- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fred Kaplan, who writes for Slate, asked me the other day to name a favorite book from each war I write about in my new book, which came out this week. So I wrote it up, and sent it to Fresh Air, Terry Gross’s great interview show on NPR. You can listen to her interview of me, which ran yesterday, here. (Meanwhile, here is a review of my book by one of the best younger military historians in the country, Brian Linn. And here is a piece in Huffington Post by the intrepid Andrea Stone.)
But you can read my booklist just by keeping on reading:
World War II
This is almost impossible. Where to start? There are so many good histories, so many powerful memoirs, starting with Winston Churchill’s and Field Marshal Slim’s. Also, Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on the Army’s War in Europe-the last volume will come out next year-is a must read. But when I think of my single favorite, I think it has to be Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed in Peleliu and Okinawa.
I’m tempted to pick Martin Russ’ The Last Parallel, a memoir of being a Marine near the end of the war. But the centerpiece of the war really for me is the Chosin Reservoir campaign. For that, I think I’d have to pick Roy Appleman’s East of Chosin, a painful history of the forgotten fight of an Army regiment that was wiped out on the east side of the reservoir.
The Vietnam War
An odd war-thousands of volumes written, but no one great book. Right now I am in the middle of Karl Marlantes’ novel Matterhorn, which is terrific. But I won’t know if it is my favorite until I finish it. Until then, I think I will have to chose James MacDonough’s Platoon Leader. A close second is H.R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty, a tough read but an important one.
The 1991 Gulf War
For this one, I think I’d have to go with The Generals’ War, by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor. It covered the war but also provided some prescient doubts about the quality of U.S. military leadership.
The war in Iraq
Putting aside my own works on this war (Fiasco and The Gamble), I think my favorite so far is The Long Walk, a memoir by a bomb disposal technical, Brian Castner.
The war in Afghanistan
The overall book hasn’t been written yet. But I think the ones that capture the feel of how this war was conducted are the memoirs about how Osama bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora. The place to begin is probably Gary Bernsten’s Jawbreaker.