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Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence by Francis Duncan (145,000 words, 43 illustrations)

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (1900-1986), the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” was born Chaim Godalia Rickover in eastern Poland to Jewish parents. Fleeing Russian antisemitic pogroms in 1906 with his mother and sister, he joined his father, who had traveled to America since 1897, in New York City. The family soon moved to Chicago where Rickover’s father worked as a tailor. Congressman Adolph Sabath, a Czech Jewish immigrant, nominated Rickover for appointment to the US Naval Academy. Rickover passed the entrance exams and entered the Academy in 1918. After sea duty on several ships and submarines, he served as head of the Electrical Section in the Bureau of Ships and in 1946, was sent to Oak Ridge to start working on nuclear naval propulsion reactors, a program he would lead for the rest of his career. He became a four-star admiral in 1973.

Rickover’s work on nuclear propulsion had a profound effect on the post-World War II world and on the development of civilian nuclear reactors for electricity generation. His demand for excellence and accountability was felt far beyond the naval community, yet few other flag officers in the US Navy have been so controversial. Drawing on the admiral’s private papers and the personal insights of friends and family members, this biography examines Rickover’s extraordinary naval career and his private life.

“Francis Duncan, in his long-awaited full biography of Hyman Rickover, achieves that difficult dual goal of close personal insight and honesty of distance... Duncan details Rickover’s many controversies, his towering rages, and his contempt for tradition, bureaucracy, and stupidity... a very readable cruise through the life of a notorious curmudgeon who, after all, served his country well and had a major impact on the ships of the U.S. Navy, on the engineering profession, and on the development of nuclear power in the United States.” — Rodney Carlisle,
The Journal of American History

“This fine treatment of a remarkable man is highly recommended.” — Malcolm Muir, Jr.,
Technology and Culture

“[A] very useful study that shows the role of a specific individual in promoting and directing a critical technology within a large social system, the U.S. Navy... Duncan’s biography is, in short, an eminently well-researched and well-written study of a critically important naval officer and technology manager. It will be valuable for historians of technology and the military alike.” — David van Keuren,

“Francis Duncan is uniquely qualified to write the biography of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover... He is the only person to whom Admiral Rickover ever made himself available for interviews and allowed use of his personal papers, including the letters between himself and his first wife, Ruth... This is an enjoyable book, especially for the thousands who served, or serve now, in the nuclear programs, civilian or military. It is also an important addition to the history of a man who was one of the giants of the twentieth-century United States.” — Robert Loewenthal,
The Journal of Military History

“Victorious in his struggle for excellence, Rickover’s personal baton of highly disciplined professionalism was passed without a hitch to those he had selected, educated, and trained to run nuclear power plants safely and efficiently. We still feel his presence; his legacy endures. This book does him long-awaited justice.” —
Admiral James D. Watkins, USN (Ret.), Chief of Naval Operations, 1982-86

“Impressively researched, insightful, and readable. Duncan captures the Rickover behind the myths and sea stories. This account of his remarkable life, an only-in-America story, will appeal to a wide audience — midshipman to CEO.” —
Admiral Bruce DeMars, USN (Ret.), Director, Navy Nuclear Propulsion, 1988-96

“This excellent book offers insights not available to previous authors who did not enjoy Francis Duncan’s close association with Rickover and his family. Particularly useful are early chapters that define the character of the man.” —
Admiral Kinnard R. McKee, USN (Ret.), Director, Navy Nuclear Propulsion, 1982-88

“This is the authentic biography of Hyman Rickover, one of the most influential persons in naval history and in the creation of an international civilian nuclear power industry. Duncan has given us a national treasure that is both authoritative and enjoyably readable. There’s something in it for everyone.” —
Dr. Theodore Rockwell, former technical director of Rickover’s naval reactors program

Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence is an original and absolutely fundamental contribution both to naval history and to a general understanding of nuclear power development. It is very objective and accessible... There is no comparable book.” — Dr. Gary Weir, Naval Historical Center

“I believe
Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence by Francis Duncan is the best biography of Admiral Rickover.” — Robert Rickover, son of Admiral Rickover