Editor’s note: War Books is a weekly MWI series, in which we ask interesting guests—practitioners, experts, or experienced students of war—to list five books that have shaped the way they understand war, warfare, and strategy. This edition of War Books originally appeared in 2016.
Top Five Books (Six, Actually)
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
My favorite novel, this work is a compilation of war stories from Vietnam. Told by a former grunt.
Patrick Hennessey, The Junior Officer’s Reading Club
My son, also a soldier, recommended this book. Tough to get (it was published in the United Kingdom), it is the memoir of a Sandhurst graduate who sees service in Iraq and then Afghanistan.
Richard Gabriel, Operation Peace for Galilee
The first book about Israel’s 1982 war in Lebanon, this work tells the stories of the Israel Defense Forces, guerrillas, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Syrian forces, and the civilians caught in the middle. The author travels every major route in the conflict, linking conventional and unconventional tactics with operational and strategic success and failure.
Quil Lawrence, Invisible Nation
This work provided me with greater understanding of the Kurds, how they fight, what they will fight for, and their desires for independent statehood. I read it while fighting in northern Iraq during the surge years of 2007-8.
Ronald Asmus, A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West (and Ann Garrels, Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia)
Suggested as companion pieces, the first is a work describing the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, the second an insightful look at the conditions of Russian society.
John Barry, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
This work describes the devastation wrought by “the flu” during the latter stages of World War I. Tomorrow’s soldier will require an understanding of biological influences upon societies, security, and the military’s ability to defend the nation.
The One That Shaped Me The Most
As for the book which had the most influence on me, that would be Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle. It was given to me by my battalion commander, then Lt. Col. Herb Lloyd, in 1981, and I’ve read and re-read this book at every rank from captain to lieutenant general. This book provides terrific insight into selfless service, the ethos of our profession, and the miracle of the US soldier. Every time I’ve read it, I’ve learned something new about myself, how I lead, and how I want to grow.
My influential book as well was "Once an Eagle", followed by the non-fiction version "About Face" by David Hackworth (RIP). One taught me what I should be by staying in the field and working with troops. The other what the real impacts can be on leaders in the field who try mightily to serve yet struggle against peacetime perfumed princes – uniformed or not. (Martin Van Creveld's Transformation of War, too, since I am a flightline loggie and fancied myself a military reformer in the late 70s and early 80's).
The issue today is probably that instead of perfumed princes forged in peacetime interregnums, they are now molded in the back burner wars of Iraq, Afghanistan and Mindanao have yet to get weapons ready for a future conflict. Hum, did I just say that perfumed princes have a role to play and that it is useful at some point? I guess I did, but I sure despised REMFs in my day – just not in front of the troops. But their usefulness ends when we loose the dogs of war or when, in my service's case, we have slipped the surly bonds and our weapons are without blue bands.
Deryl McCarty, Colonel, USAF (Ret)