Summer Book Recommendations for a Friend

One of my pals asked me for a list of ten good books for possible Summer reading.

This is what I came up with for him.


Here are some recommendations. Not really a “top ten” but ten good ones that I have liked especially well that you may find interesting.

David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Gen. Petraeus’s counterinsurgency advisor provides an overview of where we are now, how we got here, and what to do next. Half memoir, half primer, this is the best book on the current military conflicts the USA is engaged in. Highest possible recommendation. I am going to see him speak tonight.)

Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (2004) (John Boyd was an eccentric genius who had a major impact on US military thinking, this is his story, and a case study of integrity in the face of social and professional pressure. If you like this, the book to drill down on Boyd’s thinking and theories is Frans P. B. Osinga, Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd.)

Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March (Novel. Written in the 1930s, set in the era just before World War I, the story of a family whose destiny was woven with the Habsburg monarchy, a love story about the love a father for his son, a topic not usually dealt with in fiction, and a portrait of a time which I have some nostalgia for.)

Gregor von Rezzori, The Snows of Yesteryear (Memoir. A companion in a way to Radetzky March. The story of the author’s family in the period before, during and after World War I, and the destruction of their world and way of life when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was destroyed. Again, a picture of a vanished world.)

Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (1967) (The retired president and five star general tells his best anecdotes from a remarkable lifetime. Again, an inside view of America when it was a big, poor, rural country, and of the Army when it was small, underfunded and not ready for the demands of major war. A very different world. Eisenhower is a good companion and story teller.)

Dennis E. Showalter, Patton and Rommel: Men Of War In The Twentieth Century (A nicely done dual biography of two great warriors, in an era when “managers of violence” were replacing warriors, with many good personal and historical insights.)

Ulysses S Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant (A plain-spoken man tells how he rose to the top, and beat everything that life and the Confederacy could throw at him, all told without a lot of excess verbiage. If you want to know more about Grant, the biography by Jean Edward Smith is my favorite, and shows him to have been a better president than he is given credit for, which I agree with.)

Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders (I know you are a TR fan. I read this recently. If you have not, you should. Not a dull page in it. A remarkably blunt depiction of the war.)

Winston Churchill, My Early Life (Sometimes titled “A Roving Commission”, this is Churchill’s story of his early life, which was
full of adventure and danger. Generally considered his best book. If you cannot get enough early Churchill, I also recommend The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan. He was in the campaign, and his history of it is very vivid and oddly relevant given our current engagement with Muslim fanatics.)

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride. (One of my all time favorites. Shows how the early revolutionaries in Boston got the Revolution going. A strong feeling of “you are there” comes across in the book. It is fair and even-handed to all participants in the opening hours and days of the conflict. Highly recommended. If you like it, almost as good is Washington’s Crossing, about the Battle of Trenton.)

I could go on, but I will add only one more thing. Alan Macfarlane wrote a two volume work on the origins of the Modern World, using major writers as his jumping off points for his discussion (Montesquieu, Smith, Tocqueville, Maitland, Fukuzowa and Malthus). I did not about Maitland or Fukuzowa before reading Macfarlane, but I was grateful to make their acquaintance. He has revised the two volume work, adding a section on Malthus, and made them available as six PDF file “e-books”, for free, here. So, you get something positively brilliant for the price of paper and toner. They should be
read in the order listed above.

His ebooks are here

I suggest printing out Montesquieu, and if you like it, they are all available.

This is enough to keep you busy at least until New Year’s Eve, I think.


Different people would get different lists.

11 thoughts on “Summer Book Recommendations for a Friend”

  1. Just picked up “The Radetzky March” a few weeks ago at a book sale, and liked it. I also have a book of essays by Roth on his experiences in 1920s Berlin…want to try some of his other novels as well.

  2. I have read five books by Roth so far and they have all been good. But I liked Radetzky March best of all.

  3. Lex,

    I had know idea that Gregor von Rezzori is available in English. Excellent author, though reading him (as with Roth and Zweig) somehow induces a pleasant melancholy which I regard as almost sinful.

    Boyd is a glaring omission which I will soon rectify and it is “virtuous” reading.

    Many Thx for pointing out Macfarlane which I will look at more closely. The E-books seem like a terrific idea and very practical.

  4. Boyd is a window into a dedicated group of his acolytes still around, many of them. Much of his thinking has migrated to management theory although usually unattributed.

    I read Grant’s Memoirs in college. It’s interesting to notice that the pace goes faster and faster toward the end as he was writing them to support his family after his death and he died about three days after finishing the manuscript. No presidential pensions in those days. He was dying of throat cancer as he wrote.

    Churchill’s the “River War” has been widely read by the military in Iraq, just as “The Story of the Malakand Field Force” is widely read by the military in Afghanistan. Even the villages are the same. I also recommend Carlos D’Este’s new biography of Churchill, “Warlord.”

  5. Michael, I have a copy of Warlord. I look forward to reading it. I need to read Malakand Field Force.

    FM, the other book by Rezzori I have seen referred to is a novel called “Memoirs of an Anti-Semite”. “Snows of Yesteryear” was so good — I learned about it from Niall Ferguson — that I would like to read Memoirs. What else by him is good? Also, Macfarlane is superb. Those ebooks are the proverbial “dollar bill lying on the sidewalk”. Highest possible rating.

  6. Okay, this just feeds into my mini book reading crisis, and you, yes you people (and Instapundit) started it.

    I always read either journals related to my field or fiction. That’s it. I adore fiction, my house is filled with fiction books, I can’t seem to stop buying them because, well, I dunno. It’s a book buying addiction.

    And. Then. The internet – Instapundit – Chicagoboyz – links from here – I find myself wanting to go to talks at the Pritzker and read about counterinsurgency! How did this happen? I don’t get it.

    Oh, this looks like a good list, but I’m still in a book reading existential crisis. Which way will I go? There’s only so much time.

    – Madhu (yeah, I keep experimenting with how to identify myself, which I know is a blog comment no-no, but I have a day job and real life for following rules. This is why dear Tatyana still calls me MD……

  7. Lex,

    I have never read the “Memoirs”, but they`re supposed to be good. Personally, I wd pick up anything he´s written. Much of it must be out of print, but I raid 2nd hand book stores regularly.

    Looking up R. just now on German wiki I find the “Idiot`s guide to Germany” (mid 60s) which may be fun. R. had a notably long and interesting life and career, including as a supporting actor and screenplay writer which was new to me.

    Dollars on the sidewalk – best I have found yet was Kagan on Greece (Yale Open) thx to Zen. If Macfarlane is half as good it is a treasure.

  8. OnParkStreet — Just pick a few nonfiction books, put them in the mix, and read them in the next few months. Since you are not getting quizzed / tested / graded on it, you can do whatever you want. If you find it boring and hanker after your novels more than the history books, bag it. Nothing wrong with fiction. Nothing wrong with doing whatever the heck you feel like doing, with the usual caveats of course. Let 100 flowers bloom.

    FM — Have not read the Kagan, will check it out.

  9. My fiction favorites include Neville Shute. I just got a copy of his novel “In the Wet” which I haven’t read. If you like technology,” No Highway” is great. Other favorites are A Town Like Alice and Trustee From the Toolroom. The latter is one of the very few good sailing novels. I don’t mean Napoleonic War sailing but modern sailing. I still need to find “Riddle of the Sands” which is also supposed to be a good sailing novel. The internet has done wonders for the used book market. Shute has been dead nearly 50 years but has a very active fan group and his novels are still read all over the world.

  10. Lex,

    Exceptional list! I hope to read at least “the snows of yesteryear” by the fall. May I suggest “To the Last Salute: Memories of an Austrian U-Boat Commander” which is another good WW1/post-war Austro-Hungarian empire collapse read.

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