The best books on military nonfiction

The Books I Picked & Why

Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege Of Dien Bien Phu

By Bernard B. Fall

Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege Of Dien Bien Phu

Why this book?

In this book recounting the fall of French Indochina, Bernard B. Fall, a critically acclaimed scholar, and reporter makes use of declassified documents from the French Defense Ministry. He also interviews thousands of surviving French and Vietnamese soldiers in order to weave a compelling account of the key battle of Dien Bien Phu—the strategic attack fought by France against the Vietnamese in 1954 after eight long years of war. Fall presents a new model of modern warfare on which size and sophistication don’t always dictate victory.


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House to House: A Soldier's Memoir

By David Bellavia, John Bruning

House to House: A Soldier's Memoir

Why this book?

Fallujah is one of the most horrendous and hard-fought battles in U.S. history. David Bellavia has written an unforgettable story of triumph, tragedy, and the resilience of the human spirit. In the second Iraq conflict, Bellavia shows us the stairways and alleys of Fallujah through the sights of his rifle. Politics and strategy are impossible luxuries for the combat soldiers, but Bellavia writes about even bigger themes: courage, fear, brotherhood, and duty. To read this account is to know intimately the daily grind and danger of men at war, a rare and gripping account of the frontline war. He captures the brutal action and raw intensity of leading his Third Platoon, Alpha Company, into a lethally choreographed kill zone: the booby-trapped, explosive-laden houses of Fallujah's terrorists.

Bringing to searing life the terrifying intimacy of hand-to-hand infantry combat, this gripping war memoir features an indelibly drawn cast of characters, not all of whom would make it out alive, as well as the sober account of the singular courage that earned Bellavia the Medal of Honor: Entering one house alone, he used every tool at his disposal in the fight of his life against America's most vicious enemy. Bellavia's riveting, poignant, and at times even humorous firsthand account intensely emphasizes why this battle must never be forgotten.


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Black Hawk Down: The History of the Battle of Mogadishu

By Charles River Editors

Black Hawk Down: The History of the Battle of Mogadishu

Why this book?

Black Hawk Down documents efforts by America’s Unified Task Force to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in 1993, and the resulting fight in Mogadishu between U.S. forces and his militia. Dramatically, graphically reconstructing the battle, author Mark Bowden leaves nothing about combat to the imagination. He describes Mogadishu as a place of Mad Max-like anarchy to describe the warring with great accuracy. Thinking there must have been some official inquiry into the tragedy that killed 18 American fighters and upwards of 500 Somalis, Bowden discovered none was undertaken, and so this account was conceived. It is a horribly enthralling bullet-by-bullet story, in which the purpose of Americans in Somalia fades to irrelevance amidst the instant desperation of fighting. In the ensuing day-and night-long snafu, men bled to death, rescue convoys drove in wrong directions, and choppers were shot down. His narrative tells of how Rangers and elite Delta Force members began a mission to capture a pair of high-ranking deputies to warlord Aidid only to find them surrounded in a hostile North African city. 

In an effective New Journalism style, Bowden projects the individual soldier's thinking: his satisfaction in his elite training, his surprise at the strangeness of war, his determination to hold out until rescue, and, in two instances, his pure self-sacrificial heroism. He supplements this with hundreds of interviews, turning Black Hawk Down into a totally authentic nonfiction novel, a lively page-turner that will make readers feel like they're standing beside the embattled troops. 


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Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

By Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Why this book?

Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers is the account of the men of a remarkable unit who fought, went hungry, froze, and died, a band that took 150 percent casualties and considered the Purple Heart an initiation. The book rests upon interviews Ambrose conducted with former members of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The interviews were conducted as part of a project to collect oral histories of D-Day for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. Ambrose tells the stories of the survivors and fleshes out the soldiers' journals and letters, often in the men's own words. He was intrigued with the bonds that had developed among the members. Ambrose wrote of the book’s finished draft, "We have come as close to the true story of Easy Company as possible."


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The Guns of August

By Barbara Wertheim Tuchman

The Guns of August

Why this book?

The Guns of August is a historical volume by Barbara W. Tuchman. It is centered on the first month of World War I, and the events that led up to it. This was the last kick of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, many who sported pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms. Pomp and romance accompanied the beastly war. After introductory chapters, Tuchman describes in great detail the opening events of the conflict.

The war becomes a military history of the chief contestants, the great powers. Tuchman masterfully portrays this transition from the 19th to 20th Century, focusing on the turning point in 1914, the month leading up to the war and the first month of the war. With fine attention, she reveals how and why the war started, and why it could have been stopped but wasn't. She also includes the discussion of the plans, strategies, world events, and international sentiments before and during the conflagration, managing to make the story utterly suspenseful even when we already know the outcome.


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