In his recent book, The Leader’s Bookshelf, Adm. James Stavridis wrote that “perhaps the single best way a leader can learn and grow is through reading.”

Reading is an indispensable component of being a member of the profession of arms.   It provokes us to think outside of the day-to-day duties that often absorb us.  It forces us to learn about the larger context of our profession—the national policy, strategic cultures, military strategy, and societal issues—which all impact on the training for and conduct of military operations.  Reading also provides us with the best opportunity for vicarious learning that is available to us, through studying the “breadth and depth” of the history of our profession.  Finally, it can also soothe a turbulent mind at the end of a hectic day.

Each year I like to assemble a single-page reading list.  It is not designed as a comprehensive reading program, but as a “taster plate” of resources for those who wish to begin (or re-energize) the wonderful journey of exploring the many aspects of our profession.  Nor is the list just about reading books.  It provides a range of other resources that allow the military professional, through blogs and social media, to immerse oneself in a global professional discourse. Never before have we possessed the range of networking opportunities afforded by the digital age that allow us to reach out to fellow travelers seeking enlightenment about the profession of arms.

The list contains reading resources that stretch from the classics of antiquity, such as The Meditations and Thucydides, through to speculation about future conflict.  It has selections from military history and contemporary operations.  Notably, the list is not solely non-fiction.

I have included several of my favourite science-fiction novels that feature military themes.  I have written previously about why I think military officers should read sci-fi, and have collaborated on a sci-fi reading list.  Given the small number of sci-fi books I included, this might be the most controversial aspect of the list—there is no Starship Troopers or Enders Game.  I don’t think these are bad novels; I just think Old Mans War and The Forever War are better. And it is very hard to go past The Martian for a story of resilience, innovation, and pure greatness in storytelling.

I trust that the list is useful, and that it provides a good start point for those who wish to re-energize their reading habits.  I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks.

Books & Journals


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:

Cohen & Gooch, Military Misfortunes
Huntington, S., The Soldier and the State
Kahneman, D., Thinking Fast and Slow
Rumelt, R., Good Strategy Bad Strategy
Simpkin, R., Race to the Swift
Stavridis, J., The Leaders Bookshelf
Weick, Managing the Unexpected
White, C.E., The Enlightened Soldier

Military History:

Fox, A., Learning to Fight
Fredrick, J., Black Hearts
Grant, U.S., Personal Memoirs
Horne, A., To Lose a Battle: France 1940
Murray & Millet, Military Innovation in Inter War Period
Slim, W., Defeat into Victory
Yoshikawa, E., Musashi

Contemporary Issues:

Cohen, E. The Big Stick
Dubik, J., Just War Reconsidered
Kaplan, F., Dark Territory
Kaplan, R., The Revenge of Geography
Strachan, The Direction of War

The Future of War:

Gray, C., The Future of Strategy
Harari, Y.N., Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Murray, W., America and the Future of War
Tegmark, M., Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of AI

Military Fiction and Sci-Fi:

Haldeman, J., The Forever War
Scalzi, J., Old Man’s War (series)
Singer & Cole, Ghost Fleet
Weir, A., The Martian

Websites, Podcasts, & Twitter Feeds


Twitter Feeds:



The Modern War Institute Podcast
The Dead Prussian
War Stories
War 4 Idiots
Leaders Huddle


The Journal of Military Operations
MIT Tech Review
Military Review
The ADF Journal


Major General Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University,  the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional military education and lifelong learning.  In January 2018 he will assume command of the Australian Defence College in Canberra.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.


Image credit: Jonas Tegnerud