Editor’s note: Welcome to another installment of our weekly War Books series! The premise is simple and straightforward. We ask an expert on a particular subject to recommend five books on that topic and tell us what sets each one apart. War Books is a resource for MWI readers who want to learn more about important subjects related to modern war and are looking for books to add to their reading lists.
On Saturday, May 27, the West Point class of 2023 will graduate and commission as second lieutenants. As they take the next step in their careers in the profession of arms, we asked leaders from around the United States Military Academy to contribute to this edition of War Books by responding to the following prompt: What books would you recommend to newly commissioned lieutenants as they set out as leaders in the US Army?
Experience is the greatest teacher, but it is also the most expensive and time-consuming way to raise your leadership level. Combining knowledge with experience puts you on the fast track to raising your leadership level. Leadership knowledge combined with leadership experience can produce wisdom. Read to lead.— John Antal, 7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day: Lessons from the Longest Day—June 6, 1944
From Lieutenant General Steven Gilland, Superintendent, US Military Academy
Legacy, by James Kerr
This book explores the world’s most successful sporting franchise in history, sharing the fundamental principles that have ensured its success decade after decade. For our new lieutenants, the main lessons of leadership that the All Blacks showcase are culture, role modeling, and accountability.
Message to Garcia, by Elbert Hubbard
A short, perennial installment on virtually every military leadership reading list, this essay stresses the centrality of initiative and perseverance as important qualities in junior leaders.
From Command Sergeant Major Phil Barretto, Senior Enlisted Advisor, US Military Academy
Behind The Colors, by Scott C. Schroeder
A book about practical noncommissioned officer leadership and the importance of presence, retired Command Sergeant Major Schroeder lays out the fundamentals that all platoon leaders ought to understand about their subordinate leaders and enlisted advisors. It is a leadership guide for soldiers of all ranks—past, present and future. It’s lessons are very applicable in life as well as in service to the nation as a noncommissioned officer in the Army.
From Colonel Brian Novoselich, Chief of Staff, US Military Academy
Follow Me: The Human Element in Leadership, by Aubrey “Red” Newman
The book is a compilation of Major General Newman’s articles for Army magazine. He draws on personal experiences dating back to World War II, but the lessons are timeless and provide terrific perspective for what it takes to lead soldiers.
From Brigadier General Mark Quander, Commandant of Cadets, US Military Academy
Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer
This novel traces an American Army officer’s development across the major conflicts of the twentieth century. It puts three of the biggest challenges of any officer into context: work-life balance, staff and line officer tensions, and the burden of command responsibility.
From Brigadier General Shane Reeves, Dean, US Military Academy
Passion for Leadership, by Robert Gates
This is a critical resource for leaders at any level, but especially relevant for new platoon leaders. The former secretary of defense focuses this book on how great leaders listen and respond to their teams—an essential piece of advice for second lieutenants stepping into their first platoon.
Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes
While fiction (and about the Marines), it is an epic account of a young platoon leader in Vietnam. A raw, visceral account of war, it is also a universal story about leadership, courage, and character.
From Command Sergeant Major Robert Craven, Senior Enlisted Advisor, US Corps of Cadets
This business leadership volume offers advice conducive to creating a positive, cohesive team environment. It highlights the importance of transparency, demonstrating care for your subordinates as people, and a willingness to challenge them directly when they need to know where they are coming up short.
From Colonel Michael Kelly, Deputy Commandant of Cadets, US Military Academy
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic treatment of the death of the American dream is a powerful—yet subtle—commentary about the horrors of war and how it shapes young people. All the main characters are products in some way of the Great War (which the title semi-eponymously acknowledges), and the tragedy of Jay Gatsby’s life reflects the cruel realities that people can never go back to what they were, nor truly become something that they are not—insights that are central to the military experience and leadership therein.
If You Survive, by George Wilson
A visceral first-person account of some of the most violent fighting in Europe during World War II, Wilson’s account is a grave journey through the trauma and trials all soldiers face in war.
From Colonel Nicholas Gist, Master of the Sword, Department of Physical Education
The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mulaney
The memoir of a US Military Academy graduate and Rhodes scholar, Mulaney’s book focuses the narrative of his institutional development as a leader on the final test of his education: a skirmish against al-Qaeda in which he loses a soldier.
High Ten, by Martin Rooney
Another great resource on building a thriving organizational culture, Rooney’s book emphasizes creating a positive, winning environment and sustaining it as a force multiplier for your team.
From Lieutenant Colonel Adam Sawyer, Head of Department of Military Instruction
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E. B. Sledge
A phenomenal complement to If You Survive, this Sledge’s memoir chronicling some of the most intense battles in the Pacific Theater at the end of World War II. It is an irreplaceable, human lens through which to understand the future challenges a platoon leader’s platoon could face down range.
This Kind of War, by T. R. Fehrenbach
A uniquely holistic study of the Korean War, this book offers insight into one of the less studied wars in American history with plenty of valuable lessons for future young leaders.
Dereliction of Duty, by H. R. McMaster
This is the revolutionary analysis of civil-military relations and the toxic culture at senior leadership levels that contributed to the Vietnam War debacle. One of the major lessons that leaders can learn from this book is probably the most fundamental lesson for any leader: integrity.
The Mask of Command, by John Keegan
In this book, Keegan offers an in-depth analysis of four prominent military leaders from different eras and cultures. He explores the traits and qualities that made them leaders in positions from which they influenced the course of world events.
Image credit: Cadet Tyler Williams, US Military Academy