The Military Leader Reading List

Plus the Army Chief of Staff's Reading List

A recent email from a reader asked simply if there is a Military Leader reading list. As a professional who credits books with providing a sizable portion of my development, I was embarrassed to respond in the negative. Though I often write about what I learn from books (here, here, and here), I have neglected to compile a list. This post is a partial remedy.

This is not a cursory list. These are the books that have shaped me and imprinted lessons that directly reflect in my daily leadership life. These are the books that I reference and quote from, and I think you might benefit from reading. Be sure to scroll down, there’s a bonus list at the end. Enjoy!

The Chilling Story Behind the Mayflower

It’s not often that we find good Thanksgiving-related reading, but Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick is definitely worth checking out.

In vivid detail, Philbrick describes the tumultuous voyage of the Mayflower, the near catastrophe of the first winter in Plymouth, and the struggle for survival that was the first few years in the New World. Philbrick takes you off the boat and into the water as our famously “harmonious” Pilgrims scavenged off the land, stole from the native Americans, and sparked years of bloody war. It’s not the story you read in school.

mayflowerFor me, the most incredible realization was that the birth of our Nation might never had happened if not for a storm that blew the Mayflower off course and prevented them from reaching the British colonies down the coast.

Then, that William Bradford insisted on a pledge with the Dutch voyagers aboard that none would disembark unless they committed to survive together, not as separate national groups. This agreement, known as The Mayflower Compact, not only enabled their collective survival, but was quite literally the seed of democracy in America.

It’s an incredible story and well worth your time. Check it out!


Connecting Today’s Soldiers with Yesterday’s Sacrifice

This week, I was unexpectedly reintroduced to the service and sacrifice woven through the U.S. Army’s 241 year history. It happened at a performance of the Twilight Tattoo, hosted by the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer, VA. This hour-long show is open to the public every Wednesday throughout the Summer and should definitely be on your DC bucket list.

The Commander in Chief’s Guard, Honor Guard, Presidential Salute Battery, the Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps, and the U.S. Army Drill Team took the field with singers and performers from the Army Band to showcase the vital role the Soldier has played in the formation and preservation of our Nation. Firing muskets, riding horses from the Caisson Platoon, and performing precision rifle drill…the show was a huge hit with kids and adults, civilians and veterans alike.

More importantly, this spotlight on our gallant past inspired a reminder that we can gain valuable perspective by honoring our lineage of service, and that leaders can inject pride into their formations by connecting today’s Soldiers with yesterday’s sacrifice. Here are some thoughts on how to do it.


Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) form the Fife & Drum Corps and perform in the Twilight Tattoo at Fort Myer, Virginia. See more photos from the Twilight Tattoo at this link.

People…the Army’s Legacy of Leadership

by Matt Rasmussen

There’s an old adage you’ve likely heard, “The Army is not about people, it is people.” Army leaders and soldiers pay attention to endstrength more than any other service because people are the power behind everything the Army does. And because people are so critical to the Army, leadership is the fundamental action that Army leaders must understand and master in the course of their career. Leadership provides soldiers and junior leaders the purpose, direction, and motivation to execute the tasks to fulfill the mission, large or small.

If the Army is people, the Army is also family…and I’d like to tell you about mine. My family is an Army family. We count at least twenty of us who have served and most of those are combat veterans of World War I, World War Two, the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Since 2001, between two uncles, myself, and three cousins, our family has almost continually had at least one member deployed. This rich history of mostly Army service was impressed on us mainly by my grandfather, BG (retired) Jim Shelton.


Soldiers salute the colors before the 2016 All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Jan. 9, 2016.
The soldiers are assigned to Fort Sam Houston. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Bethany L. Huff

Leadership In Action – Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

by David Weart

Bayonets, Forward!  With this command Union Army Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to execute a daring counterattack against the 15th Alabama Regiment of the Confederate Army on July 2nd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. At the extreme left flank of the Union Army, the 20th Maine fought off repeated assaults for the past several hours against the determined Confederate Soldiers.

Outnumbered and low on ammunition, Chamberlain’s bold decision and courageous leadership led his men of Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and stopped the Confederate assault against the Union Army’s left flank.

This iconic scene immortalized in Jeff Shaara’s Killer Angels, the movie Gettysburg, and Army Doctrine publications as the epitome of leadership in action, is just a snapshot in the portfolio of Chamberlain’s remarkable and unparalleled career.


Brigadier Joshua L. Chamberlain. Link to photo.

Sebastian Junger Knows What We Know About Combat

Sebastian Junger speaks Infantry. He’s an American journalist with no military service, but that doesn’t matter. He speaks our language. The sound of a bullet, the constant fear, the instinctual drive to save a buddy laying in the open. He knows the combat experience because he chose to live it in the treacherous terrain of the Korengal Valley in Kunar, Afghanistan.

Sebastian Junger

A Soldier watches as U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets pound insurgent positions with bombs, after a 20-minute gun battle in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, Aug. 13, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 4th Infantry Division’s Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller.

Soldiers’ Hell Outside My Car Window

It happened today that I was driving to work and caught a glimpse of something that transported me to a hellish battlefield one hundred years ago. The thermometer hovered just north of freezing. Pellets of rain hit my windshield like shrapnel, which concerned me little because I was cozy and warm in, ironically enough, my German-engineered driving machine. The Starbucks latte was a pleasant addition to my comfortable morning.

I glanced around at the surrounding commuters, then to the traffic situation on my navigation display, and then to the roadside construction dedicated to widening the roadway from four lanes to eight. It was the landscape of this construction that instantly gripped my mind with visions of battle, my stomach with the grotesqueness of total war, and my heart with the fear that follows both.

Leadership Lessons from an Airborne Commander

Revisiting the book Military Leadership:  In Pursuit of Excellence led me to an article by General Matthew Ridgway that appeared in the October 1966 edition of Military Review. Entitled “Leadership,” it is a strikingly poignant and upfront summation of basic elements of good leadership, in and out of combat. I recommend that everyone read the entire article, but here are some points to consider.


Generals and Grenades: Said General Ridgway, “some people thought I wore the grenades as a gesture of showmanship. This was not correct. They were purely utilitarian. Many a time, in Europe and in Korea, men in tight spots blasted their way out with grenades”.
(Ridgway Photograph Collection) Photo Credit: USAMHI