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The general in his library

TODAY, ALL BRANCHES of America's armed forces have lists of books they recommend to their personnel. On July 23, the chief of staff of the Army, General Peter Schoomaker, issued a significant update to the Army's list.

The Army's original list was issued in June 2000 by General Eric Shinseki. There had of course been other reading lists before Shinseki's, issued by unit commanders or by various Army schools. But, says Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bigelow, executive officer of the Army's Center of Military History, which helped create the list, "General Shinseki's was the first chief of staff reading list that I had seen, and I've been in the Army for 20 years. So when it came out, it generated much more interest."

The Army's reading list is actually a collection of four sublists, each designed for personnel at different stages in their career. Sublist 1, which includes books like John Keegan's "The Face of Battle" and Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers," is meant for officer cadets, soldiers, and junior noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Sublist 2 contains books meant for "company-grade" officers (lieutenants and captains) and mid-level NCOs, while Sublist 3 is designed for "field-grade" officers (majors and colonels) and senior NCOs. Perhaps most interesting is Sublist 4, targeted at "senior leaders above brigade level." These are the books that the chief of staff thinks his colonels and generals should be reading.

Shinseki's version of Sublist 4 (shown here alongside Schoomaker's) is a mix of classics (Clausewitz's "On War," Thucydides' "Peloponnesian War") and modern contenders (Kissinger's "Diplomacy," Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," and the collection "Makers of Modern Strategy"). It also includes Harry G. Summers Jr.'s influential book "On Strategy," which applied Clausewitz's principles to an analysis of the conduct of the Vietnam War.

Schoomaker's sublist is different in several ways. Summers's book on Vietnam is gone, but Vietnam isn't: See H.R. McMaster's "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam," described on the list as "a cautionary tale about how the military and its civilian leadership failed at the highest levels." Clausewitz's "On War" has been moved to Sublist 3 to stand beside Sun Tzu's classic "The Art of War," while Donald Kagan's more accessible history of the Peloponnesian War has replaced Thucydides'. And a new emphasis on military transformation is obvious -- on this sublist alone there are four books on the topic.

Even the order of the books on the list is significant. According to a staff officer in Schoomaker's office, readers are meant to start with Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May's "Thinking in Time," about how to avoid misusing history, before moving on to Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" and other books.

No list can be comprehensive, but Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who now writes on military affairs, sees several missed opportunities -- such as the lack of any books on Islam and Middle Eastern culture. And given the Army's recent missions, he adds, "There should be books on peacekeeping, or books like Samantha Power's `A Problem from Hell.' And Elizabeth Neuffer's `The Key to My Neighbor's House,' which really helps you understand the civilian side of the equation in a place like Bosnia or Rwanda -- or Iraq, for that matter."

The US Army Chief of Staff's Professional Reading List

Sublist 4: For senior leaders above brigade level

2000 List
Issued by Gen. Eric Shinseki

"On War," by Carl von Clausewitz, edited by Peter Paret and Michael Howard

"Command Decisions," by Kent Greenfield

"War in European History," by Michael Howard

"The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," by Paul Kennedy

"Diplomacy," by Henry Kissinger

"Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers," by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May

"Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age," edited by Peter Paret

"An American Profession of Arms: The Army Officer Corps, 1784-1861," by William Skelton

"On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War," by Harry G. Summers Jr.

"The Peloponnesian War," by Thucydides

"Military Innovation in the Interwar Period," edited by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett

2004 List
Issued by Gen. Peter Schoomaker

"Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers," by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May

"The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," by Samuel P. Huntington

"The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization," by Thomas Friedman

"War in European History," by Michael Howard

"The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War," edited by Williamson Murray, MacGregor Knox, and Alvin Bernstein

"Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age," edited by Peter Paret

"The Peloponnesian War," by Donald Kagan

"Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,"by H. R. McMaster

"Victory on the Potomac," by James R. Locher III

"The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050," edited by MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray

"The Challenge of Change: Military Institutions and New Realities, 1918-1941," edited by Harold R. Winton and David R. Mets

"Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights," by Douglas A. Macgregor

To read the full, annotated version of the Army chief of staff's 2004 list, see The 2000 list can be viewed at

Ian Garrick Mason is a writer living in Toronto. 

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