Books I suggest you read so you won’t be misled as often

People often ask me for history books on a very specific topics often, assuming I’ve read something on an issue because I exhibit some fluency discussing something that might seem abstruse or arcane. The thing is that I haven’t always read a monograph on a singular topic even if I know a fair amount on it. It’s just that I’ve read a larger number of history books, so the union of my knowledge set is quite wide and expansive.

For example, in reading The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise the author recounts with some tinge of outrage that North Africa, which is had been predominantly Christian since the early 4th century, was conquered by the Muslims in the late 7th century as a prequel to the conquest of the Visigothic kingdom in Iberia (I knew the loss of Carthage occurred between Justinian II’s two reigns thanks for the fine historical novel Justinian!). First, the tinge of taking sides is kind of adolescent in my opinion and detracts from the narrative, though that’s a matter of personal taste. Second, North Africa was not majority Christian in the early 4th century.

No, I’ve not read specifically about North Africa Christianity (aside from a few books here and there about St. Augustine, who was North African and a Christian). Rather, I have read The Making of the Christian Aristocracy, which addresses the religious change in the Roman Empire in the 4th century, as well as works such as Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, where religious change is a theme if not a central one (I would say that really it is a book with a greater focus on material culture and politics and economics than religion as such). Additionally, it is clear that many people confuse Constantine’s toleration and then later espousal of Christianity under a united Roman Empire in 325 as the point at which Christianity became the official religion of the state. An “official state religion” in a modern sense is an anachronism. It took decades for the customary subsidies to the pre-Christian traditional cults to cease (that really occurred in earnest under Gratian in the 380s), with elite public paganism’s coup de grace occurring under Theodosius in the 390s (paganism persisted as a counter-culture down to the early 6th century, and it seems very likely that some pagan philosophers were still present in Alexandria up to the Arab conquest, while the Syrian city of Haran maintained a pagan religious culture with an appreciation for Hellenic religious values down to the 10th century A.D.).

In any case, what books should you read? It’s useful to read big general surveys because they allow you to frame and interpret narrower monographs. Long-time readers are aware that I am a big fan of Warren Treadgold’s History of Byzantine State and Society. This survey is expansive. And, it touches upon many of the different peoples who interacted with Byzantium. You should read it.

Next I would recommend Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples. To a great extent this is a history of Islamic civilization. If you want more specificity on early Islam, try Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World. For later Islam, Osman’s Dream. But really should read some survey first before drilling down to a specific epoch or region.

For China it has to be John King Fairbank and his China: A New History. If you want something more accessible, John Keay’s China: A History is where you want to go. Division by periods is important in China though. For a little more specificity, The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han is good. Obviously there are books which cover the later dynasties, but the Qin and Han are really the hinges of Chinese history, and essential supplements to any survey. For a book which explores how China related to the rest of the world with a light theoretical touch I’d suggest Adshead’s China in World History.

For India I would recommend Romilla Thapar’s A History of India: v. 1. This recommendation will raise many peoples’ hackles because Thapar is accused of being biased and ideological, and she probably is. But if you keep that in mind usually you will survive. John Keay also has a book on this Asian civilization, India: A History. Again, it is really aimed at the general lay reader at a very middle-brow level. But if that’s where you think you need to start, that’s how it goes. If you want a very dramatic narrative focused on biography then The Peacock Throne does an OK job in relation to Mughal India, which is to a great extent a formative period to understanding modern India.

For Southeast Asia I don’t have any suggestion aside from Strange Parallels. This will leave a lacunae for maritime Southeast Asia, which is a pretty big blind spot. I did read The History of Indonesia about 10 years ago, but that book was strongly biased toward modern periods. Reader suggestions welcome.

At some point we need to loop back to Europe, and Rome before Byzantium. For this Michael Grant is really a good resource for surveys. His History of Rome is an A-Z review from legendary times to the fall. It’s old and probably out of print, but usually you can find library copies, or paperback used versions somewhere.

Speaking of the fall though, if you haven’t read The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization, please do so. I know many of you have already read this book, but it’s really a major work. I can’t emphasize this enough. It makes history more than just interpretation because of its utilization to material metrics.

When it comes to Greece, I’m in a peculiar position. Much of my reading of ancient Greece was done in my elementary school years. So a lot of it is fuzzy and I don’t recall specific books, though I know enough about the travesty of the Sicilian expedition or the futile resistance against Philip of Macedon to follow broad sketches. Honestly I need to read something about this topic, in fact several books, as a grown ass adult.

I’ll recommend Grant again, with The Classical Greeks.

For the Hellenistic period that spans the gap between the rise of Rome and the decline of Classical Greece, Alexander to Actium should do the trick. But that’s a long book, and the same author has more recently published The Hellenistic Age: A Short History. That’s probably a better bet for many readers.

One book I am somewhat partial to is Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World, which is a really broad work which has many topics it doesn’t touch. But Fox is a really great historical writer, so with consideration for its shortcomings (it’s not a straight ahead survey), I think some readers might enjoy it.

Since I’ve hit Athens, what about Jerusalem? Norman Cantor’s The Sacred Chain is a history of the Jewish people. I read it in 1995, so I don’t know exactly that it’s the most up to date work, but there is surely goodness in it still.

If you want to focus on the cultural tension between Jew and gentile, then Rome and Jerusalem might be of interest. It’s probably too narrow focus for what I’m recommending here…but it’s a good book so I thought I had to mention it.

In regards to post-Rome but the proto-West, Europe in the High Middle Ages is good. Chris Wickham’s Medieval Europe is a bit too focused on the author’s materialist hobby-horses in my opinion for the naive reader (e.g., not enough about the Cluniac Reforms).

A little earlier than that, I think Peter Heather’s work is probably sufficient. First, Empires and Barbarians, and then the Restoration of RomeEmpires and Barbarians is easily the better book if you had to pick one.

Perhaps you want to jump back to the edge of history, A History of the Ancient Near East is pretty good. Then there is the The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, highly recommended. For later in the Bronze Age 1177 B.C. covers a lot of the states and the several centuries before the collapse.

Japan is pretty important in many ways to understanding the evolution of civilizations and cultural exchange. I would recommend A History of Japan by Mason and Caiger. But those who want a somewhat more contemporary skew might want to check out The Making of Modern Japan.

And as long as we’re going to talk about islands, readers know I’m a fan of The Isles. Norman Davies does not give short shrift to the Celtic fringe.

Moving back to the heart of Eurasia, Grousset’s The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia is old, but I think it’s a decent survey.

Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present is probably a little too in the weeds for many readers, but if you are interested in the topic I recommend it. Like Thapar this is an author with a perspective…just keep that in mind. Where Empires of the Silk Road is panoramic, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane takes a narrower focus, following a particular thread over seven hundred years.

Taking a 50,000 foot view again, Africa: biography of a continent is definitely worth your time. I read it twice.

We’re now venturing in territory where there is less history conventionally defined. That is, based on writing. But some parts of the world don’t really have that, but you should probably know something about them.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is not a survey like some of the ones above, but it does reflect what I think is the new orthodoxy (which is being subject to its own revisionism). I’m broadly persuaded that the revisionists-turned-mainstream viewpoint that is presented by Charles C. Man in 1491 has a lot going for it (ancient DNA adds broadly the likelihood in my opinion, perhaps more on that in some other post). Our knowledge of peoples like the Aztecs and Inca are to a great extent happenstance; they flourished when Europeans arrived. We don’t know the history of the peoples who came before. But we do know the history of the Maya because of the decipherment their hieroglyphs. In A Forest of Kings you’ll read about warlords like 18-Rabbit (a name I’ll never forget).

For Oceania all I’ve really only read is Richard Broome’s Aboriginal Australians. I don’t know of any primer, as such, about the history of Austronesians, though someone should write one. After all, these are a people who settled from Madagascar, off the coast of Mozambique, to Eastern Island to the west of Chile.

There are two nations which occupy roles in history which are somehow both liminal and central which like Japan, India, and China, deserve their own treatments. Russia is one. Gregory L. Freeze’s Russia: A History is pretty good. A history of Russia is essential because it is weird to see prominent pundits (I will not name, but it shocked me) not understand that Russia’s identification as a Western nation is substantively problematic.

There’s a whole historiography that covers the tension between Westernizers and Slavophiles (or their prototypes). Strangely this is another case where Western liberals and white nationalists are well aligned, they only see race, as the Russians are white, therefore they are Western (and another alignment, this racial essentialism to Western identity disappears for Southeast European Muslims like Albanians, Pomaks and Bonsiaks, who are often treated like “people of color”). The Russian Moment in World History is a short little book which outlines just now non-Western, and oppositional to the West, in many ways Russia has been.

Then we have Iran: Empire of the Mind. The conceit of the subtitle is a little annoying, but it reflects the role of Persian culture as hegemonic from Istanbul to Delhi to Samarkand. And, as you know if you read this weblog, a huge disproportionate number of scholars and intellectuals during the “Arab Islamic” intellectual Golden Age were ethno-linguistically of Iranian background (although many hailed from Turan, the Central Asian Iranian regions, and many of the non-Persians, like Thabit ibn Qurra, were non-Muslims).

Excuse my Eurocentrism, but Europe did conquer the world recently. So The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions that Made Modern Europe: 1648-1815. It’s a page turner (and you see how Russia reintegrated itself into Europe, at least its elites). The Reformation by Diarmaid MacCulloch is still the best sweeping history on the topic I’ve ever read (I’ve read probably a dozen big tomes on this period and subject?). World Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. We’ll miss the author, Lisa Jardine. At least I will.

As we move into the 19th and 20th century there is so much out there. Books like The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 are useful and very interesting, but there are so many on these sorts of topics, and we’re all more familiar with the era, so I’ll forgo giving you recommendations aside from one: After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000. It’s close enough to many thinks people talk about that it’s useful. For the rest, you can find documentaries.

I’ve focused on surveys which zoom in on a region and skim over a time period purposely. Traditional histories if you will. But I’ll finish out with some more unconventional stuff that I think would be useful. A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present covers all the bases. Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium has a narrower time frame. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World is self-explanatory, but Niall Ferguson is a great writer for all his faults.

Yes, read Guns, Germs and Steel. Not so much for the detailed assertions of fact, but for the way to think about historical processes and the forces that shape them. Reach Peter Turchin’s War Peace and War because it gives you a framework for decomposing patterns (some of the models in War Peace and War I have actually applied to books I read years before it, as I still have the “data” in my head).

Finally, read books like Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome. Social history is important, though many of the books above actually cover society and culture in great depth. There are so many “daily life in….” that you can take your pick. But remember that for most of history most people were peasants, and peasants had a lot in common in their daily life, with differences being relatively trivial (e.g., gruel of barely vs. gruel of wheat or a porridge of rice).

The list above is not exhaustive. It is limited by the fact that I read on some periods of history (e.g., Classical Greece) as far back as the 1980s, so I’m not up to date on the latest survey books. Reader suggestions are welcome.

What is my goal with providing you this list? I want you to be able to iterate through historical assertions people in the media and politics make against your internal data set. See if they are full of shit. They often are.

There are two classes of bullshit. The first class are the nakedly mendacious. This is more common in the political class, where lying is a form of art. The second class are just ignorant and don’t know any better. This is more common in the pundit class.

One trick that the pundit class pulls sincerely because they are often ignorant is that they cite a historian to buttress an assertion, even getting a quote from that historian. But quite often the historian is clearly misleading the audience…the historian may not utter a lie, but in their presentation they allow the reader to have a takeaway that aligns with the normative bias of the pundit, and the historian that has prostituted themselves to some cause. Obviously you will never master a specific area of history like an academic with a command of another language, but if you know enough you can easily smell bullshit when it’s being injected into the information stream.

30 thoughts on “Books I suggest you read so you won’t be misled as often

  1. The main red flag I noticed in 1491 was Mann’s claim that “slash and burn” (or swidden) agriculture is not indigenous to the Americas because stone axes wouldn’t be able to cut down trees.

  2. If you prefer audiobooks, The Great Courses has a lot of great history survey courses, many of which cover the same ground as the books recommended here. If you get an Audible subscription, you can get them for around $10-15 each.

    For some specifics, I’d recommend Jeremy McInerney for Ancient Greece and Garrett Fagen for Ancient Rome. Kenneth Harl is also very good.

  3. Michael Grant’s history of the Ancient Greeks actually comes in 2 volumes, The Rise of the Greeks and The Classical Greeks.

  4. A good general economic history would be David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

  5. Bernard Lewis’ “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years” may be accessible (shorter at least) than A History of the Arab Peoples. As I recall, the focus is more on the Ottomans, their antecedents/successors and their rivals.

  6. @ Thursday

    Lol I just bought either one or both of those last night! I got so many on sale I can’t remember what I downloaded.

  7. “Strangely this is another case where Western liberals and white nationalists are well aligned, they only see race, as the Russians are white, therefore they are Western”

    I don’t know, do Western liberals really regard Russia as “Western”? That’s not my impression at all, more like the traditional view of Russia as an anti-liberal evil empire has reemerged in recent years (e.g. all those stories about Russia supposedly supporting right-wing parties in Europe; also much attention given in Western media to Dugin and his anti-Western Eurasianism).
    As for white nationalists, yes, I suppose many now look positively on Russia; but I don’t think that’s universal among them, the older view of Russia as an Asiatic threat to the white race certainly still exists. Russia’s WW2 victory cult is obviously a problem for the more pro-Nazi kind of WN.

  8. do Western liberals really regard Russia as “Western”?

    i don’t know if they have strong opinions. i’m talking about one specific person who was surprised that russia wasn’t labeled western in relation to that sophistic anthony appiah piece on multiculturalism.

    the older view of Russia as an Asiatic threat to the white race certainly still exists.

    the older view is dumb. yes, there is detectable tatar (east asian) among some russians. but pretty much every finn has some siberian, and this is often true of swedes. so russians are white european by any normal definition.

  9. Forest of Kings is 1991, which is far out of date for Mayanists. I recommend Michael Coe’s “The Maya”. It’s currently in its ninth(!) edition; I’d bought an earlier edition, back in the mid 2000s. By then Coe’s data had caught up with Forest of Kings’.

  10. IIRC Harran is in Turkey and they got past the “People of The Book” requirement by falsely claiming to be Sabian People of The Book when they certainly were not (by normative Islamic standards at the time anyway, of course there are Muslim authorities today who consider Hindus(!) to be people of the book, so all is relative).

    We might call their faith syncretic but it’s probably fair to consider it derivative of the Moon Cult of “Sin” that had so publicly ruled the roost (complete with steelae, stamps, temples) for well over a thousand years and was Universally respected for over a hundred kilometers in every direction from Harran (including Şuayp, Sultantepe, etc).

    It’s also interesting to note that there was a large settled Muslim presence in Harran at the time, including a prominent and well-built Umayyad mosque, a part of which apparently remains on the tel.

    Some believe there were remnants of the cult extant in the region of Harran until the Mongols totally sacked the place thus finishing off any living tradition of it.

  11. Is China: A New History really narrative focused? My reading is heavily historical right now, but I tend to be more interested in social, economic, and technological history than narratives of war and political competition.

    Thanks for the list. I’m looking forward to working through some of these.

    @TGGP

    The main red flag I noticed in 1491 was Mann’s claim that “slash and burn” (or swidden) agriculture is not indigenous to the Americas because stone axes wouldn’t be able to cut down trees.

    He says that in 1491? Admittedly it’s been a few years since I read the book, but in 1493 he describes how the natives the Jamestown colonists interacted with took down large trees through the use of fire and stone tools.

    Some of the book hasn’t aged well, such as the longer dates for native American residency. If I recall correctly, hasn’t the time period for them been narrowed down to within the last 17-18,000 years recently? But much of it is still quite interesting, including the sections on the Amazon societies and north American pre-Columbian societies.

    1493 is a pretty good lay read as well, if you want an introduction to the effects of the Trans-Oceanic silver trade as well as the impact of malaria and yellow fever.

  12. Is China: A New History really narrative focused? My reading is heavily historical right now, but I tend to be more interested in social, economic, and technological history than narratives of war and political competition.

    i’m using term ‘narrative’ in a looser way. yes, it covers everything from what i remember. it’s a survey.

  13. A decade ago, anthropologist Alex Golub–now at Uof Hawaii and a longtime blogger at Savage Minds–put together <a href="http://gapersblock.com/airbags/archives/22_books_to_get_you_up_to_speed_on_the_entire_world_pt_1_central_and_east_asia/"a comparable list, choosing two books from each of 10 regions of the world plus two histories of the whole. The 6th part of the recommendations lists all the books; see other parts for more on the specifics. What I note in particular is that both lists include Africa: A Biography of a Continent.

  14. @Brett: Mann updated parts of the book in the 2011 edition; but in the introduction he says the main points are unaltered. YMMV, but I didn’t think that swidden was one of the main points being addressed, its nested within the discussion of how Indians modified the landscape in the Amazon River basin, including the creation of terra preta with charcoal.

  15. Russia. I am not likely to read an introduction to Russian history as I took courses on Russia in both undergrad and grad programs.

    I would warn anyone reading Russian history to be very cautious about the assertion of continuity between the Kievan Rus of the 9th through 13th centuries and the existing Russian state.

    The Russian state derives from the growth of the power of Moscow in the 14th, 15th, & 16th Centuries. At the beginning of that era, the rulers of Moscow were, like other rulers of states in the region, vassals of the Golden Horde khanate. The Velikiy Knyaz (great prince or grand duke) of Moscow reduced then destroyed the power of the Golden horde, and subjected other principalities, such as Tver, Vladimir and Novgorod to their rule. It was only towards then end of that era that the rulers could style themselves Tzars of Russia.

  16. Re the underlying premise of the list, I’ve thought about the times I believed an educated person claimed something that contravened general historical knowledge. As an American these almost always come about in U.S. history. What books would I offer?

    1. 1491 by Charles C. Mann. Many of the basic points that Mann thought were unknown to the public when he wrote this book were not in high school history book when James W. Loewen published Lies My Teacher Told Me in 1995. I think it’s still true today.

    2. Founding Fathers. Since the U.S. still operates somewhat in the realm of the civic religion of Founders’ beliefs, one frequently reads what the Founding Fathers thought, when in reality they are quoting a singular historic personage. This is the conservative form. The Zinn-inflicted form is fairly similar, but casts personal judgments on past actors to condemn everything. Unfortunately, academia has largely abandoned this era to popular writers of biography, and so I go with Oxford publishing: (a)
    The Glorious Cause by R. Middlekauff; (b) The Age of Federalism by Elkins & McKitrick, and (c) The Radicalism of the American Revolution by G. Wood.

    3. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise of American Slavery by Robert W. Fogel. This probably fails to meet the criteria of general history, but I continually find arguments that slavery was economically inefficient on the one hand, and on the other hand, it was responsible for all economic development. This book updates the earlier “Time on the Cross” in response to the criticism. Seymour Drescher’s more recent: “Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery” is probably a better book here, but I haven’t read it yet, but plan to do so.

  17. On Grece, I hear Ober’s The rise and fall of classical greece is really good. (Been on my shelf for a few month now).

  18. I just finished Treadgold’s history of Byzantium. It was very informative and rewarding (though quite dry reading). My main issue is that I couldn’t tell whether his strong identification of Byzantine state and Byzantine society up until the final years was just a working assumption or an actual defensible claim. For example, many of the Syrian and Palestinian Christians who ended up under Islamic rule retained their Chalcedonian allegiance to the imperial church, e.g. John of Damascus. I would think these Melkites would have retained more of their Byzantine or Eastern Roman cultural traits, but as they mostly lay outside imperial rule Treadgold seems scarcely interested in them.

  19. What, overall, is your impression of the various books that go under titles like “Daily Life in the Mongol Empire”, “Life in a Medieval City”, etc.?

  20. Razib,

    You are a scholar and a gentleman — I love, love, love this list. Some of these books have been recommended before by you and I have intellectually profited from your wise counsel. In particular, I really enjoyed the discovery of Robin Lane Fox. You didn’t recommend this author, but I thought Adrian Goldworthy’s “How Rome Fell” did a good job with that period of history.

    I’m also interested in science history, particularly how the church influenced the growth of science and for that subject I can’t recommend the book “The Genesis of Science” by James Hannam highly enough. He also blogs infrequently at this wonderful place:

    http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/

    I’m going to get the book on African history — my daughter is headed to Ghana this summer for a month long service project and I really need to know more about the place (from an ancient historical perspective.) As a fun read just now I’ve been reading the Victorian novelist H. Rider Haggard’s books (you can get them all for like $3.00 on Kindle) about Allan Quatermain and his South African adventures with the Zulus. They are very enjoyable, if dated in their…vocabulary…when it comes to the natives and other non-English peoples 🙂

  21. I just finished The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, and I (as an amateur expert on the subject, native Spaniard, who has been to many of the places cited on the book) found it excellent. The polemic tone may detract from its scholarly appeal to some academics, but overall the scholarship is very strong and the conclusions extremely well-supported. The subject is also of great relevance: as in the case of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish Middle Age is often cited by those who have no idea of what really went on there.

  22. many of those books have military/diplomatic as part of the survey.

    And generally such parts are rather shallow in analysis – usually about size, composition, and movements of armies, maybe some logistics or military production topics, a bit of strategy.

    Here are some books (and some related comments) I suggest that will greatly enhance one’s understanding of military history beyond the newspaper level, if you will. The following are not meant to be exhaustive, but are simply books that come to my mind first.

    First, the three great classics:

    Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” – war and national strategy through a Daoist prism. Often cited (usually incorrectly), rarely understood. The Samuel Griffith translation, though less literal, is both beautiful and useful (contains historical commentary by later Chinese authors).

    Carl von Clausewitz’s “On War” – war as Western mysticism. Also frequently cited and equally misunderstood.

    Antoine-Henri Jomini’s “The Art of War” – was as a geometric exercise. Four dimensional (3D plus time) chess, if you will.

    Next, historical surveys:

    John Keegan’s “A History of Warfare” – an excellent, highly readable, and broadly constructed survey. The particularly salient part, for me, was the description of the conflict between the pastoral and the agricultural populations in pre-modern times.

    Hans Delbrueck’s four-volume “History of the Art of War” – a much neglected, yet vitally important military history books in the English-speaking world. Delbrueck cuts through an enormous amount of nonsense with logic, field experiments, and terrain survey. If you haven’t read it, you won’t be able to look at other military history books the same way again after reading these volumes.

    Martin van Creveld’s “The Transformation of War” and “The Culture of War” – war before the Westphalian construct, war during it, and war afterwards. Someone once said to me a better title would have been “The Re-expansion of War.” During the euphoria of the great victory of the conventional forces in the first Gulf War (perhaps the apex of the nation-state military power), Creveld accurately predicted the oncoming chaotic wars involving non-state actors.

    Next, about the mechanics of strategy applied in war:

    Edward Luttwak’s “The Logic of War and Peace” – Van Creveld called the first chapter in this book as having been written in heaven. I agree. Luttwak brilliantly explains the paradoxical logic of war. That first chapter distills so much in so few words. War is opposites.

    Basil H. Liddell Hart’s “Strategy: The Indirect Approach” – to Napoleon is attributed the aphorism “God is on the side of the bigger battalions.” Well, Liddell Hart writes that sometimes God is on the side of the clever and the tricky, and that the best route between two points for an army is not the shortest, but the most unexpected. In other words, war may be expressed in physical terms, but it is, in the end, a contest of wills, in which psychology is primary.

    Robert Leonhard’s “Fighting by Minutes – about the temporal element of war. As with so much in life, timing in war is everything (well, the most important anyway). Also worth mentioning is a related book (which influenced it), Richard Simpkin’s “Race to the Swift.” As is said in boxing, “speed kills.”

    About combat:

    John Keegan’s “The Face of Battle” – what it must have been like to be at Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. Blood, sweat, and tears, as they say. After so many military history books treating men and machines as mere chess pieces to be moved about on big maps, this was a pioneering book about the physicality of battle in its time.

    David Donovan’s “Once a Warrior King” – tales of a junior MACV officer in Vietnam who later became a biology professor at the University of Virginia. The author’s real name is Terry T. Turner. He led a small American advisory team training local South Vietnamese village militia and battled the Vietcong, basically as a petty warlord of the region. It’s the real version of “Apocalypse Now.” A fascinating and instructive look at small unit survival, combat, and leadership.

    Mark Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down” – might as well have been called “How to Beat Americans.” Precursor to OIF. A modern version of Xenophon’s “Anabasis.” If you don’t have a firsthand experience with war, reading it will make you realize why sane people don’t want women in combat. Your political leaders and their lackey generals will put you in some shitty places, but you go on fighting for your brothers next to you.

    I can go on, I suppose, but that should suffice for now.

Comments are closed.