The Good Shepherd, by CS Forester Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars

Nobody is impressed. We've all spent 48 hours playing a video game before.

A weird little book. This is an account of a fictional naval battle, as the straight-laced commander of a destroyer group & convoy are under prolonged attack by German submarines. The 2 elements that immediately stand out are A) the war story, which is good, and makes for a propulsive middle half of the book and B) the commander's immersion in Christianity, to the point where he's constantly bible-quoting to himself about the most minor of things. I haven't read any other books by CS Forester, so I don't really have him calibrated and wasn't entirely sure in what light this was intended, but it seems like this meant in a positive light? In any case, the real and hidden draw of this book & half the reason I looked it up is the time-management/shift change logistics. The US Navy apparently subscribed (subscribes?) to the same philosophy as US doctors, that it is right and proper for the head captain/doctor to stay on shift for absurd lengths of time with only the smallest sleep breaks in between. And as a programmer you can only look on this with horrified fascination. There's been countless studies in various CS departments about how mental function inexorably declines with lack of sleep & overwork, and how past around ~45 hours per week the gains from increased work are overtaken by the losses from increased error rates, with the conclusion that it is simply counterproductive to work past that many hours for any extended length of time. And then you go to these absolutely vital fields like medical science, where any mistake could cripple someone their life, and the common practice is to work doctors/nurses for ~18 hour shifts for 100 hours per week. As I said, it seems horrifyingly maladjusted. And for their part doctors seem to be fine with this, partly from tradition & their own hazing, partly from the fact that being mentally impaired dulls the very senses that you would need to detect impairment (e.g. people who think they drive better while drunk), and I think partly because their job is at least somewhat physical, which might further mask to them the degradation of their mental faculties. Anyway! The navy follows this same philosophy, and has the same captain in charge of the battle for the full 48 hours without any meaningful breaks. So a larger and larger aspect of the story is the Captain becoming both utterly exhausted and utterly absorbed in this task. Sometimes this drives out bodily realities, other times these physical needs come crashing back with vividness. Again, we've all been there after a gaming bender. So this was the 3rd element of the book for me, thinking about ways this could have been avoided, and what sort of duplicate/triplicate commander system you would need and with what sort of shadowing and hand offs, so that the commander of the fleet/ship could take sleep breaks and not just be completely blasted out of his mind by hour #28 of the battle. It seems doable; you have plenty of other officers & men there, there's no reason they can't be trained up in this decision making while on the job. And the task of convoy-defense is relatively "local", i.e. you are not executing on a long-term plan, rather most of the decision making consists of reasonable responses/procedures to incoming reports. So in that sense it could be handed off with less overhead. Anyway! The US Navy apparently still has a massive problem with sleep deficits, to the point where their officers regularly ram ~$20 billion dollar warships into the sides of cargo vessels. Save a cargo container, take a nap!

Oh right and the book is meant as a metaphor of some sort. I am 90% sure of that.