Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Some new military reading lists make me wonder: Can today’s top generals keep up with today’s corporals?

As longtime little grasshoppers know, I’m a fan of reading lists. Here is one from former Army chief of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey — where is he now? Here is another from a Marine sergeant major. I actually prefer the Marine’s, which has less pop journalism and more history. And here is Exum’s response to ...

Shane Huang/Flickr
Shane Huang/Flickr
Shane Huang/Flickr

As longtime little grasshoppers know, I'm a fan of reading lists. Here is one from former Army chief of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey -- where is he now? Here is another from a Marine sergeant major. I actually prefer the Marine's, which has less pop journalism and more history.

And here is Exum's response to Dempsey's. It also is a much better list than the official one. (And here is Exum's short list of essential reading to help one understand the war in Afghanistan. While I'm at it, here is a roundup from The Economist of new books on the war on terror.)

Here Greg Jaffe reviews the bidding, noting that, "The problem, it seems, is that Dempsey's tastes run toward the middle brow."

As longtime little grasshoppers know, I’m a fan of reading lists. Here is one from former Army chief of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey — where is he now? Here is another from a Marine sergeant major. I actually prefer the Marine’s, which has less pop journalism and more history.

And here is Exum’s response to Dempsey’s. It also is a much better list than the official one. (And here is Exum’s short list of essential reading to help one understand the war in Afghanistan. While I’m at it, here is a roundup from The Economist of new books on the war on terror.)

Here Greg Jaffe reviews the bidding, noting that, “The problem, it seems, is that Dempsey’s tastes run toward the middle brow.”

There is an interesting pattern here: The less rank one has, the more intellectually rigorous the list? Put another way: Are our generals keeping up with our corporals?

My friend Frank Hoffman comments on the Army list:

One might not want to look too deep into this list, as they are usually the product of a committee, but I am sure that General Dempsey personally edited the list a bit. Was good to see that he included one book on Civil-mil relations, although I’ve not read the Schofield text. The Army has several good books by Nielson and Snider to use but they might be not considered as classics. Notably, HR McMaster’s book is NOT listed, nor Eliot Cohen or Bacevich.

Was surprised at the two Friedman books, a bit optimistic about collaboration for an institutional worldview of Persistent Conflict, and I think that Lawrence Freedman and Aaron Friedberg and Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American World are a bit more up to date. For senior officers, Colin Gray’s Another Bloody Century might be useful. But the list is well balanced off with the Ramos book and Bob Kaplan’s look at Asia. Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts would have been far more relevant to the Army. The Seb Junger book on Afghanistan helps the loss there.  

Military strategy items are a bit thin (yes, I do see the required nods to Karl von C and his Chinese alter ego), this is longer on business books than traditional lists. I can live without Gladwell, as Outliers is his worst book but the underlying message of hard work is not without merit. The Moten book is very useful at least for war termination but actually more on policy-strategy interface. Colin Gray’s pithy Fighting Talk on strategic maxims could have be leveraged better to fill the strategy hole.

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.