Learning about war and warfare can be complicated. There are a myriad of books published on the subject, but it can be hard to discern which books are a gross misinterpretation of facts and which books are worth reading, and in which order they should be read. There are obviously great books on the subject, however, identifying them is hard. And the question still remains: is this the right book for me right now?
I have gathered a collection of books that I have read over the years and that have eased my journey of learning about the human condition of war. The order in which they should be read is not the order in which I read them, but I wish I had read them in the order presented below as that would’ve made it a lot easier for me to understand the subject. You can pick and chose which books you prefer and in which order you’d like to read them, however, I think the order below is best for overall understanding.
How to Make War
by James F. Dunnigan
How to Make War is the single best introduction to the subject matter. The book gives a broad overview of all subjects concerning war, from infantry to airpower and naval operations, to logistics, and the human factors in war. It is very analytical and focuses on the broader context of numbers and probabilities. It should be kept in mind that Mr. Dunnigan is a researcher on simulating war and wargaming, not a military professional. However, this book offers great value and should be read several times during one’s pursuit of understanding war.
The Defense of Hill 781
by James McDonough
The Defense of Hill 781 is a tactical primer on modern mechanized war. The author, himself an accomplished military officer, teaches the basics of military tactics through a series of fictional stories. It is a great introduction to military tactics in a fun and easy to read way.
Infantry Combat: The Rifle Platoon
by John Antal
Infantry Combat is an interactive exercise in infantry combat. It is like a tactical decision game, where the book is the game as well as the instructor. The reader has to make decisions at several points of the book, and these decisions influence how the narrative keeps going. This book gets more granular with infantry tactics and introduces leadership and the human dimension of war, after gaining a basic understanding of tactics with the previous book.
Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon
by John Antal
Armor Attacks is much like the previous book by Antal, this time focusing on armor tactics. Reading both books, the reader gains a thorough understanding and appreciation for infantry and armor and understands where the advantages and limits of both are. The appendices at the end of the book are a treasure trove, as they introduce US Army leadership procedures, tank tactics, and tank capabilities and technologies.
The Blitzkrieg Legend
by Karl-Heinz Frieser
The Blitzkrieg Legend is hands down the single best book on war or military history I have ever read. No discussion here. For the longest time, military history has been the focus of amateurs. That’s why, when looking for military history books, the books we find often focus on battles and campaigns, seldom on logistics or the reason why things were done the way they were. This book is not like that. The Blitzkrieg Legend focuses on the German campaign in the West of 1940 against France. It looks at how German leadership came up with the final plan for the operation and analyzes which events lead to a German victory. It concludes with a description of German command philosophy, known as Auftragstaktik in German or Mission Command in English, how it developed and why it lead to victory. The focus is always on the human factors and leadership principles that lead to a German victory, and a thorough case is made for why Germany won against France even though France had more men and superior technology.
Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton
by Martin van Creveld
Supplying War is another book that deeply focuses on the why of operations. Creveld examines several historic campaigns and explores why commanders took the routes they took and made the decisions they made. His conclusion: more often than not, logistics, not tactics, were the dictating factors in commander’s decisions. This is a book anyone interested in military affairs should read in order to understand the why of military operations.
The Russian Front: Russia and Germany at War, 1941-1945
by James F. Dunnigan
The Russian Front, another great book by Mr. Dunnigan, gives an overview of the Eastern Front of World War 2. The real gem in this book is the analysis of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht in logistics, technology, tactics, and leadership. A great book to get an overview of the Eastern Front and to understand why Germany lost.
D-Day: June 6, 1944
by Stephen E. Ambrose
D-Day is an overview of the first days of the Allied invasion of Normandy. A big part of the book is dedicated to the planning and logistics of the invasion, showing what Herculean effort the staffers and logisticians put forth in order to enable the whole operation. The book also shows how different parts of the operation supported one another, for example, the airborne operations that were conducted in order enable further operations after the naval landings. It helps to understand the overall make-up of military operations and campaigns.
Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat
by Wayne Hughes and Robert Girrier
Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat is an in-depth primer in naval operations. It shows how naval operations developed over hundreds of years, how modern technology changes old paradigms, and how the future of naval operations might look. In line with Supplying War and The Blitzkrieg Legend, it demonstrates that sometimes tactics might dictate strategy, too. Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat is a great book to read for anybody interested in the conduct of war or naval warfare, and it is a great opportunity for ground-pounders to widen their horizon and learn a little about the other services. Now in its third edition, it is a superb introduction into operational analysis.
Germany and the Second World War
by Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt
[Amazon Link to 1st Volume] & [Wikipedia Link for the series]
Germany and the Second World War is a 13 volume book series by the Military History Centre of the German Armed Forces that explores all aspects of Germany’s involvement in World War 2. It is a courageous reading project and will probably take several years to finish (and understand) all 13 books. However, the reader will gain an understanding of military operations and war in general, and Germany in World War 2 in particular, like no other. I have put it at the end of the list for a reason. Only by having read all the books above and understood the lessons taught by them can someone gain a full appreciation of this behemoth.
What do you think of the books on the list? Which books would you add or omit? Leave a comment and let’s have a discussion!
A note on links: None of the above links are affiliate links. All book photos are from Amazon.