Best Defense

Expert picks: Ten books on military history that should be better known

David French, 'The British Way in Counter-insurgency, 1945-1967' — An important corrective to decades of U.S. military critics holding up the British COIN model as the ideal for the U.S. armed forces.



By Brian Linn
Best Defense guest historian

David French, The British Way in Counter-insurgency, 1945-1967 — An important corrective to decades of U.S. military critics holding up the British COIN model as the ideal for the U.S. armed forces.

Gregg Daddis, Westmoreland’s War — Another corrective to the myth that Westmoreland was the general who “lost” Vietnam.

Andrew Bacevich, The Pentomic Era: The U.S. Army Between Korea and Vietnam — This short book is still the best introduction to the U.S. Army’s effort to transform itself for the atomic battlefield, well worth looking at by those who think that new technology=RMA.

George Macdonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here — A memoir by a rifleman in Burma in WWII. Brilliant writing, entertaining, and profound.

Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon — Still holds up as one of the best studies of nuclear strategy and the close connections between academics and the armed forces.

Douglas Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era — A lot of research has gone on since, but it still has a great deal of insight into the Vietnam Era and the evolution of COIN in the United States.

Shelford Bidwell, Modern Warfare: A Study of Men, Weapons and Theories — Written in 1973, it still may be the best introduction to how modern armies wage war.

David Fitzgerald, Learning to Forget: U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Practice from Vietnam to Iraq — An underappreciated analysis of the army’s institutional struggles to adapt to the challenge of irregular warfare and the malleability of the “lessons of history.”

Antulio J. Echevarria, Reconsidering the American Way of War — The best historical analysis of the current debate, effectively demolishing much of the mythology, sloppy IR theory, and superficial analysis that has characterized this topic.

Gerard Chaliand, ed., The Art of War in World History — An underappreciated reader on military thought whose breadth, depth, and range is unequaled.

Brian McAllister Linn is a professor at Texas A&M University and author of five books on US military history, including The Echo of Battle and the forthcoming Elvis’ Army.

Image credit: Prayitno/The Ten Commandments (1956)/Flickr

Thomas 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

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