Much of what I did in the Army was stand in front of a chalkboard and lecture. I started reading military history to get interesting stuff for the classes, and I got hooked. What follows are some of the best books I’ve found in 40-odd years of compulsive consumption.
WWII, a Chronicle of Soldiering, by James Jones. The story of that conflict, told through art, not photos, and Jones’ text. Jones was an Army veteran of Guadalcanal and the author of From Here to Eternity.
This Kind of War, a Study in Unpreparedness, by T.R. Fehrenbach, 1963. Fehrenbach, an Army officer, describes the “Police Action” of 1950-53 from the standpoint of the company-grade officers who participated in the worst of it. The best history of the Korean War to date.
Ernie Pyle’s War, by James Tobin, 1997. The story of the sad, sickly, terrified little man who was America’s most widely read newspaper correspondent in World War II. Pyle’s column on the death of Captain Henry Waskow, included here, is quite likely the finest single piece of writing to come out of that war.
The Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer. 1967. Sajer is the pen name of an Alsatian who, at 16, enlisted in the Wehrmacht and survived its campaigns in Russia and eastern Europe. The wonder is that he not only survived, but did not go mad.
The Army of the Potomac Trilogy, by Bruce Catton. 1951-53 Of all the thousands of people who have written about the Civil War, Catton stands alone.
Son of the Morning Star, by Evan S. Connell. 1984. The best book about Custer and the Little Big Horn. Nothing else like it. The movie, made from the book in 1991, is probably the most accurate screen depiction of the battle we will ever get.
Dispatches, by Michael Herr. 1977. Herr was sent to Vietnam in 1967-68 as a correspondent for Esquire magazine. A hugely influential book, whose like you will not see elsewhere.