. "Samuel Eliot Morison, Historian" from The William and Mary Quarterly 3d Series, Vol. XXXVI, July 1979 (
  • Plymouth Rocked, The New Yorker, April 24, 2006

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Admiral Of The Sea A Life Of Christopher Columbus

Battle Of The Atlantic From 1939 To 1943

Sicily Salerno Anzio January 1943 To June 1944

United States Navy In The Second World War

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