The best books on mutiny, and how to lead or avoid them

Why am I passionate about this?

My academic writing is focused on leadership, and leading mutinies is probably the most dangerous thing any leader can do: the chances of success are slim and the likelihood of the leaders surviving even a successful mutiny are negligible. So why do it? The book suggests an answer through a typology of dissent that is rooted in the environment mutineers find themselves in, but that still doesn’t explain by very similar conditions generate very different outcomes. To explain that I turned to two ideas: the importance of the moral economy and the role of the puer robustus – the inveterate recalcitrant who takes it upon themselves to resolve the despotic situation.

I wrote...

Mutiny and Leadership

By Keith Grint,

Book cover of Mutiny and Leadership

What is my book about?

Whenever leadership emerges within a group, there will be resistance to that leadership. What, then, turns discontent into mutiny? Mutiny is often associated with the occasional mis-leadership of the masses by politically inspired hotheads, or a spontaneous gesture of defiance against a uniquely overbearing military superior. In reality it is seldom either and usually has far more mundane origins, not in the absolute poverty of the subordinates but in the relative poverty of the relationships between leaders and the led in a military situation. The roots of mutiny lie in the leadership skills of a small number of leaders, and what transforms that into a constructive dialogue, or a catastrophic disaster, depends on how the leaders of both sides mobilize their supporters and their networks.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857

Keith Grint Why did I love this book?

This is a multi-volume work that poses several questions surrounding the events of 1857. First, while the British called it a ‘mutiny’, the rebels were clear that their ‘rebellion’ was as much to do with freeing the country from the British colonial power as it was to do with concerns about cultural taboos surrounding the use of animal fat in weapon cartridges. Second, the voices of the rebels/mutineers, for the first time, outnumber those of the colonial power. So often in mutinies we only hear the voices of the authorities, here we are surrounded by their opponents.

By Gavin Rand (editor), Crispin Bates (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mutiny at the Margins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Mutiny at the Margins series takes a fresh look at the Revolt of 1857 from a variety of original and unusual perspectives, focusing in particular on neglected socially marginal groups and geographic areas which have hitherto tended to be unrepresented in studies of this cataclysmic event in British imperial and Indian historiography.

Military Aspects of the Indian Uprising (Volume 4) deals with how battles were won and lost and how the army re-organised after the revolt. It also touches on the thorny issue of how to define the events of 1857-as a rebellion, a national uprising or a small…

Book cover of Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective

Keith Grint Why did I love this book?

This is the best collection for readers whose interests lie in the recent naval tradition of mutinies. It covers mutinies across the globe and includes some of the classic examples, such as the 1905 Battleship Potemkin, the 1931 Invergordon Royal Navy mutiny, and the 1944 Port Chicago mutiny. The first speaks to the importance of conditions on board ship, the second directly reflects the current wave of strikes in the UK, caused by the same phenomena: pay. The last is in a different category altogether and reminds us that mutinies are seldom isolated from their environment, indeed, the Port Chicago mutiny played a key role in the early post-war struggle for civil rights in the USA.

By Christopher Bell (editor), Bruce Elleman (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume brings together a set of scholarly, readable and up-to-date essays covering the most significant naval mutinies of the 20th century, including Russia (1905), Brazil (1910), Austria (1918), Germany (1918), France (1918-19), Great Britain (1931), Chile (1931), the United States (1944), India (1946), China (1949), Australia, and Canada (1949).

Each chapter addresses the causes of the mutiny in question, its long- and short-term repercussions, and the course of the mutiny itself. More generally, authors consider the state of the literature on their mutiny and examine significant historiographical issues connected with it, taking advantage of new research and new methodologies…

Book cover of Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty

Keith Grint Why did I love this book?

This is an unusual take on perhaps the best-known mutiny of them all: the mutiny on HMS Bounty. While most books on the topic focus on the conditions around the mutiny or the state of the relationship between Captain Bligh and the mutineers, especially Fletcher Christian, Denning takes the view of a cultural anthropologist and explores the language and theatrical performances of those involved and situates these against the historical context and the way that context – and therefore the accounts of the mutiny – shifted across time.

By Greg Dening,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mr Bligh's Bad Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Captain Bligh and the mutiny on the Bounty have become proverbial in their capacity to evoke the extravagant and violent abuse of power. But William Bligh was one of the least violent disciplinarians in the British navy. It is this paradox which inspired Greg Dening to ask why the mutiny took place. His book explores the theatrical nature of what was enacted in the power-play on deck, on the beaches at Tahiti and in the murderous settlement at Pitcairn, on the altar stones and temples of sacrifice, and on the catheads from which men were hanged. Part of the key…

Book cover of The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War

Keith Grint Why did I love this book?

The Christmas ‘Truce’ of December 1914 is both well-known and widely mythologized. What Crocker does is take the conventional account that insists on a sanitized and good-natured holiday break between warring nations, and subjects that narrative to a critical approach. This exposes a whole gamut of alternative understandings, including the way that the military establishments on both sides struggled to contain the dissent and fought hard to represent it, not as a mutiny, but as a mutual agreement between two chivalrous armies. 

By Terri Blom Crocker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Christmas Truce as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In late December 1914, German and British soldiers on the western front initiated a series of impromptu, unofficial ceasefires. Enlisted men across No Man's Land abandoned their trenches and crossed enemy lines to sing carols, share food and cigarettes, and even play a little soccer. Collectively known as the Christmas Truce, these fleeting moments of peace occupy a mythical place in remembrances of World War I. Yet new accounts suggest that the heartwarming tale ingrained in the popular imagination bears little resemblance to the truth.

In this detailed study, Terri Blom Crocker provides the first comprehensive analysis of both scholarly…

Book cover of Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny

Keith Grint Why did I love this book?

If ever there was a mutiny that road roughshod over the romantic assumptions that mutineers were the ‘better angels’ of these events, then the mutiny on the Batavia is it. In 1628 the largest ship owned by the Dutch East India Company during the Golden Age of the Netherlands is shipwrecked and taken over by Jeronimus Cornelisz and his gang of mutineers. They then establish a dystopian world on a deserted island and systematically murder many of those who survive before the last survivors are rescued. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it is an important warning for idealists and romantics.

By Mike Dash,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Batavia's Graveyard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of Tulipomania comes Batavia’s Graveyard, the spellbinding true story of mutiny, shipwreck, murder, and survival.

It was the autumn of 1628, and the Batavia, the Dutch East India Company’s flagship, was loaded with a king’s ransom in gold, silver, and gems for her maiden voyage to Java. The Batavia was the pride of the Company’s fleet, a tangible symbol of the world’s richest and most powerful commercial monopoly. She set sail with great fanfare, but the Batavia and her gold would never reach Java, for the Company had also sent along a new employee, Jeronimus Corneliszoon,…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

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What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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