Soldiers need to know much more than just how to pull a trigger.
They need to respond quickly to chaotic situations — often with limited information — and effectively lead and inspire others.
In essence, being a good soldier means being physically and mentally prepared.
To help in this latter area, the Army’s top officer, the Army Chief of Staff, publishes a list of books each year to help soldiers improve their “minds through reading and critical thinking.”
Unlike the Marine Corps’ reading list which is broken down by rank or topic, the Army’s reading list is broken down into three categories: “Armies at War: Battles and Campaigns,” “The Army Profession,” and “Strategy and the Strategic Environment.” The Army explains that the sublists are appropriate for any rank and that they allow the reader to choose the topics that best suit their interests.
The list is published annually, and the current list can be seen in full here. We’ve picked thirteen of our favourites and offer a brief glimpse into each.
To be effective, the Army must adapt to an ever-changing environment. However, change in the military can be very difficult as the change of strategy led by General Petraeus in Iraq demonstrates.
'Leading Change' is a classic known by many people in the business world. The book provides an eight-step guide to implementing change and monitoring the process. It also details the dangers leaders face by staying stagnant.
Kotter's book is also applicable for military leaders looking to be proactive in solving problems. Although change in the military can be fraught with difficulty, this book provides a useful tool for those soldiers looking to improve.
Henry Kissinger is well-known as one of America's foremost diplomats and strategic thinkers who played a pivotal role in the opening of relations between the U.S. and China. His work 'On China' would be a fascinating read if just for the historic glimpse and background information on the negotiations he led as a statesman.
However, 'On China' is much more than a memoir by Kissinger. It looks at the history of China's relations with the world since forming as a nation. It also attempts to provide the reader insights into how China views international relations and how this shapes their strategic moves.
With the ever-growing importance of China on the world stage and all the talk about the U.S. pivot to Asia, this book is an excellent view into how China's leaders think. However, the insights into how to conduct diplomacy and understanding strategic partners make this a must-read.
'The World is Flat' is billed as history book as its title suggests, but Friedman's book is a more focused work on the causes behind globalization's rapid spread. He also outlines the consequences of globalization, both good and bad, and describes how to navigate our new flat world.
Over the last 13 years of war, the Army has increasingly found itself involved in missions beyond merely fighting battles. Today's Army must adapt quickly to differing cultures, and soldiers can find themselves responding to multiple crises. Understanding globalization is crucial to operating in the current environment, and this book does an outstanding job of providing that understanding.
Lincoln assumed the presidency and a little over a month later found his nation embroiled in a Civil War. Relatively inexperienced in military matters before being elected, Lincoln developed from a novice into a military strategist.
One of the biggest challenges facing Lincoln was the search for effective leadership. 'Lincoln and His Generals' details that Lincoln faced that challenge and the relationship he had with his Generals.
The Army Professional Reading list notes that even though 'Lincoln and His Generals' was first published in 1952, it 'remains one of the definitive accounts of President Abraham Lincoln's wartime leadership.'
'The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama' by Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor
The two authors of 'The Endgame' first teamed up to write the critically-acclaimed book 'Cobra II,' which analysed how the strategic choices made by American leaders during the Iraq War lead to the insurgency that quickly developed.
This follow-up book is a tour de force covering all aspects and players involved in the Iraq War, from Shia to Sunni to the U.S., Iraq, and Iran. War is much more complex than mere fighting between groups, and this book attempts to provide a complete picture of the U.S. involvement in AIraq.
The Army recommends the book as 'an essential work for any Army leader who wishes to grasp the complex character of any war in the contemporary age.'
The Army's Professional Reading List describes Keegan's work as 'one of the classics of modern military history,' and the description is accurate. There are few modern works that capture the experience of combat in its totality like 'The Face of Battle.'
The book puts the reader in the driver's seat of three famous battles, developing the setting along with the sensory details that immerses people in the scene. Through this, Keegan explores the human element to war. Keegan's choice of three major battles in history allows him to develop the things that have changed about war and the many things that have stayed the same.
World War II is often viewed as a war where the Marines and Navy fought in the Pacific, while the Army handled the fighting in Europe and Africa. However, victory against Japan was won by the Army, Navy and Marines fighting together. This book details the struggles of combining the Marines and Army into an effective fighting force in the middle of a war.
Lacey accomplishes this feat by examining the famous invasions of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Marshalls, Saipan, and Okinawa. 'Pacific Blitzkrieg' delves into the planning that led to the success of these invasions by a military of tremendous size.
America's most recent conflicts have required a great deal of working across branches, and this book provides an historical look of how this cooperation can lead to success.
'Battle Cry of Freedom' is a part of the celebrated history series, 'The Oxford History of the United States,' and is one of four Pulitzer Prize winners from the group.
As its title suggests, McPherson's work covers the most turbulent time in America's history. The book delves into all aspects of the war from the build-up and the causes leading to war to the surrender at Appomattox, and it accomplishes all of this in only one volume.
'Battle Cry of Freedom' also examines various angles to include the political, economic and social forces working before and during the war. If war is truly 'politics by other means,' then this book captures that idea and provides a well-rounded view into 'the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record.'
'Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754 -- 1766' by Fred Anderson
The Seven Years' War, commonly referred to in America as the French and Indian War was a global conflict among great powers that took place before the birth of the U.S.
During the war, nations would switch sides to gain the advantage and attempt to use various groups to obtain the upper hand. Military and commercial interests both had profound effects on how the war was waged and the strategies between various military and non-military groups.
'Crucible of War' provides lessons for today's soldiers who must to attempt to understand the motivations of various groups at play in conflict.
'Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia' by Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid is Pakistani journalist who attracted a lot of attention with his book 'Taliban' in 2000. In the book, he predicted that the U.S. would suffer a catastrophic attack if it failed to understand the strategic threat that Afghanistan posed as a base for international terrorism.
He followed up this work with 'Descent into Chaos' -- a fascinating account of the first years of the war in Afghanistan. Rashid does a masterful job of outlining the beginning of the war and the strategic mistakes made by war planners in America.
He also highlights the reasons why America had a window for early success that the Soviet Union did not share during their invasion. However, Rashid concludes that the U.S. squandered this opportunity by focusing on a military defeat of the Taliban and afterwards, immediately diverting attention to Iraq. This book serves as an example of how important it is to seize the initiative and how difficult regaining the initiative can be once it is lost.
'Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq' by John C. McManus
As military technology increases, it's often easy to become overly focused on the new tools at war. Although aspects of war change over time, the soldier with his or her boots on the ground has remained a constant.
Servicemembers are often reminded that every other role is there to support the infantry, and this book is focused on those soldiers tasked with doing the fighting. McManus concludes that the infantry soldier is the crucial aspect to success in combat.
He accomplishes this by looking at over six decades of war. This book serves as a reminder that technology cannot serve as a replacement for the human element in combat.
David Kilcullen was an advisor to General Petraeus and worked with current Army Chief of Staff, General Odierno. His insights into insurgencies and ways to combat them have influenced military and civilian leaders alike.
The past view of the insurgent most likely would conjure images of guerrilla fighters using jungles and mountainous terrain to their advantage. However, today's insurgents increasingly operate in urban environments and use the population to their advantage.
'Out of the Mountains' documents how the move to urban conflict affects insurgencies. Kilcullen details the consequences of this environment and the threats it produces.
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