You could easily write a recursive book about the influence of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History upon history. Mahan wanted to show that navies decided wars, even between land powers, and many powerful and influential people listened. In the list of influential works on strategy it is probably number four, behind The Art of War, The Prince, and On War.

There’s actually a few interrelated theses here. The primary one is the assertion that naval power is a deciding factor for everyone but the most land-locked of countries. The secondary one is not so clearly stated, but quite evident in the later parts of the book, that the proper goal of military operations is the reduction of organized enemy forces in the field. The later parts of the book particularly talk about this, showing that the French government and navy held to theory that saw the taking of objectives while preserving force, and that it time and again failed to gain results, while the British habit of forcing battles inevitably put their opponents into a worse position over time. Lastly, he considers the pursuit of interrupting merchant shipping to be a mistaken strategy, as British trade increased even during wars where the French captured large numbers of British merchants. (The Battle of the Atlantic might be seen as a condemnation of this rule, but I imagine Mahan might argue that the failure to actually hamper the British—and American—navies gave them the ability to find a way to destroy U-Boats and end “The Happy Time”.)

Mahan covers the most of height of the Age of Sail in his book, from the Restoration of Charles II to the end of the Revolutionary War, after an extended chapter that looks at naval power throughout history. This is definitely a preferred era for him, but he considers that while tactics must change over time, with new technology, it is still possible to find strategic truths that always apply, and I think he did so very well. His narrative gets steadily more detailed as it goes on, with the last couple chapters looking at actions in India and the Caribbean from 1781-1783 in great detail. As his descriptions get more detailed, so too do the conclusions that he draws from them. This is decidedly Nineteenth Century writing, and technical in nature to boot, with overly long-winded sentences and paragraphs by today’s standards (thankfully, the page-long paragraph is a thing of the past), but it still retains a high degree of readability.

My copy of the book is an OCR Pyrrhus Press ebook, which is in decent shape. I started noticing errors about a third of the way through, and they slowly become more common as the book went on, but never got to the levels I’ve seen in other books. On the other hand, the tactical description of battles is reliant on a number of maps that are directly referenced in the text, but are not included in this copy. I could generally follow along, but it takes a fair amount of effort it shouldn’t, and the details are lost.