Sunday, December 05, 2004


My Ten Most Influential Military Books.

A week or so ago Ace asked his readers the question, "What Novels Have You Read Twice?"

The answers were all over the map, but seemed to fall into two categories: readers who enjoyed the literary classics over and over again, and those who know waaay too much about The Dragonriders of Pern.

Anyways, I bring this up for two reasons. First, I'd like to talk about some of my favorite books. Two, it's Sunday morning, I have to pad Garfield Ridge with some filler before football begins.

Since my profession involves contributing to American ass-kicking around the world, my reading tastes overwhelmingly run in the direction of military history and analysis. I figured I'd offer the ten books that most influenced me, both in my career and in my personal historical interests.

The list below is in no particular order. Also, each of these books should be accessible by any reader with only a casual interest in military affairs and warfare, i.e. you won't need the patience of a Ph.D. to appreciate them. In nearly all cases these aren't the most "important" books in the field, but for one reason or another, they are among the ones that influenced me the most:

-- How To Make War, by James Dunnigan. Now in its fourth edition, the one-stop shop for information on how soldiers, tanks, planes, ships, weapons of mass destruction, and pretty much the kitchen sink work in the real world. Dunnigan emphasizes gritty realism, and has a skeptical opinion of "wonder weapons," but he still appreciates better than most just how important technology is in modern warfare. Plus, the short chapters make this book an ideal bathroom read.

-- The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy. My interest in warfare all began here. For a high school freshman whose only previous knowledge of warfare came from John Wayne movies, Red October inspired me, showing me that wars didn't just exist in black & white movies and newsreels, but were real events still going on in the modern world. Oh, and Tom Clancy used to know how to write one helluva great story, before he became an insta-book hack.

-- Gallipoli, by Alan Moorehead. The best single book I can recommend is Michael Hickey's 1995 study, but Moorehead's 1965 book was the first on the World War I battle that I had read. Ten years, dozens of books, and three undergrad & grad papers later, this tragic battle still captivates me.

-- The Age of Battles, by Russell Wiegley. An indictment of the Western world's tireless quest for "war-winning" decisive battles, this historical survey spans from the Thirty Year's War to Waterloo. Perhaps the finest survey of its kind, the clarity of Weigley's writing makes it an excellent one-volume source for learning about many of the most important battles in European history.

-- Barbarossa, by Alan Clark. Another book superseded by better scholarship in recent years (for instance, read anything by the incredible David Glantz), Barbarossa was still the book that revealed to me the tremendous scope of the Second World War. You realize how much of the war was won or lost in the Eastern Front struggle between the two great evils of the 20th Century. It humbles anyone who thinks that World War II was all an American show.

-- Face of Battle, by John Keegan. If you've ever read any military history, you've read Keegan, and this is his most influential work. Few people realize just how radical this book was when written in the mid-1970's. Most military history of the time consisted of either pulp hagiography or dry technical studies. Keegan navigated a third way: looking at how battles were actually fought by real flesh-and-blood people, whether at Agincourt or along the Somme. Sadly, Keegan's scholarship has declined in recent years, as he seems to be coasting on his earlier grand achievements. But even today Battle is still a revelation.

-- Stonewall Jackson, by James Robertson. Far from the first Civil War book I've ever read, the definitive biography of one of the most fascinating individuals in American history is still possibly the best. Jackson evolved from an eccentric college professor to a master of the battlefield art, and Robertson's book shows us how.

-- Red Army, by Ralph Peters. The anti-Clancy, Peters pulled off the truly subversive with his 1990 novel of a Soviet invasion of West Germany: he followed the war from the Soviet perspective. And the Soviets win. This novel is the best example of "learning through fiction." By showing what could go wrong in war, Peters forces the reader to grapple with what must be done right. He's still upsetting the conventional wisdom today, in his excellent writing for both the Army War College Journal Parameters, and his New York Post opinion columns.

-- Strategy, by B.H. Liddell Hart. Anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of war will point to J.F.C. Fuller as the first theorist of the concept of the "indirect approach." But whereas the great Fuller can be incredibly dense for the lay reader, Liddell Hart boils much of Fuller's earlier theory down to the barest essentials. The way Germany fought World War II (not to mention the way America fights wars today) can be traced back to the concepts introduced by interwar theorists like Liddell Hart.

-- Boyd, by Robert Coram. The most recent book on this list, Boyd follows the career of the late Air Force Col. John Boyd, the most important man you never heard of. During his career, the wildly eccentric Boyd revolutionized how American fighter pilots engaged in battle. He engineered a theory of physics that led to the ultimate dogfighter, the F-16. Oh, and Boyd's OODA loop theory provided the conceptual foundation for the revitalization of American operational art. Coram's biography does double-duty as a fascinating study of the Pentagon bureaucracy, an honest appraisal that still seems just as true in today's Pentagon, for good or for ill.

I read Red Army back in The Day, very impressed with what Ralph was saying about NATO political weaknesses and how the Russians could exploit it. It was kind of disconcerting to read a story about what I generally refer to as "The Main Event" going down without the Americans and Russians facing off. Kind of like going to a steakhouse and having the fish when you were expecting a Red Storm Rising situation.
Hinsley, F. H. (Francis Harry), 1918- (Francis Harry),

British intelligence in the Second World War : its influence on strategy and operations / by F.H. Hinsley ... [et al.]

This 6 Volume set running abotut 5000 pages is the end all academic history on military intelligence operations in World War II. It is set up as a year by year review that then subdivides into all of the theaters of the war. It covers the development of signals intelligence and the breaking of all of the various Nazi military codes as well as the excellent British double cross system of Human intelligence. Even covers various levels of personnel involvment from the lowly spy on the street to the Prime Minister and his staff.

It reads like a Clancy novel except that it is all true and talks about people who really lived. By far my favorite military book of all time. Available in an abridged format on Amazon...and I am constantly looking for an unabridged version on E-bay...

This isn’t a “best” list because comparisons are so difficult. Call it an “excellent” and “highly informative” list from my own shelf.

On War, by Carl Von Clausewitz

Three books by or about Rommel:
- The Rommel Papers, edited by Liddell Hart. (Rommel's own notes and comments in Europe and Africa.)
- Rommel, by Desmond Young. Biography.
- Rommel – Infantry Attacks, by Rommel himself.

The Boer War, by Thomas Pakenham

The Washing of the Spears – the rise and fall of the Zulu nation, by Donald R. Morris

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer. (indispensable for understanding WWII)

Charles Whiting’s three-book series on the second half of WWII in Europe:
- The Long March on Rome.
- ‘44
- ‘45

Bombing 1939-1945, by Karl Hecks.

Selous Scouts – Top Secret War, by “Lt. Col. Ron Reid Daly as told to Peter Stiff.” (The Rhodesian war.)

A pair by Janusz Piekalkiewicz on WWII in Russia:
- Moscow 1941 – The Frozen Offensive.
- Operation Citadel

Brave Men, by Ernie Pyle

Lost Victories, by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein

Bullseye Iraq, by Dan McKinnon. (The Israeli strike on Iraq’s reactor.)
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