By MICHAEL ANDERSON
Military history is a diverse topic, about which many books have been written. Any attempt to compile a comprehensive top 10 list is pointless. Instead, here are 10 books I’ve found to be entertaining, important or both.
10. “The Greatest Raid of All” – By C.E. Lucas Phillips
This is the gripping story of the 1942 British Commando raid on the German-occupied port of Saint Nazaire. The target was the ocean liner facilities, the only ones on the Atlantic coast large enough to service the battleship Tirpitz.
9. “Thermopylae: The Battle For the West” – By Ernle Bradford
This is the best telling of the story of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at the Pass of Thermopylae. The Second Persian War in 480 B.C. was a crucial juncture in human history, where the future of Western civilization was decided.
8. “The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany” – By Stephen E. Ambrose
Bombing Germany was one of the most dangerous jobs Americans engaged in during WWII, and Ambrose illustrates that very well. While the primary focus of the book is 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern and his crew, it is really a tribute to all of the men who bombed Germany between 1942 and 1945.
7. “Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II” – By Herbert A. Werner
Werner, a former U-boat captain, describes the battles for shipping lanes in harrowing detail. He brings you along as he lines up attacks on freighters, avoids destroyer escorts and dodges depth charges.
6. “The Tunnels of Cu Chi” – By Tom Mangold and John Penycate
This evenhanded work written by two Englishmen empathizes with combatants on both sides. The book will give you a new respect for the Viet Cong and for the “tunnel rats” who hunted them in their underground lair.
5. “The Face of Battle” – By John Keegan
Military historians traditionally concentrated on battle commanders. Keegan shifted the focus to the mechanics of battle and its effects on the combatants by examining the experiences of English soldiers who fought in three different centuries. He humanized warfare like never before, and in the process changed how we study it.
4. “The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece” – By Victor Davis Hanson
Inspired by “The Face of Battle,” Hanson set out to do for ancient warfare what Keegan did for modern war. He analyzes the “eastern” and “western” styles of war and the socio-economic reasons for their evolution. He discusses how Greeks formed their armies, and how their ingenious phalanx formation functioned.
3. “Generation Kill” – By Evan Wright and “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Corps Officer” – By Nathaniel Fick
These books should be read together. “Generation Kill” was written by a reporter who was embedded with a platoon of Recon Marines during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “One Bullet” was written by the lieutenant in command of that platoon. Both books are riveting accounts of the invasion, and it is fascinating to see how two very different men view the same events.
2. “Band of Brothers” – By Stephen E. Ambrose and “Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters” – By Major Dick Winters
“Band of Brothers” tells the story of the men of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Ambrose skillfully describes their exploits while Winters delves more deeply and offers insight into his actions. Together they tell the story of an incredible group of men.
1. “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa” – By E.B. Sledge
This is the autobiography of Eugene Sledge, who served as a mortar crewman with the 5th Marines during World War II. It is without doubt the most powerful combat memoir I’ve read. Ironically, Sledge didn’t write it for publication. He wrote to explain to his children why his body came home intact, but his spirit did not. His story is truly terrifying and the inhumanity he encounters is haunting.