Editor’s note: Welcome to another installment of our weekly War Books series! The premise is simple and straightforward. We invite a participant to recommend five books 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, we’re highlight a phenomenal series called Dusty Shelves, published by our friends at WAR ROOM, the online journal of the United States Army War College. The series focuses on historical books and other artifacts, telling their stories and relating the lessons learned to the modern environment. It’s edited by Thomas Bruscino, a professor at the US Army War College. We asked him to contribute this edition of War Books and gave him the following prompt: What five books featured in the Dusty Shelves series are your favorites?(Be sure to check back next week as Tom returns to share five of his personal favorites among older or forgotten works.)
Oh boy, this is like asking to pick your favorite child, which is always a bad idea. This editor loves them all equally. Instead, here are five entries that represent the range and diversity of contributions to the Dusty Shelves series.
We’ll start with our most recent entry, Heather Venable’s wonderful review of a 1926 work by a largely forgotten American airman. Venable points out that Sherman’s book is a helpful corrective to the image that all interwar airpower theorists were in lockstep about the primacy of strategic bombing. Common tropes can be useful in providing coherence to the story of the past, but military history is almost always more complicated than such generalizations allow. This entry is an expression of that truth.
In the summer of 2020, when we were facing our own Armageddon of sorts, Adam Seipp reminded us about a 1978 work of fiction imagining what World War III would look like. Speculative fiction, especially speculative fiction about future war, has a long history of being filled with opportunities and pitfalls for policymakers and military professionals. Seipp reminds us Hackett was the one to “jump-start the genre” in the 1980s, and we have also seen a recent spate of similar works in recent years. Plus, this entry led to an entertaining, if I say so myself, podcast episode that explored Hackett further.
Memoirs have gotten a bad rap. Yes, a lot of autobiographical accounts have a healthy amount of apologetic reputation burnishing, but historians too often dismiss them altogether. A lot of memoirs are also remarkably frank, and even when authors get defensive, how they explain their decision-making says something important, too. Klug’s article is an excellent lesson in all that can be learned from military memoirs. That is especially true when the subject is as entertaining as he was important, and King certainly fits the bill.
Major General Guy V. Henry, Jr.’s Travel Itinerary, 1944, (reviewed for Dusty Shelves by Matthew Morton)
Speaking of entertaining. The Dusty Shelves series is not just about books and articles. We also take commentaries on old documents from the archives. Working at the US Army Heritage and Education Center, Morton dug up an epically complex travel itinerary for a historically anonymous World War II general working on issues of hemispheric defense. What follows is a lighthearted romp through the joys of planning, executing, and funding official travel, and also a reminder of the vast and diverse roles played by leaders in modern militaries at war.
The final entry here is on a lesser-known work of historical fiction written during World War II by famous American author John Steinbeck. The setting is an occupied country somewhere in Northern Europe. Chersicla documents how Steinbeck handles the complicated problem of how people deal with occupation, and all the issues at play in developing resistance movements to the same. As with any good fiction, the specifics of the scenario are less important than the larger truths revealed along the way. For Chersicla, The Moon is Down calls to mind the dynamics of the ongoing war in Ukraine, and it is hard to be more relevant than that.
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: Nenad Stojkovich