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 General Bolger’s Bookshelf/Image Courtesy of Lieutenant General (Ret.) Daniel Bolger

Top Five Books: 

Norman F. Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence: Want to know why military leaders make the same mistakes again and again?  Dixon provides “the reason why” in a witty, engaging book rife with wonderful vignettes to illustrate the author’s very compelling argument.

T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War:  Although not the most comprehensive history of the Korean War, this account by a combat veteran burns with conviction.  If you want to know what it felt like to be an American fighting in Korea in 1950-53, read this book.

Elizabeth Longford, Wellington:  The Years of the Sword:  The great Duke shines through this stirring book by his descendant, Lady Elizabeth.  The battle narratives are superb.  The author lets the Duke speak for himself, and he does so with a refreshing candor and self-awareness that explains his success as a commander in many actions great and small.

George S. Patton, Jr. War As I Knew It:  The master speaks.  This compilation of diary accounts (carefully edited by subordinates and family after Patton’s death—see Martin Blumenson’s two-volumeThe Patton Papers for the full-meal deal) and documents explains how the general did his duty in North Africa, Sicily, and western Europe.  There are insights and lessons on every page.

Jake Tapper, The Outpost:  This heartbreaking book tells the story of Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, from conception until abandonment, with particular attention to the heroic U.S. defensive action on October 3, 2009.  Focused squarely on the Soldiers under fire, Tapper explains what it means to fight and fail in a stalemated counter-insurgency campaign.  It is sobering.

The One That Shaped Me The Most:

Anton Myrer’s novel Once an Eagle is the one book that most influenced my view of military service.  Myrer fought in the Pacific as a Marine in World War II, but his book is an Army story that runs from just before the Great War through to the Vietnam era.  The hero is Sam Damon, commissioned from the ranks in 1918 after earning the Medal of Honor.  Damon is the essential Infantry commander, consistently training and developing his Soldiers in peace, then leading by example under fire, even as a major general commanding a division  in World War II.  Damon’s antagonist is Courtney Massengale, the prototypical self-server, always looking to advance, and uninterested in others, including his Soldiers.  Damon is not perfect—he ignores his long-suffering wife and even cheats on her—but he remains a high ideal for any aspiring commander.

MWI Adjunct Scholar Daniel P. Bolger served 35 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant general.  He commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  His military awards include five Bronze Stars (one for valor) and the Combat Action Badge.  He earned a bachelor’s degree at The Citadel and a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago.  The author of eight books and numerous articles, he teaches history at North Carolina State State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.