Resilience, Peace and Security

These are the books America's new national security advisor says you should read

Barcode labels are seen inside rare books ahead of digitisation at the Municipal Library of Lyon in this January 15, 2010 file picture. Amid the flat, wide fields of central France, a team of re-trained secretaries and IT experts is packaging Europe's literary heritage for the digital era. To match feature FRANCE-BOOKS/   REUTERS/Robert Pratta/Files  (FRANCE - Tags: SOCIETY SCI TECH) - RTR297Q4

McMaster—a scholar of military history—provided a list of books any professional involved in military affairs should read. Image: REUTERS/Robert Pratta/Files (FRANCE - Tags: SOCIETY SCI TECH)

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Fragility, Violence and Conflict

Facing added scrutiny in the wake of his predecessor’s resignation, new National Security Council chief of staff H.R. McMaster will have to learn from Michael Flynn’s mistakes. Fortunately learning is one of his favorite hobbies.

In 2012, while commander of the US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, McMaster did an interview with the management consulting firm McKinsey in which he talked about the evolution of the army, as well as “what competencies our leaders need and…how, where, and at what point in their careers we train and educate them.” One of those strategies, McMaster said, was “to cultivate within our leaders a desire for lifelong learning and to provide them with the tools necessary for informal self-study and collaborative study across their careers.”

To that end, McMaster—a scholar of military history—provided a list of books any professional involved in military affairs should read, covering everything from ancient warfare to modern innovation. Now he’ll just have to convince US president Donald Trump to pick one up.

Here’s the full list (all text below is McMaster’s). It originally appeared here (sidebar a little over halfway down, on the left-hand side of the interview text).

General grounding

There are several essential reads for professionals involved in military affairs:

Carl von Clausewitz—On War
The author uses a dialectical approach to understanding war without being prescriptive.

Michael Howard—War in European History
This book is excellent, as is anything by this author.

Elting Morison—Men, Machines, and Modern Times
The author discusses the limitations of emerging technologies—specifically, he argues that instead of taming our environment, technology has further complicated it.

Williamson Murray—The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War
This book helps connect military action to strategy.

Thucydides—The History of the Peloponnesian War
The Greek historian shows that the drivers of war—fear, honor, self-interest—haven’t changed over time.

Innovation and the world wars

Much has been written about World War I, World War II, and the interwar period—and about how these events changed the nature of war. The following are favorites:

Marc Bloch—Strange Defeat

Robert A. Doughty—The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940, and Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War

Timothy T. Lupfer—Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War

Williamson Murray—Military Innovation in the Interwar Period

Memoirs and biographies

It is important to understand how leaders have adapted and thought about war and warfare across their careers. The Autobiography of General Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs of the Civil War is perhaps the best war memoir ever written. The following are some other significant titles:

Carlo D’Este—Patton: A Genius for War

David Fraser—Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Matthew B. Ridgway—The Korean War

Selected histories of military campaigns

For selected histories of wars and military campaigns, the following are some of my favorites; I’ve also included recommendations on contemporary threats:

Ancient warfare

Donald Kagan—The Peloponnesian War

Seven Years’ War

Fred Anderson—Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766

The American military profession and the American Revolution

David Hackett Fischer—Washington’s Crossing

Don Higginbotham—George Washington and the American Military Traditionand The War of American Independence

Civil War

James McPherson—Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

Franco–Prussian War

Michael Howard—The Franco–Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870–1871

World War II

Rick Atkinson—An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943; The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944; and the forthcoming The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945

Gerhard Weinberg—A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

Korean War

T. R. Fehrenbach—This Kind of War

David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

Vietnam War

Eric Bergerud—Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning: The World of a Combat Division in Vietnam

Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway—We Were Soldiers Once. . . And Young: Ia Drang—The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam


Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor—Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq and The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama


Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers

Contemporary threats to international security

Peter Bergen—The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda

Victor Cha—The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

David Crist—The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran

Bruce Riedel—Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad

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