Reading is an indispensable component of being a member of the profession of arms, and indeed for all national security practitioners. It provokes us to think outside of the day-to-day duties that often absorb us. It allows us to develop an understanding of the larger context of our profession—the national policy, strategic cultures, military strategy, and societal issues—which impact on the training for, and conduct of, military operations and wider national security affairs. Reading also provides the practitioner with an excellent opportunity for vicarious learning, through studying the “breadth and depth” of the history of our profession.
Each year I assemble a single-page list of professional readings and other PME resources. It is not designed as a comprehensive reading program, but as short variety of resources for those who wish to begin (or re-energize) the amazing voyage of exploration in the many aspects of the profession of arms. It is not a list focussed solely on books. It also provides a range of other resources that allow the military professional, through blogs and social media, to connect into a global professional discourse. This connectivism permits military professionals to reach out to fellow travelers seeking enlightenment about the profession of arms and national security issues.
The list is made up of resources that stretch from the classics of antiquity through to speculation about future conflict. It has selections from military history and contemporary issues. The books are a mix of fiction and nonfiction. There are some carry-over classics from last year’s list, and some new entries. Given this, perhaps my list possesses an enduring nature and changing character!
Also included are several favorite science-fiction novels that feature themes that are relevant to the military. I have written previously about why military officers should read sci-fi, and have collaborated with Nate Finney on two sci-fi reading lists. Given the small number of sci-fi books I included, this might be the most controversial aspect of this list—there is no Starship Troopers or Ender’s Game. I don’t think these are bad novels. From my perspective, I just find the Old Man’s War series, The Forever War, and the recent Murderbot series by Martha Wells more relevant, enjoyable, and interesting.
For the first time, I have included films in my list. There are two. Despite my love of Star Wars and Marvel movies, thrillers and historically themed movies, none of them make the list. The two that are on the list have had the most impact on me recently. They may not speak to all people like they have to me. But they are films that provoke me to think beyond our profession, about what it is to be a good person and live a good life. They are about second chances and challenging the status quo. About excellence and building something new. The nature of service and the last full measure of devotion.
Senior members of the military, as stewards of our great profession, must do everything in their power to enable the next generation that follows. I trust that this list goes part way to fulfilling this duty, and that it is useful for individuals in their self-study and for unit-based PME programs. I hope too that it provides a good line of departure for those who wish to re-energize their reading and professional study habits. I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks.
Aurelius, M., The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius
Strassler, R. (ed), The Landmark Thucydides
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Von Clausewitz, C. On War
The Profession of Arms:
Bonadonna, R., Soldiers and Civilisation
Cohen and Gooch, Military Misfortunes
Huntington, S., The Soldier and the State
Hackett, J., The Profession of Arms
Simpkin, R., Race to the Swift
Finney and Mayfield (eds), Redefining the Modern Military
Cavanaugh, Amble, Brooks, and Gates (eds), Strategy Strikes Back
White, C.E., The Enlightened Soldier
Learning from Military History:
Fox, A., Learning to Fight
Fredrick, J., Black Hearts
Grant, U.S., Personal Memoirs
May, E., Strange Victory
Morris, I., War! What Is It Good For?
Murray & Millet, Military Innovation in Inter War Period
Slim, W., Defeat into Victory
Yoshikawa, E., Musashi
Cohen, E. The Big Stick
Gaddis, J.L., On Grand Strategy
Singer, P. and Brooking, E., LikeWar
Strachan, H., The Direction of War
Gray, C., The Future of Strategy
Harari, Y.N., 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Husain, A., The Sentient Machine
Scharre, P., Army of None
Tegmark, M., Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of AI
Military Fiction and Sci-Fi:
Haldeman, J., The Forever War
Nagata, L., The Last Good Man
Scalzi, J., Old Man’s War (series)
Wells, M., All Systems Red (series)
Websites, Podcasts, & Other Resources
The Modern War Institute Podcast
The Dead Prussian
AI on AI
War on the Rocks
MIT Tech Review
Only The Brave (2017)
What is worth fighting for? How do you know? Did you know that when you master logic, it masters you? When you see that 2+2=4 and not 5, it becomes compelling. Seeing something clearly enough to master it is the wellspring of courage, as Joshua Chamberlain understood at the Battle of Little Round Top, as did the 300 at Thermopyle.
— A soldier should master the difference between culture and society. Culture is like the pile of a rug that differs in height, color, fabric, etc. Society is like the warp and weft that holds cultures together. Society is the edge where to cultures or individuals meet. Individuals can deduce the for themselves minimum behavior at that edge required before the friend-or-foe alarm sounds, and, surprisingly, the minimum behavior they deduce from their own experiences will be similar.
— To create society with others, ask if they can recall an instance when they thought they were right and later discovered they were mistaken. From that one deduces the need for humility and reciprocity towards others who learned that sometimes they think they are right only because they think they are right. A practical framework for ethics and morality can be built on that.
— I suggest that no military library is complete without a reason to create civil society with others.
A great resource