Publisher’s Note: The services and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) issue these lists on an annual basis to the increasingly distracted and non-reading officer corps in all the services in the US.
It’s good to see the recognition that chaos and complexity theory are having an impact on the warrior tradecraft.
Taleb’s Incerto books on black swans and antifragility may be the most important ideas discovered in the 21st century. The implications for future conflict are just as vital as the backward glance the concepts provide for looking at military history through a different lens that sees the fog and friction of war as not native to the events but a necessary component of what makes war tick.
Rothbard on Washington:
“His only campaign in 1775 was internal rather than external; it was directed against the American army as he found it, and was designed to extirpate the spirit of liberty pervading this unusually individualistic and democratic army of militiamen. In short, Washington set out to transform a people’s army, uniquely suited for a libertarian revolution, into another orthodox and despotically ruled statist force after the familiar European model”.
If you prioritized this list, Taleb’s books should be on the top of your stack.
If I marked through a book, don’t waste your limited time with it.
I’ve added three books by Robert K. Massie to the list. I think there are few books that happen to rival his splendid rendering of not only the most significant revolution of the 20th century, communism along with the military paradigm shift of the War to End All Wars that made the state the gargantuan slaughter and slave modality it become over those hundred years time.
I am going to continue to critique the lists that USSOCOM has advanced since 2014 as part of this series. A hat-tip to Pete at WRSA for inspiring these posts.
.Here is my editing and addendum of this list. -BB
Leadership in Complexity
- Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer (2006) History books on the American Revolution do not get better than this. In Washington’s Crossing Fischer discloses the true difference between what Washington and his men fought for and what we now say they fought for.
- Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet (2013) ”I don’t know of a finer model of this kind of empowering leadership than Captain Marquet. And in the pages that follow you will find a model for your pathway.” –Stephen R. Covey
- Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated, by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman (2014) “There is nothing simple about the six simple rules except the way they have been named. Both the traditional hard and the soft approaches to management were developed with one similar feature, management was not required to really get involved with and understand how their employees really worked, it was the process or technique that was supposed to provide the answer and if the employee continued to fail it must then be an issue of character or attitude. Six Simple Rules is a “roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches” approach to management, one that calls for manager to engage with both the work they are asking to be done and the people they are asking to do it.” Mike Cook
Adapting to Uncertainty
- Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2014) This book will change the way you see everything.
- Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease, by Rafe Sagarin (2012)
“Learning from the Octopus is a paean to bio-mimicry and a handbook on ‘natural security’ from an unlikely, but enlightening, source.” The Scientist
- Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, P.W. Singer and August Cole (2016)
3D Printing Will Rock the World, by John Hornick (2015)
- The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries, by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (2015)
Perspectives and Emergence
- Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World, by Tim Marshall (2016) Geography IS destiny.
- Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, by Peter Pomerantsev (2015)
- Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West, by Walter Laqueur (2015)
- The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, by Michael Pillsbury (2016) “Michael Pillsbury has been meeting with, talking to, and studying the ‘hawks’ in China’s military and intelligence apparatus for more than four decades, since back when America and China were cooperating against the Soviet Union. In this fascinating, provocative new book, he lays out the hawks’ views about the United States and their long-term strategies for overcoming American power by the middle of this century. In the process, the book challenges the wrong-headed assumptions in Washington about a gradually reforming China. Given the direction China has been taking in the past few years, Pillsbury’s book takes on immediate relevance.” – James Mann, author of About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China, The China Fantasy, and Beijing Jeep
- The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, by Deborah Brautigam (2011) “Deborah Brautigam’s richly detailed book has many technical merits, but its greatest strength may in fact be her understanding of this psychological dynamic…. The universe of third-party experts who are deeply familiar with both China and Africa is vanishingly small, and Brautigam is easily one of the best qualified members of this select tribe.” –Howard French, The National
- A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, by Michael Axworthy (2016)
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick (2010)
- Special Operations from a Small State Perspective: Future Security Challenges, New Security Challenges, by Gunilla Eriksson and Ulrica Pettersson, editors (2017)
- Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty Robert K. Massie (2012) I’ve added this book as one of the best books ever written that sets the stage for a major fall of one dynasty and the emergence of another out of the ashes. In this case, the USSR. Massie is also the author of two of the best books on WWI naval history published in the English language:
- Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War Robert K. Massie
- Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea Robert K. Massie