Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What’s on Yoda’s reading list?

The books behind the long Pentagon career of Andrew Marshall.


By LCDR Christopher Nelson, USN

Best Defense guest reader 

I recently had the opportunity to review an advance copy of a biography on Andrew Marshall. I’ll save you the suspense: It’s worth your time and money. One interesting anecdote is that Marshall rented the apartment next to his in Washington, D.C. to store his library. Heck, I envy the guy. I wish I had that kind of space to fill with books. But at a certain point my wife would turn to me and ask: “Hey, can’t you get that on your Kindle?”

One of the nice things the authors do, is they list a lot of the books that intellectually stimulated him or informed his opinions on security studies.

An autodidact, Marshall read everything from books on economics, business, the classics, science, history, and philosophy. In the 50s and 60s, Marshall was reading books and articles on organizational behavior and the rational actor construct — trying to understand how people and groups make decisions when competing.

So while the definitive Marshall reading list could only come from the man himself, some of the books that he read are worth a look.

— The March of Literature: From Confucius’s Day to Our Own by Ford Madox Ford

— What is Mathematics? by Richard Courant and Herbert Robbins

— A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee

— Ethical Studies by F.H. Bradley

— B.H. Liddell Hart’s writings on strategy

— Works of Alfred North Whitehead and George Santayana

— A Behavioral Theory of the Firm by James March and Herbert Simon

— Organizations by James March and Herbert Simon

— The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations by Robert Ardrey

— On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz

— The Imperial Animal by Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox

Heuristics and Biases: Judgment Under Uncertainty by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (also the author of the recent bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow)

LCDR Christopher Nelson, USN, is an intelligence officer and recent graduate of the U.S. Navy’s operational planning school, the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School, in Newport, R.I.



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