Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Organizing your bookshelves: A memoir

War on the Rocks asked Adm. James Stavridis about how he organizes his books.

Long_Room_Interior,_Trinity_College_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff
Long_Room_Interior,_Trinity_College_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff

War on the Rocks asked Adm. James Stavridis about how he organizes his books. That’s an insider’s question that one booklover might ask another. His answer? Well, he doesn’t do it by color.

It reminded me of how, when I lived just outside Washington, D.C., my wife and I had a home office built for me, with lovely floor to ceiling bookshelves. I was so pleased because, for the first time in my adult life, I could have all my books in the same place. But it was hard, and a bit dangerous, to get up to the top shelves, which were at about 16 feet (the roof was angled).

Looking at that big wall, my principle of organization became likelihood of use. That is, the greater the chance I would need a book, the closer I would have it to my desk.

War on the Rocks asked Adm. James Stavridis about how he organizes his books. That’s an insider’s question that one booklover might ask another. His answer? Well, he doesn’t do it by color.

It reminded me of how, when I lived just outside Washington, D.C., my wife and I had a home office built for me, with lovely floor to ceiling bookshelves. I was so pleased because, for the first time in my adult life, I could have all my books in the same place. But it was hard, and a bit dangerous, to get up to the top shelves, which were at about 16 feet (the roof was angled).

Looking at that big wall, my principle of organization became likelihood of use. That is, the greater the chance I would need a book, the closer I would have it to my desk.

Thus the area just behind my head became the reference area — encyclopedias of military history, Pentagon telephone directories, guides to international weaponry, and my favorite books about writing, such as Strunk & White. Just above that went books about the contemporary military and about our current wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, and terror.

At the other end of the room, at the very top of the shelves, went books about nuclear war and Russia. They were reachable only by ladder. But I figured that if nuclear war ever occurred, me and the bookshelf would be gone with it. And I figured the Russia story was over. I still think it is, because it is a declining nation, both economically and demographically. But yeah, if I were organizing the shelves now, I’d have the Russia books a bit closer to hand.

By the way, I was surprised to see that Stavridis is a huge Hemingway fan. Oh well. No accounting for taste. I give Hemingway a good spanking in my new book.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.