The best books on military tactical thinking

Charles Oliviero Author Of Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics
By Charles Oliviero

Who am I?

I spent 40 years as a soldier studying war. After graduation from Royal Military College, I joined the Armoured Corps. Throughout history, we have regaled each other with stories of war. From Greek myths to Norse sagas to modern movies, we cannot seem to get enough of war stories. And yet, we know that war is inherently a bad idea. It is evil. It is a form of collective madness. War is destructive and cruel, unworthy of our better selves. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, war breaks the bonds of our affection and does not speak to our better angels. I study it in order to better understand this madness.


I wrote...

Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics

By Charles Oliviero,

Book cover of Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics

What is my book about?

Pundits have long predicted the end of conventional warfare, but it is here to stay. Counterinsurgency, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, peace enforcement, policing duties, all of these forms, like conventional warfare, are as old as mankind. Modern militaries claim that they are professional bodies, responsible to teach, control and discipline their members. But at least one aspect of this claim is poorly executed: tactics are not taught to junior leaders, which is why Praxis Tacticum is essential reading for all junior officers and NCOs.

There is an old military adage that there is no teacher like the enemy. It is a truism, but before that dreadful reality, the wise commander will prepare to meet that enemy and become the teacher and not the student.

The books I picked & why

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The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries

By Sun Tzu, Thomas Cleary,

Book cover of The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries

Why this book?

I recommend this book because it is not only the oldest military book known, but also a foundational text. It is short, simple to read, and can be understood at multiple levels from absolute novice to grand strategist. It is a compilation of aphorisms and stories intended to give the reader an insight into the nature of war. To stay with the Chinese theme, Lao Tzu reputedly said that the journey of a thousand li (miles) begins with a single step. This book is that step.


The Defence of Duffer's Drift

By Ernest Dunlop Swinton,

Book cover of The Defence of Duffer's Drift

Why this book?

Swinton was a British Army Royal Engineer who developed the battle tank. He writes an insightful and often humorous account of the young Subaltern, Lieutenant Backsight-Forethought, who during a series of fitful dreams, repeatedly gets everyone under his command killed. Ultimately, (through multiple failed lives lived) he learns enough about small-unit infantry fighting tactics to successfully defend the fictional Duffer’s Drift during the Boer War. Although Captain (later Major General) Swinton published it as a fictional tale, his aim was to teach tactical lessons and to generate discussion and debate among Subalterns.


Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas

By John Masters,

Book cover of Bugles and a Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas

Why this book?

John Masters grippingly tells of his life as a newly commissioned Subaltern in a Gurkha regiment, warts, and all. This book is especially valuable to new infantry platoon commanders, or anyone interested in the challenges of leading at the lowest levels. Masters is a consummate storyteller who takes the reader along with him in his personal journey of discovery as he learns about life, leadership, and the nature of war.


Achtung-Panzer! The Development of Tank Warfare

By Heinz Guderian,

Book cover of Achtung-Panzer! The Development of Tank Warfare

Why this book?

Guderian, a name that is synonymous with mechanized warfare started his career as a Signal Officer in WW I. He describes in great detail how the tank changed modern warfare. This book is not only the tale of how he fought to introduce armour tactics to the German army during the inter-war years but also how armour is best employed in battle. Every armour officer must read this book; but it is also worthwhile for the general reader looking for insights into tactical employments, leadership, and history.


The Art of War in Western World

By Archer Jones,

Book cover of The Art of War in Western World

Why this book?

If you are to be a serious student of war, warfare, and tactics, then you will need a general reference guide. This book should be your go-to reference for general knowledge on this subject. Jones elegantly combines three major components of war (tactics, strategy, and logistics) to explain the last 2,500 years of military history, from phalanxes in ancient Greece through to the Thirty Years’ War that shaped modern Europe. Well written and thoroughly researched, I have kept it on my desk for the last thirty years.


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