Ian Garrick Mason

Articles and Essays

Boston Globe -- August 22, 2004

The general in his library

by Ian Garrick Mason

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
2004 List -- Issued by Gen. Peter Schoomaker
To read the full, annotated version of the Army chief of staff's 2004 list, see www.army.mil/cmh/reference/CSAList/CSAList.htm.

The 2000 list can be viewed at www.army.mil/soldiers/sep2000/news/news2.html.