Several readers have requested that I compile a recommended reading compendium similar to Billy Beck’s. I think Beck’s list is masterful and I wanted to bifurcate the list and add my own annotated comments to any I have read and additional selections I would recommend. When I read Beck’s list, I wondered at how our libraries and antelibraries could be so similar. Before I sold my house, I had a library annex attached to it from which I could browse and remove volumes to peruse at my leisure. Since moving, most are now in storage so I have to rely on my addled memory.
I divided his list into War and the State and Liberty and the State and only included those volumes he and I have both read. My annotated comments are in italics below his. Along with any additional books I think are pertinent to the one just reviewed.
Hitler And Stalin — Parallel Lives, 1991, Alan Bullock — It’s astonishing to me that it took until the last decade of the 20th century for someone to write this book, because the comparisons are so obvious. It was worth the wait, because Bullock thoroughly exhausts the comparisons. Indispensable. I am not astonished at how long it took for this to show up and think the comparisons are uncanny even at a deep and sophisticated level, psychopaths and sociopaths have a surprisingly narrow playbook and when given the tools of power will put the pedal to the meddle. I also recommend Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age which shows the relationship between two state titans of the twentieth century and how the Indians used both violent and non-violent resistance to dispose of the most powerful world power on Earth before 1930.
Russia At War, 1941–1945, 1964, Alexander Werth — Enormous, panoramic view of the biggest fight in human history. Agreed (except for the whitewashing of Stalin’s monstrous personality in the book) and I think that when you see the evolution of the Russian forces in a mere four years from a scratch start to the enormous and skillfully deployed strategy and tactics that extinguished Japanese forces in China and Siberia in August 1945, you will be astonished.
John Erickson’s two volumes on the German-Soviet conflict are also instructive especially on the evolution of the strategic maturity of the forces at each other’s throats during the conflict:
Anything by David Glantz is instructive and especially his volume detailing the defeat and the rise form the ashes of the Soviet forces in Operations Mars, a bit dated but vital in understanding the battle and its aftermath:
Zhukov’s Greatest Defeat: The Red Army’s Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942
Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945, 1965, Alan Clark — Splendid rendering of all the special military aspects of the biggest fight in human history.
The Second World War (six volumes), 1948-1953, Winston S. Churchill — If you only ever read one thing about World War II, make this that one thing. If you can resist the conclusion that Churchill saved the world (do struggle, dear reader), you will nonetheless have a better grasp of the worst woe that the whole world ever shared, altogether, than you could manage from any other single work on the subject. It is a splendid and gripping read but I use it in the same fashion I would use any autobiographical project which is largely self-aggrandizement and fiction for glorious self-promotion. The following book provides a corrective of sorts to this study:
I consider Churchill to be one of the most noxious statists of the twentieth century whose love of expanding the state and glorification of war made for a wicked brew but the man could write; he could also be a savvy manipulator of opinion. His notions in the book on Operation Overlord are disingenuous at best and his part in Operation Keelhaul is whitewashed as usual.
Vietnam: A History, 1983, Stanley Karnow — “The First Complete Account of Vietnam At War”. Consider that sentence very carefully, ladies and gentlemen. It’s true. It’s also important to understand that this book is about Vietnam at war, which is not the same thing as America at war in Vietnam. Read the whole book very carefully. Could not agree more and the surprisingly brief but bloody American involvement still haunts the American defense establishment. And no, the Pentagram still can’t effectively prosecute unconventional warfare
I would recommend two additional books:
History rhymes and when one reads the accounts of French forces fighting in Vietnam in the 1880s it is no different than the doomed American involvement in the latter half of the twentieth century.
This book is bloodcurdling and speaks to the consistent sickness that insinuates itself in the conduct of American arms in total war much like the war on civilians waged by Allied strategic bombing during the War to Save Josef Stain (WWII). The meme did not change when the ground conflict started in earnest in Vietnam much like the barbaric and savage behavior of American ground forces in the Philippines at the turn of the century.
Socialism And War — Essays, Documents, Reviews, 1997, F.A. Hayek (edited by Bruce Caldwell) — A terrifically dense collection of articles illustrating Hayek’s evolution from economist to philosopher through contemplation of events and issues of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Hayek really had a clue before he later ran off the rails pursuing the impossible chimera of limited government later in his life to gain greater respectability in academia and the mainstream after witnessing the wilderness campaign of von Mises.
Carnage And Culture — Landmark Battles In The Rise Of Western Power, 2001, Victor Davis Hanson — A finely integrated history of combat according to a specific set of traditions culturally unique. Damned good argument. An important contribution but his real strengths are in the books that concentrate on hoplite battle in ancient Greece and the rise of Western military organizational power in the elder realm. His complete disregard for Roman defeats and victories in a huge gap in the aforementioned study.
A reading of Thucydides, Caesar and Suetonius is most instructive on just how that works along with the writings of Marcus Aurelius.
A great primer on the machinations of the Roman Army is:
The Roman Army: The Greatest War Machine of the Ancient World and Goldsworthy’s magisterial The Complete Roman Army (The Complete Series) are terrific compendiums if you wish to avoid the primary source histories by the Latin authors. If you happen to own a Kindle, the number of primary source documents on warfare in the Ancient World is dirt-cheap and far ranging.
Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report On The Banality Of Evil, 1963, Hannah Arendt — The most singularly probing examination of the actual character of Nazi monsters — and their victims — this book was an act of great courage. The questions in your mind will occur of necessity by implication. I have no brief with Arendt the philosopher but think her conclusions were all wrong, Eichmann was not a banal clerk nor a non-thinker, he had a total absence of empathy for the people he murdered and worked in a system that encouraged and she failed to capture the essence of what made him so monstrous. She is a world-class thinker but misses the ball here.
Common Sense, 1776, Thomas Paine — You can still read the original spark of The American Revolution, and you bloody well should. Enough said and there is plenty of evidence that Paine and not Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence.
Leviathan, 1651, Thomas Hobbes — Here’s a hint: you know that word, “neocon”, that’s making the rounds lately? It’s a pathetic joke, 350 years late. What Beck says.
The Influence Of Sea Power Upon History, 1892, Alfred Thayer Mahan — This book was a rage 112 years ago. It swept the whole world with awe at its author’s synthesis of ancient political truths with Industrial Age technical outlook. And it was a turning point away from the warning (“foreign entanglements”) in George Washington’s Farewell Address, toward an American imperialism. Teddy Roosevelt thought it was just boss. A brilliant treatise for the time based a flawed premise of the need for global supremacy in the false naval model of the UK that was entirely irrelevant to the American position at the time. There are two good updates and riffs on the theory in these books:
Both books offer a more interesting viewpoint relevant to current conditions but the direct approach of the first is an anachronism today.
Sumida should have edited Mahan’s initial work because he makes it much more thoughtful and coherent than the mess that Mahan gave the world.
The Roosevelt Myth, 1948, John T. Flynn — Sobriety. In the face of generations of drunkeness. Intellectual sobriety on RedDR of the highest order when journalism understood that they should question both authority and obedience. I also recommend the works of Garet Garrett. He was one of a large segment of society who were non-interventionists.
Buchanan’s book on making the world safe for Communism after WWII is brilliant:
This book is almost as disturbing as the current crop of revisionist books that cover the Allied occupation of Europe after the war (and I think the revisionist books are far more preferable to the standard court historian nonsense that makes so many bookshelves creak in agony):
The Art Of War, c. 350 BC, Sun Tzu (translation by Samuel B. Griffith) — The oldest formal treatise on war in existence, the essential principles of which have remained pertinent throughout history. Brilliant, simple and still relevant and much better than Clausewitz to distill the essence of both direct and indirect approaches. I recommend his grandson, Sun Pin as an accompaniment to this text:
I would also recommend the writings of John Boyd (what little there are) as a sober and brilliant exposition of rationally using strategic thought:
Four more books are vital reading for the changing face of warfare now and in the future:
All four books are the complement to the other and speak to the importance of training, character in warriors and the distinctions between tactics and the employment of techniques in adaptive conflicts.
This concludes my addendum and amplification of Billy Beck’s wonderful book list. I owe the readership a book list on the second half of my annotated additions to Beck’s books on Liberty and the State and my independent list on Irregular Warfare.