Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

To do this weekend: Finish the Army War College library’s suggested reading list

Here it is. Time to get going!: Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. 529pp. (HB74 .P65A28 2012) Acemoglu and Robinson, scholars from MIT and Harvard University, strive to solve the reason why some nations thrive and others fail. Supported by years ...

National Archives
National Archives
National Archives

Here it is. Time to get going!:

Here it is. Time to get going!:

Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. 529pp. (HB74 .P65A28 2012)

Acemoglu and Robinson, scholars from MIT and Harvard University, strive to solve the reason why some nations thrive and others fail. Supported by years of original research, the authors draw from historical examples spanning the globe to support their theory of political economy as the foundation of a nation’s success.

Allison, William Thomas. My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. 170pp. (DS557.8 M9A44 2012)

"On March 16, 1968, American soldiers killed as many as five hundred Vietnamese men, women, and children in a village near the South China Sea. In My Lai, William Thomas Allison explores and evaluates the significance of this horrific event. How could such a thing have happened? Who (or what) should be held accountable? How do we remember this atrocity and try to apply its lessons, if any?" — Publisher description.

Bacevich, Andrew J. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010. 286pp. (UA23 .B334 2010)

Bacevich examines the Washington consensus on national security and why long held assumptions must change.

Barfield, Thomas J. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 389pp. (DS357.5 .B37 2010)

Leading anthropologist Thomas Barfield traces the historic struggles of the region, weaving the complex threads of culture, politics, economics, and geography.

Bergen, Peter L. The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and al-Qaeda. New York: Free Press, 2011. 473pp. (HV6432 .B47 2011)

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen offers a comprehensive history of the war with al Qaeda; from the strategies devised in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond. The Longest War provides the perspectives of both the United States and al Qaeda and its allies.

Betros, Lance. Carved from Granite: West Point Since 1902. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. 458pp. (U410 .L1B48 2012)

In Carved from Granite, author Lance Betros, provost of the U.S. Army War College, addresses a range of historical and contemporary issues concerning the United States Military Academy. An Academy graduate and later faculty member, Betros draws from his own experience, oral histories, and archival sources to devote chapters to West Point’s history, governance, admissions, academics, military training, and leader development. This authoritative history examines the challenges faced by the Academy, and offers subjective and interpretive insight for its future.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power. New York: Basic Books, 2012. 208pp. (JZ1313 .B79 2012)

Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, draws from decades of experience to reflect on the changing distribution of global power and why America’s global standing is waning. Forecasting some of the possible geopolitical consequences of America’s decline, Brzezinski argues we must create a long-term strategic vision for the future.

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan. New York: Knopf, 2012. 368pp. (DS371.412 .C53 2012)

Chandrasekaran, Washington Post senior correspondent and associate editor, follows his 2006 award-winning book on Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, with this critical examination of the 2009 Afghanistan surge and the Obama administration.

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. 904pp. (E312 .C54 2010)

In Washington: A Life, noted biographer Ron Chernow provides a detailed portrait of an iconic leader and the father of our nation, while exploring the history of America’s founding. 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography.

Chun, Clayton K. S. Gothic Serpent: Black Hawk Down, Mogadishu 1993. New York: Osprey, 2012. 80pp. (DT407.42 C58 2012)

Containing detailed maps and declassified information, Gothic Serpent recounts Task Force Ranger’s attempt to capture the lieutenants of a Somali warlord during the 1993 U.N. humanitarian relief mission and their ensuing fight for survival. U.S. Black Hawk helicopters, struck by rocket-propelled grenades crashed, stranding the crew in Mogadishu where they waged a brutal battle against hostile gunmen until their rescue by a combined U.N. and U.S. relief force. Winner of the 2012 Colonel John J. Madigan, III U.S. Army War College Staff and Faculty Published Writing Competition.

Collins, James C., and Morten T. Hansen. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. 304pp. (HF5386 .C652 2011)

"Ten years after the worldwide bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins returns with another groundbreaking work, this time to ask: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Based on nine years of research, buttressed by rigorous analysis and in-fused with engaging stories, Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times." — Publisher description.

Crist, David. The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 638pp. (E183.8 .I55C75 2012)

Crist, a government historian and advisor to the United States Central Command, spent a decade researching the conflict between the United States and Iran. Drawing from the documents of several U.S. administrations and numerous interviews, The Twilight War offers new insight on this intricate history.

Donnelly, Thomas, and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields. Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2010. 169pp. (UA23 .L47 2010)

Donnelly and Kagan lead a group of U.S. military officials and national security experts in analyzing the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far and mapping a way forward — not only for the military, but also for diplomats, elected officials, and the American public. Though written in 2007 and 2008, these essays remain relevant to the current administration.

Friedman, Thomas L., and Michael Mandelbaum. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 380pp. (JK275 .F75 2011)

Friedman and Mandelbaum analyze the four challenges that face the United States: globalization, revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and the pattern of excessive energy consumption. That Used to Be Us concludes with suggestions for how to sustain the American dream and preserve American power.

Gaddis, John Lewis. George F. Kennan: An American Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 784pp. (E748 .K374G34 2011)

"This is the authorized, definitive biography of one of the most fascinating but troubled figures of the twentieth century by the nation’s leading Cold War historian. In the late 1940s, George F. Kennan wrote the ‘long telegram’ and the ‘X’ article. These two documents laid out United States’ strategy for ‘containing’ the Soviet Union. Based on exclusive access to Kennan and his archives, this landmark history illuminates a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned." — Publisher description. 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: Norton, 2011. 356pp. (PA6484 .G74 2011)

"One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it." — Publisher description. 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner for General Nonfiction.

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010. 305pp. (BF637 .C4H43 2010)

Drawing upon a multitude of behavioral studies, business case studies, and hypothetical examples to illustrate their principles, Chip and Dan Heath weave together decades of research to shed new light on how to effect transformative change.

Hill, Charles. Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. 368pp. (PN56 .D55H55 2010)

Through lucid and compelling discussions of classic literary works from Homer to Rushdie, Grand Strategies represents a merger of literature and international relations, inspired by the conviction that "a grand strategist… needs to be immersed in classic texts from Sun Tzu to Thucydides to George Kennan, to gain real-world experience through internships in the realms of statecraft, and to bring this learning and experience to bear on contemporary issues." — Publisher description.

Junger, Sebastian. War. New York: Twelve, 2010. 287pp. (DS371.4123 .K67J86 2010)

"Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, turns his eye to the reality of combat in this on-the-ground account that follows a single platoon through a 15-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley." — Publisher description.

Kagan, Robert. The World America Made. New York: Knopf, 2012. 149pp. (JZ1313 .K34 2012)

"What would the world look like if America were to reduce its role as a global leader in order to focus all its energies on solving its problems at home? And is America really in decline? The author paints a vivid, alarming picture of what the world might look like if the United States were truly to let its influence wane." — Publisher description.

Kan, Paul Rexton, with a foreword by Barry R. McCaffrey. Cartels at War: Mexico’s Drug-Fueled Violence and the Threat to U.S. National Security. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012. 193pp. (HV5840 .M4K36 2012)

Cartels at War examines how Mexico’s ongoing conflict has spilled over into the United States, affecting policy issues ranging from immigration to gun control. Drawing on fieldwork along the border, and interviews with U.S. government officials and Mexican military officers, Paul Rexton Kan contends that careful policy consideration is necessary to prevent further cartel violence, reduce the incentives of drug smuggling, and to stop the erosion of Mexico.

Kaplan, Robert D. Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. New York: Random House, 2010. 366pp. (DS341.3 .U6K37 2010)

"In Monsoon, a pivotal examination of the Indian Ocean region and countries known as ‘Monsoon Asia,’ Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power in the twenty-first century. With Kaplan’s mix of policy analysis, travel reportage, sharp historical perspective, and fluid writing, Monsoon offers an exploration of the Indian Ocean as a strategic and demographic hub and an in-depth look at issues most pressing for American interests." — Publisher description.

Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. New York: Random House, 2012. 403pp. (JC319 .K37 2012)

Kaplan, bestselling author of Monsoon, builds on the insights and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers, examining the critical turning points in history — to better understand what might lie ahead.

Kilcullen, David. Counterinsurgency. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 251pp. (U241 .K55 2010)

Counterinsurgency brings together Kilcullen’s most prominent writings on this vitally important topic. This book includes a previously unpublished essay entitled "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan," written for Gen. Stanley McChrystal during his field work in Afghanistan.

Kissinger, Henry. On China. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 586pp. (JZ1480 .B49 2012)

Drawing from notable records and his own forty year history with China, Kissinger examines how this country has approached strategy, diplomacy, and negotiations throughout its history. On China provides insightful perspective on the evolution of U.S.-China relations that can be applied to present day.

Kupchan, Charles A. How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 442pp. (JZ5538 .K87 2010)

How Enemies Become Friends provides an innovative account of how nations escape geopolitical competition and replace hostility with friendship. Through compelling analysis and historical examples, Kupchan explores how adversaries can transform enmity into amity.

Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan: A Hard Country. New York: Public Affairs, 2011. 566pp. (DS389 .L54 2011)

"Anatol Lieven’s book is a magisterial investigation of this highly complex and often poorly understood country: its regions, ethnicities, competing religious traditions, varied social landscapes, deep political tensions, and historical patterns of violence; but also its surprising underlying stability, rooted in kinship, patronage, and the power of entrenched local elites." — Publisher description.

Luvaas, Jay, Harold W. Nelson, and Leonard J. Fullenkamp, eds. Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, 2nd ed., rev. and expanded. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 346pp. (E475.53 .U333 2012)

"The long-anticipated revised edition of one of the most respected and popular guides to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The authors have made significant changes to the guide, addressing alterations to the park during the past fifteen years and adding new information and improved maps that enrich park visitors’ understanding of one of the bloodiest and most momentous battles in American history." — Publisher description.

Maddow, Rachel. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. New York: Crown, 2012. 275pp. (UA23 .M33 2012)

Rachel Maddow’s Drift contends that America as a nation has drifted away from its original ideals and become at peace with war. Spanning the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, Maddow explores the political debate of how, when, and where to apply America’s military power — and who gets to make those decisions.

Manwaring, Max G., with a foreword by John T. Fishel and afterword by Edwin G. Corr. The Complexity of Modern Asymmetric Warfare. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 208pp. (U163 .M2687 2012)

"Today more than one hundred small, asymmetric, and revolutionary wars are being waged around the world. This book provides invaluable tools for fighting such wars by taking enemy perspectives into consideration. Using case studies, Manwaring outlines vital survival lessons for leaders and organizations concerned with national security in our contemporary world." — Publisher description.

Marlantes, Karl. What It Is Like to Go to War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. 256pp. (DS559.5 .M375 2011)

Marlantes, author of the award winning novel Matterhorn, takes a deeply personal and candid look at the experience and ordeal of combat, drawing on his own time in Vietnam. He critically examines how we might better prepare young soldiers for the psychological and spiritual stresses of war, and what it means to truly return home.

Matheny, Michael R. Carrying the War to the Enemy: American Operational Art to 1945. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. 334pp. (U153 .M38 2011)

Carrying the War to the Enemy draws on archival materials from military educational institutions, planning documents, and operational records of World War II campaigns to provide a clearer understanding of the development of American operational art.

Morris, Ian. Why the West Rules — For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 750pp. (CB251 .M67 2010)

"Why has the West dominated the globe for the past two hundred years, and will its power last? Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new answers to both questions." — Publisher description.

Moten, Matthew, ed., with a foreword by Martin E. Dempsey. Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars. New York: Free Press, 2011. 371pp. (E181 .B48 2011)

America’s leading historians examine the path of America’s wars, from the Revolution to the first Gulf War: their initial aims (often very different from their conclusions), their principal strategies, their final campaigns, and the future ramifications of the wars’ ends for the nation.

Neiberg, Michael S. Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. 292pp. (D511 .N45 2011)

Neiberg’s Dance of the Furies contributes to the understanding of the World War I’s origins and nature. Drawing on letters, diaries, and memoirs of citizens across Europe, Neiberg shows that the peoples of Europe did not expect, or desire, war in 1914.

Nye, Joseph S., Jr. The Future of Power. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. 300pp. (JC330 .N94 2011)

Nye, a leading international relations scholar, adds to his previous work on power (Soft Power, 2004) by examining the role of the state in the context of shifting power in the 21st century.

Ricks, Thomas E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 558pp. (E745 .R43 2012)

"From the bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, [The Generals is] an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq. Ricks has made a close study of America’s military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, and about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails." — Publisher description.

Rose, Gideon. How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 413pp. (E181 .R67 2010)

Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, recreates the choices that presidents and their advisers have con-fronted during the final stages of each major conflict from World War I through Iraq.

Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 534pp. (CB158 .S54 2012)

Silver, one of America’s most influential political forecasters, explores the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data.

Snow, Donald M., and Dennis M. Drew. From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond: War and Politics in the American Experience, 3rd ed. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2010. 335pp. (UA23 .S66 2010)

This book, by a political scientist and a career military officer and historian, has been updated and revised with new chapters on the Afghan and Iraq wars. For each conflict, the authors review underlying issues and events; political objectives; military objectives and strategy; political considerations; military technology and technique; military conduct and the ultimate disposition of the original political goals.

Terrill, W. Andrew, with a foreword by Anthony H. Cordesman. Global Security Watch: Jordan. Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International, 2010. 187pp. (DS154.13 .T47 2010)

Middle East specialist Andrew Terrill examines Jordan’s role in Middle Eastern politics and regional security, and provides an overview of the country’s history, economy, military system, and relations with other Arab states. Library also has online in Praeger Security International.

Thomas, Evan. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. New York: Little, Brown, 2010. 471pp. (E721 .T46 2010)

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas leads readers through the Spanish-American War of 1898, revealing insights into the minds of the major leaders of the time: advocates of the war; Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst — and two opponents; Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, and philosopher William James.

West, Francis J. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. New York: Random House, 2011. 307pp. (DS371.412 .W47 2011)

"From one of America’s most renowned war correspondents comes the definitive account of the Afghanistan war, a damning policy assessment, and a compelling and controversial way forward." — Publisher description.

Woodward, Bob. Obama’s Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 441pp. (E908.3 .W66 2010)

Obama’s Wars tells the inside story of President Obama’s critical decisions regarding the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan, and the worldwide fight against terrorism. Library also has sound recording.

Woodward, Bob. The Price of Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. 428pp. (HC106.84 .W67 2012)

Woodward’s latest book is a detailed assessment of how President Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States Congress endeavored to restore the American economy and improve the government’s fiscal situation between 2009 and 2012.

Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 804pp. (HD9502 .A2Y47 2011)

Energy authority Daniel Yergin resumes the account of global energy he first began in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 book, The Prize. The Quest details inside stories and historic accounts, examining energy as an overarching global quest at the heart of geopolitical and economic change.

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 Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.
Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.

At Long Last, the Foreign Service Gets the Netflix Treatment

Keri Russell gets Drexel furniture but no Senate confirmation hearing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.

How Macron Is Blocking EU Strategy on Russia and China

As a strategic consensus emerges in Europe, France is in the way.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.

What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal

Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy.

A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.
A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.

Russia’s Boom Business Goes Bust

Moscow’s arms exports have fallen to levels not seen since the Soviet Union’s collapse.