US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, released his 2017 Professional Reading List last week. As we prepare to re-introduce MWI’s weekly War Books series this fall, we’re kicking it off by highlighting the the 111 books, in six categories, that made Gen. Milley’s list. Click on each of the categories below to expand the list and see each entry.

Strategic Environment

Peter Zeihan, The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder

This is a contrarian and eye-opening assessment of American power. Zeihan examines how the hard rules of geography are eroding the American commitment to free trade; how much of the planet is aging into a mass retirement that will enervate markets and capital supplies; and how, against all odds, it is the ever-ravenous American economy that—alone among the developed nations—is rapidly approaching energy independence. Combined, these factors are doing nothing less than overturning the global system and ushering in a new order. He concludes that geography will matter more than ever in a deglobalizing world and that America’s geography is simply sublime.

Colin S. Gray, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare

In this book, an acclaimed scholar of strategy and strategic theory turns his attention to how warfare is changing at a rapid pace in the twenty-first century. While political, technological, social, and religious forces are shaping the future of warfare, most Western armed forces have yet to evolve significantly from the Cold War era when they trained to resist a conventional invasion by the Warsaw Pact. America is now the only superpower, but its dominance is threatened by internal and external factors. The world’s most high-tech weaponry seems helpless in the face of determined guerrilla fighters not afraid to die for their beliefs.

Eliot A. Cohen, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force

American leaders must learn to use hard power in different ways for new circumstances. The rise of China, Russia’s conquest of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and the spread of radical Islamist movements all pose threats to global peace and stability. If the United States fails to preserve global stability, it runs the risk of unleashing disorder, violence, and tyranny on a scale not seen since the 1930s. As Madeline Albright once said, the United States is still “the indispensable nation.”

Louis A. DiMarco, Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq

From sieges to street fighting and peacekeeping to coups de main, cities have always been key terrain in warfare. Although strategists have warned against urban operations for millennia because they are so costly, difficult, and fraught with risk, armies and generals have nevertheless been forced to attack and defend cities, and victory has required that they do it well. In this masterful study of urban warfare, DiMarco explains what it takes to seize and hold a city literally block by block and provides lessons for today’s tacticians that they neglect at their own peril.

Parag Khanna, Connectivity: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

Khanna, a strategist, travels the world to explain the rapid and unprecedented changes affecting every part of the planet. He shows how nations are less at war over territory than engaged in a tug-of-war over pipelines, railways, shipping lanes, and Internet cables. The new arms race is about who can connect to the most markets. China is now winning this race, having launched a wave of infrastructure investments to unite Eurasia around its new “Silk Roads.” The United States can only regain ground by joining its neighbors in a super continental North American union of shared resources and prosperity.

Hew Strachan, The Direction of War: Contemporary Strategy in Historical Perspective

A British historian, Strachan argues that recent wars fought by the United States and Britain were the products of a fundamental misunderstanding and misapplication of strategy. He contends that the wars since 2001 have not, in reality, been as “new” as has been widely assumed and that the British and Americans need to adopt a more historical approach to contemporary strategy in order to identify what is really changing in how they wage war. If war is to fulfill the aims of policy, then decision makers need first to understand war. He makes a case for drawing more on the lessons of history to evaluate the contemporary strategic environment.

Matthew Burrows, The Future Declassified: Megatrends That Will Undo the World Unless We Take Action

Burrows examines recent trends to forecast tectonic shifts that will drive us to 2030. A staggering amount of wholesale change is happening—from unprecedented and widespread aging to rampant urbanization and growth in a global middle class to an eastward shift in economic power and a growing number of disruptive technologies.

Michael E. O’Hanlon, The Future of Land Warfare

O’Hanlon offers an analysis of the future of the world’s ground forces. He wonders where large-scale conflicts or other catastrophes are most plausible. Which of these could be important enough to require the option of a U.S. military response? And which of these could, in turn, demand significant numbers of American ground forces for their resolution? He is not predicting or advocating big American roles in such operations—only cautioning against overconfidence that the United States can and will avoid them.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., The Future of Power

This exploration of the changing nature of power considers the dramatic role that the Internet and information technologies have played in redefining how nations project power and influence. Nye considers the transformation of power as defined during the Cold War, with its emphasis on industrial capacity, nuclear weapons, and armed forces, and the current era, where nonstate actors and cyberattacks have become increasing threats.

Jakub J. Grygiel, Great Powers and Geopolitical Change

In an era of high technology and instant communication, the role of geography in the formation of strategy and politics can be undervalued. But the mountains of Afghanistan and the sun-blasted streets of Iraq have provided stark reminders that geographical realities continue to have a profound impact on the success of military campaigns. In a series of case studies, Grygiel, a political scientist, highlights the importance of incorporating geography into grand strategy. He argues that states can increase and maintain their position of power by pursuing a geostrategy that focuses on control of resources and lines of communications.

Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post–Cold War Order

Brands examines global changes and U.S. policy from the late 1970s to the early 1990s through the lens of the Cold War, the rise of globalization, the advance of democracy, and the emergence of Islamic extremism and international terrorism. He argues that structural changes in the international system interacted with strategies pursued by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush to usher in an era of reinvigorated and, in many ways, unprecedented American primacy. This work is an important account of the foundation of the post–Cold War order.

Charles A. Kupchan, No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn

Between 1500 and 1800, the West sprinted ahead of other centers of power in Asia and the Middle East. Since then, Europe and the United States have dominated the world. Today, that preeminence is in decline as China, India, Brazil, and other emerging powers rise. Kupchan considers how those principles associated with the West—democracy, capitalism, and secular nationalism—will continue to endure as new states outside the Western world gain greater economic and political prominence.

David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla

Scrutinizing major environmental trends—population growth and coastal urbanization—and increasing digital connectivity, Kilcullen forecasts a future of feral cities where crime and war and the real and virtual worlds increasingly overlap. Informed by his fieldwork in the Caribbean, Central America, Somalia, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, he presents detailed, on-the-ground accounts of the new faces of modern conflict—from the 2008 Mumbai, India, terrorist attacks to transnational drug networks, local street gangs, and the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Hans. J Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace

First published at the start of the Cold War, Morgenthau’s work is a foundational text for the theory of political realism in international relations. In his effort to craft a comprehensive theory for international politics, the author asserts that nation-states’ actions are driven by self-interest and power rather than ideology, material interests, or values. As a result, he contends, the world is composed of nation-states pursuing often opposing interests, making conflict between them inevitable.

Fareed Zakaria, The Post American World: Release 2.0

This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about “the rise of the rest.” Zakaria’s work draws on lessons from the two great power shifts of the past 500 years―the rise of the Western world and the rise of the United States―to identify how might the nation continue to thrive in a truly global era. Washington needs to begin a serious transformation of its global strategy, moving from its traditional role of dominating hegemon to that of a more pragmatic, honest broker. It must seek to share power, create coalitions, build legitimacy, and define the global agenda―all formidable tasks.

Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000

In an impressive feat of scholarship, Kennedy tackles the history of great powers from the dawn of modernity to the end of the twentieth century. His far-ranging survey explores the relationship between economics, strategy, technology, and military power. He argues for the primacy of economic factors to explain why some states achieved great power status. By the same token, nations stumbled and declined when their financial resources could no longer support their military ambitions and commitments. The book’s thesis and its discussion of the dangers of “imperial overstretch” remain as relevant today as when it was first published in 1987.

Ruchir Sharma, The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World

Shaped by his twenty-five years traveling the world, Sharma rethinks the “dismal science” of economics as a practical art. Narrowing the thousands of factors that can shape a country’s fortunes to ten clear rules, he explains how to identify political, economic, and social changes in real time and how to spot political headlines, black markets, the price of onions, and billionaire rankings as signals of booms, busts, and protests. In a post-crisis age of slow growth and political revolt, his pioneering book is an entertaining field guide to understanding change in this or any era.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

The end of the Cold War left the United States as the world’s only superpower, and the twenty-first century seemed destined to be another American century. That optimism ended with the costly wars of the George W. Bush administration’s first term and a global recession. Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser from 1977 to 1981, argues that to quell mounting anxieties about the growing capacity for Eastern economic and technological innovation, America must define and pursue a long-term geopolitical vision.

Ian Bremmer, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Bremmer believes that American foreign policy has become directionless and too expensive, and he argues that it is time for the United States to choose between three strategic options. The first he calls Independent America, in which the country should focus its energies on rebuilding the United States and lead by example. In the second, referred to as Moneyball America, the nation, based on limited resources, must make tough choices to protect only vital interests, and do no more. The third option, Indispensable America, the United States would pursue a stable world through its willingness to defend the values and interests on which that stability depends. The author presents the cases for and against each option.

John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Mearsheimer argues that his concept, “offensive realism,” is the best means for explaining international relationships over the past two centuries. Contending that states throughout history have been driven to acquire greater power and influence as a means of guaranteeing their own security, the author concludes that current efforts at engagement and seeking harmonious relations between states will ultimately fail and predicts that the U.S. security competition with a rising China will inevitably intensify.

P.W. Singer, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

Singer explores the greatest revolution in military affairs since the atom bomb—the dawn of robotic warfare. Blending historical evidence with interviews of an amazing array of individuals, he shows how technology is changing not just in how wars are fought, but also in the politics, economics, laws, and the ethics that surround war itself. As humanity enters an era where technology makes a reality of what was once only science fiction, the author asks important questions about the future of warfare.

Robert Kagan, The World America Made

Upon its first printing in 2012, this slim volume made an oversized impression, becoming one of the most talked about political books of the year. In these incisive and engaging pages, Kagan responds to those who anticipate—or even long for—a post-American world order. He shows what a decline in America’s influence would truly mean for the United States and the rest of the world, as the vital institutions, economies, and ideals currently supported by American power wane or disappear. He delivers a powerful reminder of the salutary effects of U.S. global power and leadership.

Richard Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

In this timely work, Haass argues for an updated global operating system—call it world order 2.0—that reflects the reality that power is widely distributed and that borders count for less. One critical element of this adjustment will be adopting a new approach to sovereignty that embraces its obligations and responsibilities as well as its rights and protections. He also details how the United States should act toward key rivals and regions. He suggests, too, what our country should do to address its dysfunctional politics, mounting debt, and conflicting views on foreign policy.

Henry Kissinger, World Order

Kissinger investigates the roots of international harmony and global disorder. Drawing on his experience as one of the foremost statesmen of the modern era, he presents an assessment of what he argues is the ultimate challenge for the twenty-first century: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historical perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism.

Regional Studies

David Kilcullen, Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism

In this volume, Kilcullen provides a view of the current situation in the Middle East and analyzes how America and the West ended up in such dire circumstances. Whereas in 2008 it appeared that the United States might pull a modest stalemate from the jaws of defeat in Iraq, six years later the situation had reversed. After America pulled out of Iraq completely in 2011, the Shi’ite president cut Sunnis out of the power structure and allowed Iranian influence to grow. And in Syria an extremist Sunni organization even more radical than al-Qaeda arose. Unlike al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was intent on establishing its own state, and within a remarkably short time it did. The author highlights how former Iraqi Ba’athist military officers were key contributors to ISIS’ military successes.

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Before the U.S. entry into World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Adolf Hitler was finally defeated, the German dictator had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, most German and Soviet killing sites fell behind the Iron Curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness. Snyder presents the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two facets of a single history in the place and time when they occurred: between Germany and Russia when Hitler and Stalin both wielded power.

George Friedman, Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe

A major new book by Friedman, a political scientist, with a bold thesis about coming events in Europe. This provocative work examines geopolitical hot spots where tensions have erupted throughout history and where conflict is due to emerge again. The book depicts the German-dominated European Union and Eurozone as a tense, fragile construct, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, which broke the promise of prosperity that had drawn nations to join in the first place. The author identifies sources of instability in the numerous “borderlands” of Europe, most strikingly between Russia and a “barely functional” North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Francis Pike, Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941–1945

Pike offers a new narrative on the Pacific theater in World War II. He gives a detailed account of campaigns and battles and presents his views on a variety of topics: the causes of the war; Emperor Hirohito’s war guilt; the inevitability of U.S. victory; the abilities of General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; the roles of China, Great Britain, and Australia; military and naval technology; the need for fire-bombing Japan; and the eventual use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While his views may not be as original as he believes, the history is a useful synthesis.

Sayyid Qutb, Milestones

Just as it was critical to read Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin during the Cold War, it is now important to read the writings of the father of modern Salafi jihadism, Sayyid Qutb. A guiding light for the Muslim Brotherhood, the author writes of the characteristics of Islamic society, jihad in the cause of God, and a Muslim’s nationality. He was imprisoned by Egyptian nationalists and executed in 1966. This volume is an ideological treatise and a call for radical violence to re-create the Muslim world that merits professional reading by American military leaders.

Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

In this examination of the countries known as Monsoon Asia—including India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania—Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power. Here the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and American foreign policy must concentrate on this sector if the United States is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. From the Horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, the author exposes the effects of population growth, climate change, and extremist politics on this unstable region, demonstrating why Americans can no longer afford to ignore this important section of the world.

Richard N. Rosecrance and Steven E. Miller, eds., The Next Great War? The Roots of World War I and the Risk of U.S.-China Conflict

A century ago, many popular histories allege, Europe’s diplomats mismanaged the crisis triggered by the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and the continent plunged into World War I. Today, as the hundredth anniversary of the Great War prompts renewed debate about the war’s causes, scholars and policy experts are also considering the parallels between the present international system and the world of 1914. Are China and the United States fated to follow in the footsteps of previous great power rivals?

Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung

Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese Communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, which he ruled as an autocrat from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. This volume comprises 427 quotations, divided thematically into 33 chapters. The extracts range in length from a sentence to a few short paragraphs and borrow heavily from a group of about two dozen documents in the four volumes of Mao’s Selected Works.

Odd Arne Westad, Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

In this book, Westad traces China’s foreign affairs over the past 250 years, identifying the forces that will determine the country’s path in the decades to come. Since the height of the Qing Empire in the eighteenth century, China’s interactions—and confrontations—with foreign powers have caused its worldview to fluctuate between extremes of dominance and subjugation. Many of these encounters have left the Chinese with a lingering sense of humiliation and resentment and inflamed their notions of justice, hierarchy, and Chinese centrality in world affairs. As the author shows, the nation’s success will ultimately hinge on its ability to engage with potential international partners while simultaneously safeguarding its own strength and stability.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

Drawing on new diplomatic evidence, Clark offers a fresh look at the origins of World War I, focusing not on the battles and atrocities of the war itself, but on the complex events and relationships that led world leaders into brutal conflict. He traces the paths to war in a narrative that cuts between the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade and examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914. He details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks.

Aleksandr A. Svechin, Strategy

Svechin, a Russian and Soviet military leader, writer, and theorist, wrote this volume in the 1920s while serving as a professor at the Academy of the General Staff in St. Petersburg. Often overlooked after his execution in the Stalinist purges of 1938, the author emphasizes the concepts of attrition (the defensive) and destruction (the offensive) as different approaches to military operations, which could be balanced depending on terrain, technology, and force size.

Jakub J. Grygiel and A. Wess Mitchell, The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power

From the Baltic to the South China Sea, newly assertive authoritarian states sense an opportunity to resurrect old empires or build new ones at America’s expense. Hoping that the U.S. decline is real, nations such as Russia, Iran, and China are testing Washington’s resolve by targeting allies at the frontiers of American power. The authors explain why the United States needs a new grand strategy that uses strong frontier alliance networks to raise the costs of military aggression in the new century. They detail why the United States must strengthen the international order that has provided greater benefits to the world than any in history.

Michael Howard, War in European History

Howard provides a survey of the changing ways that war has been waged in Europe, from the Norse invasions to the present day. More than a military history, the book is a succinct overview of the development of European society as a whole over the last millennium. From the medieval period to the industrialized mass warfare of the twentieth century, the author illuminates how warfare has shaped the history of Europe, its effect on social and political institutions, and the ways in which technological and social change have, in turn, affected how wars are fought.

History and Military history

David McCullough, 1776

This is a brisk narrative of the Revolutionary War from the summer of 1775 to George Washington’s stunning twin victories at Trenton and Princeton in late 1776. McCullough shows that remarkable endurance, fierce dedication to the American cause, and Washington’s singular leadership were all essential. Together, these factors propelled a minuscule and ill-equipped American army to overcome severe hardships and defeats and saved the American Revolution from collapse during the war’s first, and most tumultuous, year.

Robert Wooster, The American Military Frontiers: The United States Army in the West, 1783–1900

Wooster looks at the U.S. Army on the American frontier from the end of the Revolution to 1900. As the new nation expanded beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the Army was at the forefront of the advance, tasked with defending the nation’s interests against Spain, Great Britain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, and Indians. This study examines the importance of military affairs to social, economic, and political life throughout the borderlands and western frontiers.

Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft, eds., America’s First Battles, 1776–1965

A benchmark work in American military history for three decades, these eleven essays focus on the transition of the U.S. Army from the peacetime parade ground to wartime battleground in nine wars. Through careful analysis of the organization, training, and doctrine, each essay seeks to illustrate the root strengths and weaknesses evidenced in the first significant engagement or campaign of the war. While this volume is focused on operational history, it gives readers a deeper understanding of the underlying “rhythm” of American military traditions.

Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943

Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945

The Liberation Trilogy draws the reader into the U.S. Army’s monumental struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, with the Army transforming into a coherent and capable force over three years and three bloody campaigns. An Army at Dawn, which won the Pulitzer Prize, masterfully tells the story of the North Africa Campaign, as Americans struggled to adapt to the intensity of modern warfare. The Day of Battle follows the campaign in the Mediterranean, where the elimination of Italy as a member of the Axis was perhaps less important than gaining the experience needed to fight Germany and win. The Guns at Last Light moves from the bloody landings at Normandy to the final defeat of Adolf Hitler’s empire.

Robert M. Citino, Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare

Beginning with Germany’s blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, numerous military commanders have sought to emulate this rapid victory through maneuvers of armored vehicles and motorized troops. Despite this clear template, most commanders have been unable to achieve comparable victories. Citino describes multiple cases, including Korea, the Arab-Israeli wars, Vietnam, and Desert Storm, to appreciate modern operational warfare and assesses the respective roles of firepower, training, doctrine, and command and control mechanisms. He shows that technical superiority is no guarantee of victory and that understanding past campaigns is essential to anyone who wishes to grasp, and survive, modern warfare.

Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power

Though technology and superior weapons have played a part in Western military dominance, Hanson argues that cultural distinctions are decisive. Studying nine major battles from Salamis to Tet, he contends that Western powers leveraged personal freedom, self-imposed discipline, and civic organization to become “marching democracies.” In contrast, non-Western nations were often hindered by hierarchical governments and intolerance of debate. In one example, Greek armies, who elected their own generals and openly debated strategy, were able to win wars despite being massively outnumbered and far from home, with only their comrades in arms for support.

Thomas E. Hanson, Combat Ready? The Eighth U.S. Army on the Eve of the Korean War

In the decades since the “forgotten war” in Korea, conventional wisdom has castigated the Eighth Army as consisting largely of poorly trained and undisciplined troops who were easily brushed aside by North Korean troops in 1950. Hanson’s careful study of combat preparedness in the Eighth Army in 1949 and 1950 concedes that soldiers sent to Korea suffered gaps in their instruction, but after a year of progressive, focused, and developmental collective training these soldiers expected to defeat the Communist enemy.

Ian W. Toll, The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942–1945

Toll’s sequel to his earlier book on the war in the Pacific is as grand and sweeping as the ocean upon which it was fought. These were the years in which the Japanese offensive in the Pacific was driven back with increasing speed and destruction. The reader is confronted with just how massive this theater was but is still able to connect to the individuals who fought in it due to the author’s heavy reliance on firsthand accounts and other primary source material.

Robert M. Citino, Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942

The year 1942 was a key turning point of World War II, as a bloodied but still lethal Wehrmacht was unable to replicate its brilliant victories and huge territorial gains against increasingly capable opponents. In this major reevaluation of that crucial time, Citino shows that the German Army’s addiction to the “war of movement” and Adolf Hitler’s flawed management of the war slowly sapped military effectiveness as the initiative shifted to the Allies.

David E. Johnson, Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945

In 1941, the U.S. Army entered World War II unprepared for Germany’s combined use of armor and airpower. Limited funding and public apathy during the 1930s were a factor, but Johnson persuasively argues that the principal failures were internal to the military. Army culture and bureaucracy, shaped by conservative officers in the powerful infantry and cavalry branches, hindered the incorporation of tanks into ground forces. In addition, aircraft development was distorted by strategic bombing advocates, neglecting the mission of close air support for ground troops.

Hew Strachan, The First World War

Strachan’s work is a broad study of the First World War aimed at the general reader. He examines the political, economic, and social factors that set the conditions for war before delving into general analysis of how the war was conducted at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The reader will gain an appreciation for the challenges faced in bringing the war to a satisfactory conclusion. The author closes with a look at why the peace that was settled in 1919 could not last and what this meant for Europe long term.

Robert M. Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich

In his study of over 350 years of German military history, Citino reveals a recurrent pattern of rapid movement, surprise attacks, and assaults on enemy flanks, which made it possible for generations of German leaders to fight and win against larger armies and more powerful nations. Through battlefield victories and grim determination to carry out its distinctive style of warfare, German military culture influenced the history of Europe and later the world through its singular approach to warfare.

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I

In this 1963 Pulitzer Prize–winning account of the coming of the Great War in Europe, Tuchman re-creates the month leading up to World War I and the first month of the conflict: thirty dramatic days in the summer of 1914 when the continent erupted in fighting. Beginning with the funeral of England’s King Edward VII, the author traces each step that led to the clash and the subsequent outbreak of battle. She also highlights the numerous misconceptions, miscalculations, and mistakes that resulted in the tragedy of trench warfare.

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology, attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations have survived and prospered more than others. He argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originated primarily in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences occur, such as written languages or the development of resistance to endemic diseases, he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures.

Michael Grant, History of Rome

From a small settlement on the banks of the Tiber, Rome grew to become the center of an empire that dominated what was then known of the Western world. Grant re-creates the evolution of the city, describing the individuals and events that made Rome a political and cultural hub based on conquest, politics, and economics. The book presents many of the familiar names of Rome— Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Cleopatra—but also the artistic, economic, and engineering accomplishments of the “eternal city.”

Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945

World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost sixty million lives, and Hastings, a distinguished historian who has researched and written about the war for over thirty years, provides a richly detailed single-volume history of the entire war. Through his stories of everyday people, ranging from soldiers, sailors, and airmen to housewives, civilians under attack, and even Japanese suicide pilots, he offers an intimate portrait of the most epic and destructive war in human history.

Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides is recognized as a pioneer in the writing of military history. His study of the protracted Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BC is the definitive work, but it has been relatively inaccessible to the student of military history who does not possess a Greek classicist background. Strassler’s book opens the world of ancient military campaigns and battles, and the valuable political, military, and moral lessons it holds, to the general public.

Ian W. Toll, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941–1942

The years 1941–1942 were crucial in the war to defeat Japan in the Pacific theater. The decisions and, in the case of Japan, strategic missteps made during this time would have consequences once the United States and its Allies could mobilize on a scale never before seen. Toll draws on primary source material to put the reader on board the ships and in the offices and conference rooms where the foundations for victory were laid.

Robert M. Citino, The Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920–1939

In 1939, the German Army shocked the world with a highly mobile and aggressive style of warfare. Twenty years earlier, that army had lain in ruins, unsuccessful on the battlefield and constrained by the Treaty of Versailles. Citino shows how German officers of the Weimar Republic transformed their doctrine and built the institutional capability for Germany’s rapid rearmament. Using largely unpublished materials from U.S. and German archives, he centers his analysis on critical maneuvers conducted by the German Army in the 1930s that provided the critical skills for future victories.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

The relationship between power and military, technological, and social history is explored by McNeill in this sweeping narrative of “hard power” since the year 1000. The author traces the development of new ideas from the crossbow to the intercontinental ballistic missile to argue that the commercial transformation of society and advances in technology have continually upset balances of power and established new political structures.

Edward M. Coffman, The Regulars: The American Army, 1898–1941

In a lively and brisk social history, Coffman details the transformation of the U.S. Army between the War with Spain and the beginning of World War II. In 1898, America’s army was a small constabulary engaging in skirmishes on a vanishing frontier and dealing with protesting workers, completely isolated from broader American social, political, and cultural currents. Within four decades, it emerged reborn as a large modern army drawn from all corners of America to fight a global war against highly skilled opponents.

Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War

As a new military history of the Civil War, this book distinguishes itself by its expansive vision and scope. Built around a core argument that the American Civil War began an enduring style of “modern warfare,” the narrative moves from the first shots at Fort Sumter to the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox. Murray and Hsieh highlight the powerful historical forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution’s impact on military culture, leaders, and decision making.

Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers

This book, by a political scientist and a historian, is not a work of history but a guidebook for decision makers about how to use history. The authors employ a number of historical case studies that highlight both how a lack of knowledge affected those making decisions and how those individuals might have employed historical thinking to better effect. The authors do not shy from practical suggestions and offer tips and techniques for incorporating history into decision making. This work should be considered mandatory reading for strategists and policymakers and their staffs.

T. R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness

Fehrenbach’s dramatic account of the Korean War in all its horror and bravery is written from the perspective of those who fought in it. Using unit records and personal journals, the author provides compelling individual narratives of the small-unit commanders and their troops. Sixty years later, understanding the struggles of the “forgotten war,” through the voices of those who battled over the rocky Korean hills, both commemorates the past and offers vital lessons for the future.

Robert M. Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943

Throughout 1943, the German Army, a force that perfected relentless offensive operations, was ground down by strategic overreach and the demands of twentiethcentury industrialized warfare. Citino draws on Germanlanguage sources to offer a fresh and vivid analysis of key campaigns as Germany shifted to a desperate defensive campaign against increasingly skilled military opponents. From the Allied landings in North Africa and the German counterattack at Kasserine Pass to the titanic battle of Kursk, he reveals how a German military establishment struggled to react when the tables were turned.


Ronald C. White, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

For many years Ulysses S. Grant’s success as a general in the Civil War was explained as merely the result of the Union’s superiority in resources. White sides with those who argue that defeating the rebellion actually depended in large part on Grant’s abilities and character. While not ignoring Grant’s poor choices during his two terms as president, the author also reminds us that Grant was a defender of civil equality for the freed slaves and demonstrated that character again during his race to complete his superb memoirs before cancer killed him.

Charles Wilson, The Anatomy of Courage: The Classic WWI Account of the Psychological Effects of War

First published in 1945, this account of the psychological effects of war is based on Wilson’s service as a doctor to a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers during World War I. A groundbreaking work, produced when the psychic damage inflicted by combat was still widely equated with cowardice, the author warns that the sustained pressures of modern war can break any soldier. He sets out the relationship between fear and courage and ways to manage the effects of fear so as to avoid exhausting a soldier’s courage.

Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005

This book covers the second Iraq War from its origins in the Gulf War to 2006, when the issue for the Americans was still very much in doubt. While Ricks does not spare civilian officials, his was the first book to examine the failure of the military to properly prepare for and conduct this war. From division commanders to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he argues that most of these leaders repeated the mistakes made in Vietnam. By 2006, these failures left the United States in a strategic position that “painfully resembled that of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.”

Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today

Ricks traces how the promotion and relief of generals in the U.S. Army changed from the 1940s to the present day. During World War II, generals who failed to perform to the expected standard were relieved. After the war, the Army gradually abandoned this approach for one in which the relief of general officers became rare and almost never for battlefield performance. This change has played a crucial role in American wartime failures from 1950 to the present. Only a return to the World War II method, the author argues, can reinvigorate the Army’s senior leadership and its wartime performance.

J. F. C. Fuller, The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant

A once-common view of Ulysses S. Grant was that he was an inept general who relied solely on brute force to overwhelm his opponents at a tremendous cost to his own army. Fuller argues that while Grant may not have appreciated the tactical character of the war, he was unsurpassed at the operational level. Furthermore, Grant understood, better than any other general of the war, the requirement that operations must serve the strategy devised to achieve a war’s objectives.

Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall, 4 vols.

George C. Marshall was the greatest American soldierstatesman of the twentieth century. Like any leader, he was not perfect, but he set a very high standard of ethical and effective leadership. The first volume details how Marshall developed as a soldier, through his own efforts and those of several mentors. The subsequent volumes show how those skills, combined with his commitment to selfless service, enabled Marshall to lead the U.S. Army to victory in World War II as chief of staff and play a crucial role as secretary of state and secretary of defense in securing the peace afterward.

Alistair Horne, Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century

The ancient Greeks used the word hubris to describe the arrogant belief that man could challenge the gods and survive. Horne uses this concept in case studies of battles to show the recurrence of a deadly pattern in which the United States, Japan, France, Russia, and Germany fell victim to illusions of invincibility that resulted in catastrophic defeats.

Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Sinek looks at the creation of loyalty in organizations, the evolutionary basis of leadership, and lessons about leadership. He stresses that the principal cause of failure in organizations is the tendency to focus more on numbers and short-term results than on the people in the organization. When leaders prioritize the welfare of their people, those people will give everything they have to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.

Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Selected Letters, 1839–1865

With the concise, clear language that also distinguished his orders, Grant takes the reader through his service in the Mexican War and the Civil War. In doing so, readers follow his path from young lieutenant to the general entrusted by President Abraham Lincoln with finally crushing the rebellion. Grant’s account of how he accomplished that task provides relevant lessons in linking operational art with strategy, civil-military relations, and the vital importance of a leader’s moral courage.

Elbert Hubbard, A Message to Garcia

This classic essay from 1899, based on the true story of Lt. Andrew Rowan in Cuba during the War with Spain, is a notable testament of initiative and responsibility. It provides commonsense advice on the importance of personal responsibility, loyalty, hard work, and enterprise.

Robert M. Gates, A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service

Gates headed three very different large organizations: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department, and Texas A&M University. From those experiences he distills advice on how other leaders can transform their organizations. He stresses that people, not systems, are the key to implementation, and those who ignore good leadership practices will not bring about effective change.

Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

The dominant feature of the current age is the unstoppable spread of networks with their ever-faster connections in a wide variety of human activities from commerce to war. These networked systems are as transformational a way to organize power as those created by earlier technological advances like the printing press and the telegraph. Ramo covers how the networked world arose, how the networked world works, and how leaders could and should adapt to this world.

Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

Using case studies from the United States, France, Britain, and Israel, Cohen argues against the current American conventional wisdom that civilian leaders should set wartime objectives and then cede control over how the war is fought to military leaders. Rather, war is an activity in which the political and the military aspects are so intertwined that civilian leaders, who leave how the war is prosecuted solely in the hands of military leaders, risk losing the war. These officials must remain in a constant dialogue in which civilian leaders continually assess whether military actions are, or are not, moving the nation toward victory.

Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

Based on his experience leading the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq, McChrystal provides guidance on how to use small teams to infuse organizations with dynamic and adaptive leadership. He distinguishes between problems that are “linear” (easily understood and predictable) and “nonlinear” (complex systems where the causes and effects are far more difficult to understand). Hierarchical organizations can deal with linear problems, but nonlinear problems require a network of teams that is decentralized, empowered, situationally aware, and adaptive.

Lewis Sorley, Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times

By the time of his death in 1974, Abrams’ tactical competence, disdain for bureaucratic small-mindedness, five years of purgatory in Vietnam, and love for the American soldier had made him the most respected and admired officer of his generation. Although some historians have challenged Sorley’s analysis of Abrams’ role in the Vietnam War, his portrayal of the man himself provides a clear and compelling picture of an outstanding officer.

Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education

U.S. Army Capt. Craig Mullaney recounts the hard lessons that only war can teach while fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This is a portrait of a junior officer grappling with the weight of war and coming to terms with what it means to lead others in combat.

James Lee McDonough, William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life

In the iconography of the Civil War, the March to the Sea is forever linked with William T. Sherman. McDonough argues that Sherman had to be harsh because he knew that the only way to convince the traitors to end the war was that they “should be made to feel the war.” This book shows how Sherman’s remarkably modern understanding of war evolved from his upbringing in a politically important family, his prewar experiences, and his early service in the war. Learning to cope with the tensions of command in wartime, Sherman forged a partnership with Ulysses S. Grant that proved crucial to crushing the rebellion.

Army Profession

Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War

This work remains one of the best introductions to American military history from colonial times through the Vietnam War and particularly to themes about contradictions between how the United States has planned and prepared for wars and how it has waged them. Today, Weigley’s examination of the foundations of American thinking about grand strategy and operational methods is best read in conjunction with Antulio J. Echevarria’s Reconsidering the American Way of War.

Antoine Henri de Jomini, The Art of War

A classic of military strategy first published in 1838, this nineteenth-century author defined strategy as identifying decisive points in a theater of war and then concentrating mass against that point and the enemy’s lines of communications. Jomini held that warfare’s principles are immutable and that offensive operations are typically the most advantageous. He also emphasized the importance of logistics and intelligence.

Sun Tzu, trans. Samuel B. Griffith, The Art of War

This work is as valuable today as it was in ancient China. Written more than 2,000 years ago, this is the first known study of the planning and conduct of military operations. These terse, aphoristic essays are unsurpassed in comprehensiveness and depth of understanding, examining not only battlefield maneuvers, but also relevant economic, political, and psychological factors. The precepts outlined by Sun Tzu are also regularly applied outside the realm of military theory.

John Ellis, Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War

Ellis argues that the Allied victory in World War II was inevitable, due to advantages in manpower and materiel, but delayed because of ineptness on the Allied side. The author examines several major campaigns, such as the Battle of the Atlantic and the Bomber Offensive, as well as the campaigns in Northwest Europe and the Pacific, and finds them all wanting for skillful execution. He critiques Allied tactical and operational skill as simplistic and emphasizes the economic might of the Allies and their ability to employ that might. His views provided a useful, if overdone, corrective to World War II historiography when this work was published.

David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon: The Mind and Method of History’s Greatest Soldier

Chandler’s work may be a half-century old, but this exhaustive study of how Napoleon conducted his campaigns—not just his battles—remains a starting point for understanding the “Little Corporal.” He shows the development of Napoleon as commander and strategist and demonstrates how he consistently combined attention to basic principles of operations with initiative and improvisation for a quarter-century.

Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat

Instead of applying later concepts in this comparative history of Union and Confederate command and strategy, Jones analyzes each side using the art of war as the participants understood it. He argues that the two sides adapted existing tactical and strategic concepts to a war featuring mass armies and new technologies waged over vast distances. Each side developed effective systems of command and generally astutely balanced political and military considerations.

Jay Luvaas, ed., Frederick the Great on the Art of War

Frederick the Great (1712–1786), King of Prussia, outfought the formidable French, Russian, and Austrian armies aligned against him in the Seven Years’ War (1756– 1763) and established Prussia as a major continental power, decisively influencing the next two centuries of European history. He was also a brilliant military thinker whose observations arose from extensive battlefield experience. This book presents a balanced selection from Frederick’s writings on strategy, tactics, and mobility; the problems of logistics and a two-front war; the combined use of infantry, cavalry, and artillery; the history of the Prussian Army; the critical battles of the Seven Years’ War; and generalship as an art.

Donald J. Stoker, The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War

Stoker examines the differences in Union and Confederate strategies and gives a comprehensive account of how they evolved between Fort Sumter and Appomattox. He shows that Jefferson Davis failed as a strategist by losing control of the political side of the war. Abraham Lincoln, in contrast, evolved a clear strategic vision, but he failed for years to make his generals implement it. Arguing that the North’s advantages in population and industry did not ensure its victory, the author reasserts the centrality of overarching military ideas—strategy—on each side, showing how those strategies helped determine the war’s outcome.

Russell F. Weigley, History of the U.S. Army

Weigley’s study is an authoritative look at the administrative and logistical history of America’s army, rather than a history of the U.S. Army’s campaigns and wars. Beginning in the early seventeenth century with the militia roots of the Army’s birth, the author provides an analysis of policy, military interactions with the civilian populace, logistics, administration, and the evolution of the Army’s command structure.

Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War

A wide-ranging, lucid analysis of Union victory in the Civil War, the authors emphasize the North’s superior managerial systems, staff organizations, and industrial mobilization. They also emphasize the firm commitment to the cause of crushing the rebellion, in contrast to a lack of Southern nationalism. Moreover, Hattaway and Jones downplay the role of battles in winning the war for the Union.

George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

The Military History and Publications Section of the Infantry School prepared this compilation of small-unit actions from World War I in 1934. The intent was to allow students to examine how the ideas and concepts of peacetime instruction held up in the experience of battle— that is, to see how theoretical discussion fared against the “realities of war.”

James M. Dubik, Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory

A retired soldier, general, and scholar, Dubik combines study and personal experience to address the shortcoming he finds in the literature on military ethics. In particular, he argues that both political and military leaders are accountable for the planning and execution of war and addresses the issue of the morality of pursuing strategies that cannot achieve war aims. He also offers five principles for waging just wars in the modern era.

Peter Paret, Gordon A. Craig, and Felix Gilbert, eds., Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

This is a large essay collection on war and strategy over the past five centuries. The subjects addressed range from major theorists and political and military leaders to impersonal forces. Historical figures including Niccolo Machiavelli, Carl von Clausewitz, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are discussed, along with Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Mao Zedong. Other essays trace the interaction of theory and experience over generations—the evolution of American strategy, for instance, or the emergence of revolutionary war in the modern world. Still others analyze the strategy of particular conflicts—the First and Second World Wars— or the relationship between technology, policy, and war in the nuclear age. Whatever its theme, each essay places the specifics of military thought and action in their political, social, and economic environment. Together, the contributors have produced a book that reinterprets and illuminates war, one of the most powerful forces in history and one that cannot be controlled in the future without an understanding of its past.

Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis

Waltz examines war focusing on the beliefs of major thinkers and philosophers throughout the history of Western civilization. He explores works both by classic political philosophers, such as St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and by modern psychologists and anthropologists to discover ideas intended to explain war among states and related prescriptions for peace.

Michael I. Handel, Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought

Handel was a longtime professor at the U.S. Army War College and the Naval War College before his death in 2001. In this study, he compares and contrasts the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Mao Zedong—and to a lesser extent, Niccolo Machiavelli and Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini—on a variety of topics and in a manner that allows the reader to perceive similarities as well as differences.

Carl von Clausewitz, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, On War

Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who first participated in the wars of the French Revolution at age twelve. This volume is the product of his lifelong effort to understand and articulate the nature of war. It remains valuable reading today, as do the introductory essays by the editors, because Clausewitz’s cogent identification of the forces that make war so simple to understand, yet so difficult to control for favorable outcomes, remains unsurpassed in Western writing.

Antulio J. Echevarria II, Reconsidering the American Way of War: U.S. Military Practice from the Revolution to Afghanistan

This book examines the history of American strategy and operations from the Revolutionary War to the present era. The author demonstrates, contrary to popular belief, that the conduct of America’s wars has always been “thoroughly political.” In addition, Echevarria provides insightful and trenchant critiques of contemporary operational and strategic practices that deserve reading by all officers.

Barry Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy

Posen argues that since the collapse of Soviet power America has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. The United States has pursued a grand strategy that he calls “liberal hegemony,” one that is unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. The author explains why this strategy works poorly and provides an alternative grand strategy and an associated military strategy and force structure. In contrast to the failures and unexpected problems that have stemmed from America’s consistent overreaching, he makes an urgent argument for restraint in the future use of U.S. military strength.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations

In a classic work, Huntington challenges most of the old assumptions and ideas on the role of the military in society. Stressing the value of the military outlook for American national policy, the author has performed the distinctive task of developing a general theory of civil-military relations and subjecting it to rigorous historical analysis.

Julian S. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy

Corbett was a prominent British naval historian and strategist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With this work, first published in 1911, he sought to craft a modern naval doctrine. In doing so, he generated some opposition from British naval officers for advocating a maritime strategy that emphasized maintaining command of the sea over seeking out decisive battles with enemy fleets. He focuses on what naval warfare— as well as broader issues such as alliances and economic resources—meant to the power of a nation.

Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History

This is an exhaustive survey of strategy and strategists from the Bible to the present. Freedman provides almost encyclopedic treatment of the subject as he summarizes and critiques strategists while also providing a thorough dissection of what strategy is and why it is so difficult.

Basil H. Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach

Hart was among the most widely read strategists of the twentieth century, notably for his promotion of the “indirect approach.” Written in response to what he viewed as misunderstandings of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War that led to the tragic errors of World War I, he sought to highlight a new strategic framework, one that eschews the importance of battle but focuses instead on achieving victory without the bloodshed he observed in the two world wars. He advocates strategies that emphasize cutting enemy supply lines, dislocating enemy command and control, and paralyzing a foe with attacks on the rear.

Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict

This influential series of essays on game theory was important during the Cold War. It deals with situations when there is a common interest as well as conflict between adversaries: negotiations, war and threats of war, criminal deterrence, extortion, and tacit bargaining. It proposes enlightening similarities between, for instance, maneuvering in limited war and in a traffic jam; deterring the Russians and one’s own children; and the modern strategy of terror and the ancient institution of hostages.

Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province

This landmark study of the Vietnamese conflict written by a U.S. Army officer examines the war through a lens of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements in the rural province of Long An until American intervention in the area.

Jeremy Black, ed., War in the Modern World Since 1815

Black has edited a collection of essays that offers an accessible entry to an often-ignored subject: military developments and the conduct of war outside of Western Europe and the United States. Two-thirds of the studies examine events in regions such as China, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa and present the reader with different stories—and causes—of military progress.


Virgil, trans. Robert Fitzgerald, The Aeneid

The poet Virgil grew up during the turbulent fall of the Roman Republic. In his epic poem about the founding of Rome by refugees from the Greek defeat at Troy, he presents a meditation on the cost of war, the price of founding nations and building empires, and the role of myth and history in the shaping of national identity.

Stephen Pressfield, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission: to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian Army. Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history—one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale.

P. W. Singer and August Cole, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

The United States, China, and Russia eye each other across a twenty-first–century version of the Cold War, which suddenly heats up at sea, on land, in the air, in outer space, and in cyberspace. The fighting involves everything from stealthy robotic-drone strikes to old warships from the navy’s “ghost fleet.” Fighter pilots unleash a Pearl Harbor–style attack; American veterans become low-tech insurgents; teenage hackers battle in digital playgrounds; Silicon Valley billionaires mobilize for cyber war; and a serial killer carries out her own vendetta in Hawaii against the Chinese occupation forces. Ultimately, victory will depend on blending the lessons of the past with the weapons of the future.

Homer, trans. Robert Fagles, The Iliad and the Odyssey

From the beginnings of the Western literary tradition, Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey depict the war between the Greeks and Trojans and its chaotic aftermath. The first text portrays a world in upheaval as the opposing armies are locked in combat before the walls of Troy, while the second reveals the global upheaval the war has caused as it follows the veteran Odysseus in his tenyear struggle to reach home while his wife Penelope faces her own challenges at home.

Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Marlantes, a Vietnam veteran, presents a realistic, boots-on-the-ground look at the Vietnam War. He depicts a young U.S. Marine lieutenant as he begins his command of a squad in the jungle, facing hunger, thirst, rain, difficult terrain, and enemy attacks. His soldiers connect with one another, but personalities and racial tensions build during the mission. The vivid battle scenes and frank depictions of the marines make this novel a gripping story

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Chuck Burden, US Army