We should never stop learning, but sometimes we don’t have time to read. Being visual creatures means we have to stop everything else to look at a book. That leaves a lot of books on the shelf. That’s where audiobooks come in. As someone who struggles with dyslexia, I can honestly say that over half of my education, from high school to today has come through my ears, not my eyes. So when my colleague, Maj. John Spencer, asked me to submit my top five audiobooks for the MWI website, I jumped at the chance. Granted, these may not be my top five, but rather five from my top hundred (the rest will have to come later). They are:

Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and The Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon

If you’re in the military, you should hear this. If you work in the federal government, you should hear this. If you’re a citizen of a country called “the United States of America,” you should hear this. Brooks talks about how the Defense Department is the last respected institution in foreign policy, and therefore is forced to do jobs it’s neither trained for, nor wants. Brooks doesn’t hold back, and she speaks from firsthand experience. Her book is nothing short of a lighthouse in the storm that is our future.

Lt. Col. John A Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

Like all Americans, I grew up with the narrative of inflexible, plodding British Redcoats getting picked off by wily, buckskin-clad American rebels. Two centuries later, the British learned from their experience in the Revolution while we became the Redcoats. This book compares the British flexibility in Malaya with American rigidity in Vietnam. It’s a powerful case study for future insurgencies.

Col. David Hackworth, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior

I first heard this book when I was in high school, and, at first, it took some getting used to. Fair warning, the late Col. Hackworth doesn’t have the most melodious voice. In fact, he sounds like the guy who plays “Archer,” but you’ll quickly forget that when you hear his story. He served in both Korea and Vietnam and is not shy about his criticism of either. His experience in Vietnam is packed with lessons for any guerrilla war, and should be read as such. He loved the army. He loved his country. Both should learn from him.

Robert Conroy, 1920: America’s Great War

This alternate history tale takes place during Kaiser Wilhelm’s invasion of the United States. After winning a quick, sharp victory in 1914, Germany turns on the only major world power left and tries to carve out an empire along our West Coast. Conroy digs deep into the real-world research of “what if” and presents a credible, logical, intense story. Like all good alternative history novels, this one makes you see the crossroads of time. For me, there’s no better way to learn about what happened then wondering what might have been.

Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising

My mom got me this when I was in high school and it remains, to this day, the best audiobook ever made. It’s the mid-1980s, the Soviets have just suffered a crippling terrorist attack on their main Siberian oil field. They need the oil from the Persian Gulf but the United States and NATO are in the way. Clancy, the unmatched master of the techno-thriller (a genre he invented), crafts the most detailed, fact-based WW3 story ever written. And if that’s not enough to get you listening, the book is read by Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham! This man is so talented and versatile, he plays every character with four different accents. He single-handedly proved that audiobooks can be a work of art, (which I told him years later when I asked him to read a part on the WWZ audiobook).


Max Brooks is an author, public speaker, MWI non-resident fellow, and senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project. He is the author of World War Z and The Harlem Hellfighters.

The views expressed 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.