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 topic to recommend 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.
This week’s Installment comes from Michael Hennelly, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former West Point professor. He lists seven books that directly or indirectly explore themes of leadership and explains why they warrant a place on your summer reading list.
Twenty books that are a joy to read. They can be read for the sheer delight of immersing in exciting and well-written books or they can be read to explore at a granular level the various steps (and missteps) of Jack Aubrey’s leadership journey. If there were any justice in the world, Hollywood would make more than one movie from this series.
Clausewitz, by Sir Michael Howard
Slogging through 125 chapters of On War is probably not the best way to be introduced to Clausewitz. The alternative is to read Sir Michael Howard’s delightful and short (seventy-three pages!) book, which was published as part of the Oxford University Press Past Masters series.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen
Soldiers rarely (if ever) turn to books written by management scholars for insights into strategy. Army chief of staff reading lists famously ignore books written by business school professors. But Christensen provides a fascinating insight into one of the most fundamental strategic challenges facing any army—how to effectively respond to a rapidly changing world.
A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel
Long before she became famous with the publication of Wolf Hall Mantel gave us an elegantly written and intricately plotted portrait of a society undergoing revolutionary change. Seen through the eyes of three French revolutionaries—Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins—we are confronted with the existential challenges faced by leaders in chaotic and dynamic social circumstances.
Hell in a Very Small Place, by Bernard Fall
One of the most intriguing questions of military history is “How could the French have lost at Dien Bien Phu?” Bernard Fall, one of the most influential writers on the Indochina Wars, provides a riveting account of the actions taken by French strategic and tactical leaders that led to this national catastrophe.
George C. Marshall: Education of a General, 1880–1939, by Forrest Pogue
Although Pogue eventually provided a four-volume biography, the first volume of Marshall’s life is especially inspiring to any leader. Omar Bradley once said that Marshall was his ideal of an officer and, after reading Pogue’s biography, we know why. In an Army that only valued seniority, Marshall spent decades consciously and effectively preparing himself to excel at the challenge of command.
Lee’s Lieutenants, by Douglas Southall Freeman
Many of America’s wars have been “come as you are” affairs so it is interesting to consider the example of an army that was rapidly built from scratch and immediately thrown into mortal combat. Most people will not want to read all three volumes of Lee’s Lieutenants but luckily, Stephen Sears has provided a one-volume abridgment. Forty-seven soldiers served under Lee as major generals and 146 soldiers served under him as brigadier generals. Using a leadership canvas of this size, Freeman provides an astonishingly vivid array of insights into some of the most fundamental aspects of leadership.
Michael Hennelly served twenty-one years as a field artillery officer and foreign area officer in the US Army. He taught international relations In West Point’s Department of Social Sciences as an active duty officer and later served as a civilian professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. He holds a doctorate in strategic management and has taught strategy to executive MBA students at three universities.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Lara Poirrier, US Army