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.
Last week, Thomas Bruscino listed five works featured by Dusty Shelves, a series he edits for WAR ROOM, the online journal of the United States Army War College. He’s back this week with five personal favorites. For this edition, we gave him the following prompt: What are five older, forgotten, or overlooked books that you personally recommend and have yet to be featured in the Dusty Shelves series?
After describing five entries from Dusty Shelves last week that represent the range and diversity of contributions to the series, this week I’d like to recommend five books I personally enjoy that haven’t yet been covered in the series. Give them a read. Hopefully, some of you will be inspired to write about them for Dusty Shelves.
The Nation in Arms: A Treatise on Modern Miliary Systems and The Conduct of War, by Colmar von der Goltz
As is evident from the entries I described last week, writing about older or forgotten books usually involves learning about the authors, their lives and careers, and the effects of their work. Colmar von der Goltz was a fascinating figure in imperial Germany in his own right, and these two books had an outsized influence around the world. That includes in the United States, where he was arguably the most influential foreign military theorist for the US Army from the 1890s to the 1920s.
Official histories have a similar reputation as memoirs and are often treated as “court histories” and unfairly neglected. Add to that bias that military historians shy away from supposedly boring logistics, and no one reads works like Erna Risch’s broad, insightful, and engaging study of the Quartermaster Corps. Sustainment always matters, and this is as good a review as you’ll find by an author who wrote specialized studies from the Revolutionary War to World War II. Besides, someone needs to tell the story of Risch, a woman who earned her PhD at the University of Chicago in 1931, joined the historical section of the Quartermaster General during World War II, and then served as chief of that section (later Army Materials Command) in the 1960s.
Washington, Lincoln, Wilson: Three War Statesmen, by John McAuley Palmer
When I took over Dusty Shelves, we provided a short article explaining the intent of the series. One example I provided back then was Palmer’s long-lost work. No one has bit. Don’t let the name fool you. The book is a one-of-a-kind history of key issues in the development of American military policy, especially when it comes to preparedness. Palmer is a biased source—he was an advocate for a certain type of preparedness and was the key author of the National Defense Act of 1920. In this case, that is the main strength of the book: he had direct experience with how and why approaches did or did not work, and he applies that experience to writing about America’s military past.
I could go on for days with examples from modern American military, especially US Army, history. But the Dusty Shelves series has featured works from other eras, countries, domains, and even languages, and we would love for that to continue. At risk of venturing out of my lane, Cipolla’s book always struck me as an example of military history of the boldest sort. It is a short work, deeply researched and elegantly crafted, linking minute details about technological change to the grand sweep of human history. It is also a useful maritime balance against the ground-focused side of the Military Revolution debate. And if you experts out there think Cipolla is all wrong, write in and explain that to us too.
The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Ancient Greece, by Victor Davis Hanson
I know. Stay with me here. Some of Hanson’s later works may have overreached, and certainly his political writings have alienated plenty of potential readers, all of which has led folks to ignore his earlier work. But The Western Way of War is not Carnage and Culture, and it definitely isn’t The Case for Trump. What it is is a breathtakingly original look at the motivations for, and conduct of, ancient Greek warfare, derived from his earlier work on the agrarian influences on warfighting and incorporating vivid descriptions of the experience of troops in combat. Here is war and military history in all its horror, meaning, and importance. Don’t bury this book.
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 Stojkovic