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10 Good Books On War

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  • 10 Good Books On War

    The Letters of Private Wheeler, 1809-28, by William Wheeler, 1948

    Only in the 19th century did soldiers begin to describe their experiences in language modern readers can relate to. Wheeler served as a rifleman through the greatest British campaigns of the Napoleonic wars. His letters home were discovered and published only in 1948. They provide one of the finest accounts of the conflict from the perspective of a ranker. Wheeler's sensibilities were often outraged by the scenes he witnessed, not least the excesses committed by his own comrades. (Published by Cassell)

    My Early Life by Winston Churchill, 1930

    Winston Churchill covering the Boer war as a war correspondent, c1900, Bloemfontein, South Africa. Photograph: BL Singley/CORBIS This was the best book Churchill wrote, an exuberant memoir of colonial wars as seen by a shameless adventurer and glory-seeker, such as every conflict produces its share of. Yet while the author rejoiced in his own part in the campaigns which made his name - the north-west frontier of India, Kitchener's march on Khartoum, the Boer war - he also displayed a sympathy for the victims, for instance the untended Dervish wounded after the 1898 battle of Omdurman, which was remarkably enlightened for a man of his age and social caste. (Eland)

    The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning, 1929
    A detail from the cover of The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning. Manning was an Australian aspiring intellectual, already in his mid-30s when he enlisted as a private soldier in 1915. His prewar existence in England was dogged by unfulfilled literary hopes and emotional confusions. He served for only a few months in France, and his military career ended in alcoholism and disgrace. But in 1929 he composed a novel, obviously autobiographical, about three soldiers' experience of the trench nightmare, which is outstanding. Almost certainly the finest work of its kind to emerge from the war. (Penguin)

    Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis, 1936

    A British Sopwith Camel in battle with German biplanes during the first world war. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS In the first half of the 20th century, young airmen discovered a joy in liberation from mankind's historic confinement to earth, in the sensations of flight and even of air combat, which some found an acceptable compensation for the likelihood of their own deaths. Lewis's memoir of his happy odyssey as an SE5 fighter pilot in 1917-18 is a deserved classic, to be compared with the darker picture provided by his contemporary VM Yeates in his fine novel Winged Victory. (Frontline)

    A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, 1977

    A US soldier hurries away after setting fire to a thatched house during the Vietnam War. Photograph: AP Caputo was a US marine officer in Vietnam during some of the bloodiest fighting of the mid-1960s. He describes the misery and institutionalised brutality of the conflict in a fashion that goes far to explain why America lost that war. Many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suggested that his tale foretold the manner of some tragic military follies repeated in the 21st century. Even if only a small minority of soldiers commit atrocities, many young Americans at war find it hard to treat perceived primitive peoples with respect or even humanity. (Owl)

    The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, 1951

    Nicholas Monsarrat, 1956. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images Monsarrat's (above) autobiographical novel of the Battle of the Atlantic was a huge bestseller on its publication in 1951, but has since fallen out of favour. Granted, it is a less significant work of art than critics once suggested, but it is hard to think of any book that better captures the frequent fear, occasional exhilaration and unremitting discomfort of serving as a corvette officer through five years of struggle with Germany's U-boats. To be sure, Monsarrat's characters are stock types – but so were the men who crewed the Royal Navy's convoy escorts. (Penguin)

    Suite Française by Irčne Némirovsky, 2004

    French author Irčne Némirovsky. Photograph: Rex Features Wars are too often perceived simply as successions of campaigns and battles. Most are better examined in the Tolstoyan fashion, as vast human upheavals which inflict suffering on millions who are obliged to serve as hapless victims rather than as active belligerents. Némirovsky's (above) saga of the French civilian experience in the second world war remained uncompleted because she died in Auschwitz in 1942. But these two parts, addressing the collapse of 1940 and the travails of a village under occupation in 1941, display an extraordinary human sensitivity. (Vintage)

    Nella Last's War by Nella Last, 1981

    Nella Last, 1939. The author of this diary (above) was a middle-aged housewife who recorded her 1939-45 experience for the pioneering social survey Mass Observation. Unhappily married, and frustrated by the tedium of domestic captivity, she She recorded with exceptional honesty her reactions to privation, bombing, fear and dreary monotony, speaking for millions to whom the war denied any heroic role. Among the most striking passages is that which describes her response to the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945: she greeted the news not with exultation at allied victory, but with revulsion about the event's significance for mankind. (Profile)

    Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser, 1992

    George MacDonald Fraser. Photograph: Stephen Mansfield/tspl/Writer Pictures Fraser (above) is best known as author of the Flashman tales, but his account of service as an 18-year-old private with the Border Regiment in 1943 Burma is a superlative work. It captures the chaos of battle, and the love between men which is the sole redeeming feature of war, with a perfect ear for dialogue – and for the Cumbrian dialect in which his comrades spoke. Fraser understood soldiers much better than did the first world war officer-poets. His respect for them, which is without illusions, colours all his writing. (Harper)

    The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer, 1967

    Hitler's Wehrmacht was the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, however evil the cause which it served. Its 1941-45 grapple with the Red Army was among the most terrible campaigns in the history of warfare. Sajer was an Alsatian whose narrative of his time as a rifleman comes as close as that of any participant to capturing its horrors. (Phoenix)

  • #2
    Have any members read any of the above books ? Give us your thoughts on the ones you have read....

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    • #3
      Good book on war is probably a relative proposition. I find memoir books a narrow path through war and greatly depends on the individual's military specialty, experience, and level of view. For me, a good book on war would be The Face of Battle, A Savage War of Peace, The Guns of August, Hell in a Very Small Place....
      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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      • #4
        An Instinct for War

        One of the strangest but most profound books on warfare I've read is: an Instinct for War by Roger J. Spiller.

        Thirteen narratives, covering Han China via Thucydides and Machiavelli to the middle futrue of the 21 centruy, all written in a distinct and style typical for the period covered all conveying insights on warfare as the original author could have stated it.
        BoRG

        You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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        • #5
          As my interests tend toward tactics and technology one of my favorites is "War Made New" by Max Boot. There is a difference between adopting a new technology and adapting to it. The later is often more important.
          Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

          Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by ole timer View Post
            Have any members read any of the above books ? Give us your thoughts on the ones you have read....
            Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea and HMS Scarborough Will Enter Harbor are classic sea tales. He was a RNVR officer and served on a Flower class corvette in WW 2 so the writing is authentic.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Major Sennef View Post
              One of the strangest but most profound books on warfare I've read is: an Instinct for War by Roger J. Spiller.

              Thirteen narratives, covering Han China via Thucydides and Machiavelli to the middle futrue of the 21 centruy, all written in a distinct and style typical for the period covered all conveying insights on warfare as the original author could have stated it.
              Not really that strange, look at how much military history is in Fraser's Flashman series, also fictional pieces on wars around the globe.
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
                Not really that strange, look at how much military history is in Fraser's Flashman series, also fictional pieces on wars around the globe.
                I'd have to second that, I'm on my sixth Flashman volume in the last month, and it has only made me look deeper into the history that he "stumbles" into. It is very much the same way with O'Brien, Lambdin, Stockwin, and Forrester that got me interested in the Age of Fighting Sail, or Cornwell getting me interested in the Napoleonic War on the peninsula. I guess that is how I judge historical fiction, does it make me want to know more about the actual history of the period.
                Last edited by Lance Williams; 25 Jul 14, 11:22.
                Lance W.

                Peace through superior firepower.

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                • #9
                  I thought Men Against Fire was pretty good. That book could apply to any war in my opinion.
                  My worst jump story:
                  My 13th jump was on the 13th day of the month, aircraft number 013.
                  As recorded on my DA Form 1307 Individual Jump Log.
                  No lie.

                  ~
                  "Everything looks all right. Have a good jump, eh."
                  -2 Commando Jumpmaster

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Lance Williams View Post
                    I'd have to second that, I'm on my sixth Flashman volume in the last month, and it has only made me look deeper into the history that he "stumbles" into. It is very much the same way with O'Brien, Lambdin, Stockwin, and Forrester that got me interested in the Age of Fighting Sail, or Cornwell getting me interested in the Napoleonic War on the peninsula. I guess that is how I judge historical fiction, does it make me want to know more about the actual history of the period.
                    Flashy, or, indeed, anything written by George McDonald Fraser is well worth a read: but let's not forget the classics such as The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.
                    "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                    Samuel Johnson.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by 101combatvet View Post
                      I thought Men Against Fire was pretty good. That book could apply to any war in my opinion.
                      The military historian, Roger Spiller, studied Marshall's papers and could find no statistical data to support his contentions on the percentages fired by soldiers. His methodology and conclusions are suspect.

                      Spiller's article, "S.L. A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire," was in the RUSI Journal Winter 1988. Quotes from article:
                      "Citing evidence he had gleaned from interviews with rifle companies fresh from combat, Marshall concluded that one soldier in four fired his weapon while in contact with the enemy...."

                      "The 'ratio of fire' between those soldiers who used their weapons and those who did not, consummated Marshall's argument in Men Against Fire."

                      "The 'systematic collection of data' that made Marshall's ratio of fire so authoritative appears to have been an invention."
                      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                      • #12
                        I'd heard that but not seen the citation before, thanks. The obvious next question of course would be, do we have some way to address this issue using all of the data we can now collect from our deployed units?

                        If you watch Restrepo, for instance, not everyone fires during every engagement. This may be a limitation of knowing only what the camera happens to catch, or it might accurately reflect the fog-of-war at the small unit level.
                        Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

                        Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post
                          Not really that strange, look at how much military history is in Fraser's Flashman series, also fictional pieces on wars around the globe.
                          I read "Flashman at the Charge" and "Flashman in the Great Game" this past week. I learned more about that period than any "history" books I'd read on the subject.
                          Lance W.

                          Peace through superior firepower.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by GCoyote View Post
                            I'd heard that but not seen the citation before, thanks. The obvious next question of course would be, do we have some way to address this issue using all of the data we can now collect from our deployed units?

                            If you watch Restrepo, for instance, not everyone fires during every engagement. This may be a limitation of knowing only what the camera happens to catch, or it might accurately reflect the fog-of-war at the small unit level.
                            I don't know of any study that has tried to replicate Marshall's interview collection. I think like the camera "limelight", few would be honest in admitting sitting out a firefight.
                            Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Lance Williams View Post
                              I read "Flashman at the Charge" and "Flashman in the Great Game" this past week. I learned more about that period than any "history" books I'd read on the subject.
                              I enjoy reading his footnotes for the leads in his source material which go back to contemporaries of the period which allows Fraser to pick up the nifty tidbits.
                              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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