In a War on the Rocks interview, Admiral (Ret.) Stavridis (former EUCOM commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe; now Dean of the Fletcher School of Law at Tufts University), a man who has read over 4,500 books in his lifetime, made the following statement about military personnel reading for professional development:
“We have to be a learning organization. And you cannot be a learning organization without being a reading organization. I would argue that in many ways the most efficient ways to learn, after personal experience, is to read. Reading is an imaginative personal experience.”
I firmly believe that commitment to developmental reading is a reflection of one’s professional maturity. Just as important as reading the books is discussing the ones we read and the lessons we learn from them. In that spirit, I want to share the books I read over the first half of 2017.
I completed four of the books on this list as audiobooks via the Audible app. I recommend you check out Audible audiobooks to help support your reading program. Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks.
All book titles are listed with hyperlinks to purchase on Amazon in case you want to add that title to your leader library for 2018!
Top 3 Books
Once an Eagle, By Anton Myrer [via audiobook]. I will spend the rest of my military career asking, “is this what Sam Damon would do?” Though intimidating in its length, this book easily became my favorite novel. It pits two enduring leadership styles (Damon vs. Massengale) against each other, and also addresses the lifestyle and hardships of military life. This book will always be one of my top reading recommendations to any military leader. If you have not read it, I highly encourage you to soon.
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, by Steven Pressfield [via audiobook]. To be honest, before reading it, I thought this book was purely hype. After avoiding it for so many years, I decided to quickly knock this book out so I can say I completed it. I was completely wrong; this book was amazing. It’s portrayal of military leadership and discipline has few equals. It’s an inspiring example for all military leaders.
Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet. This is the best leadership books I have read so far. The book tells the story of Marquet’s command of the USS SANTA FE, but pauses throughout to address practical mechanisms on how to implement the principles discussed throughout the story. This book and its lessons easily span beyond the Navy and even the military. Great story and even better lessons gleaned from it.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell. It is a simple book in approach, but can serve as a great checklist when conducting leadership reflection even years later. A necessary read for any leader in any profession.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni
A Message to Garcia, by Elbert Hubbard
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori Brafman & Rom Brafman
StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown. I initially started this book because my wife wanted me to read it. Similarly to ‘Gates of Fire,’ I planned to merely read the book to get it over with…and again, I was proven so wrong. The lessons regarding vulnerability and shame have endless application to military leadership and can do much to improve leaders’ personal development. I actually learned much about myself through this book and I believe you will too.
Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole
Men At War: What Fiction Tells us About Conflict, From The Iliad to Catch-22, by Christopher Coker. I don’t feel this book is meant for every contemporary reader. It is rather slow and seemingly long. I feel it is better served as a professional article or blog. However, its opening chapters inspire and educate about the value of fictional war reading, which I found beneficial.
History & Culture
How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, by Rosa Brooks. A fascinating view into civilian-military relationship/tension, how business is done at those echelons, and a candid discussion of military bureaucracy. Brooks doesn’t take sides, but does a great job of telling it how it is; from the proliferation of drones, to law of war, to the chaos that often occurs at the national level, it’s a quality and rare look into what drives our (military) world.
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by Michael R. Gordon & Bernard E. Trainor [via audiobook]
Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer [via audiobook]
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger
Family & Spiritual Growth
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, by William Paul Young
A Man After God’s Own Heart, by Jim George
Catching Foxes: A Gospel-Guided Journey to Marriage, by John Henderson