The best non-fiction books about US special operations at war

Robert Patrick Lewis Author Of Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.
By Robert Patrick Lewis

Who am I?

I’m a former Green Beret and combat veteran of OIF (Iraq), OEF (Afghanistan), and OEF-TS (North Africa). My first unit within Special Forces is the oldest within SF, and as such, I had the opportunity to work alongside some legends amongst men, people who were there in the early days of Special Operations. After leaving Special Forces I have written three published Special Operations-focused books, both fiction and non-fiction, which has led to a life of studying everything there is to know about Special Operations, the intelligence behind wars, and the history of both.

I wrote...

Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

By Robert Patrick Lewis,

Book cover of Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

What is my book about?

The life story of a troublesome youth who grows up and finds his way into the US Army Special Forces to join the fight against terrorism post-9/11. Love Me When I’m Gone follows one Green Beret as he serves his nation in Iraq, Afghanistan (where he earns the Purple Heart & Bronze Star), and North Africa, all while trying to maintain a working relationship with his high school sweetheart and the love of his life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

Why did I love this book?

Books that tell the story of Special Operations soldiers fighting in the Global War on Terror typically focus all of their efforts on adrenaline, explosions, the men, and the teams. While those are all critical elements and essential to the stories, most of them leave out one of the most crucial factors to keeping Special Operations troops in the fight.

In Special Forces, we had many sayings, but one of the most important was, if momma ain’t happy, Joe ain’t happy.” 

All active duty soldiers engaged in war, even we Special Operators, depend on our families to keep us going. These may be the details required to keep the household running, keeping the family happy, healthy & fed (as nearly all Special Operators are extremely family-oriented), but also to be the rocks that we can fall back on when needed, the support to keep us pushing forward, and the thing that we are willing to give everything to protect.

American Sniper is one of the few that tells that side of the story as well, with the intense strain that is put on families and relationships due to the massive OPTEMPO that modern Special Operations soldiers face. If you want to know the true story and tolls taken by the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), the families’ stories are essential.

By Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked American Sniper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle tells the story of his legendary career, from 1999-2009, during which time he recorded the most confirmed sniper kills (officially a record 155, though the real number is even much higher) in the history of the United States military, any branch, from 1776 to present. Nicknamed The Legend by his fellow SEALS, Kyle's service in Iraq and Afghanistan earned him seven medals for bravery, including two Silver Stars. With the pacing of thriller, "American Sniper" vividly recounts Chief Kyle's experiences at key battles, including the March on Baghdad (beginning of Iraq War), Fallujah, Ramadi,…

Book cover of Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the Cia's Key Field Commander

Why did I love this book?

The world of Special Operations is typically classified and shrouded in secrecy, for good reason. There are many major, society-changing events that people never truly learn the full story behind due to the need for secrecy or participants who remain tight-lipped until their dying days out of force of habit.

In Jawbreaker, author Ralph Pezzullo was given unparalleled access to the men who were first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11, including the man who ran the CIA’s clandestine fight against Al Qaeda and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

You don’t know anything about the beginning of what became a twenty-year war until you’ve read this book.

By Gary Berntsen, Ralph Pezzullo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Jawbreaker Gary Berntsen, until recently one of the CIA’s most decorated officers, comes out from under cover for the first time to describe his no-holds-barred pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

With his unique mix of clandestine knowledge and paramilitary training, Berntsen represents the new face of counterterrorism. Recognized within the agency for his aggressiveness, Berntsen, when dispatched to Afghanistan, made annihilating the enemy his job description.

As the CIA’s key commander coordinating the fight against the Taliban forces around Kabul, and the drive toward Tora Bora, Berntsen not only led dozens of CIA and Special Operations Forces,…

Book cover of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

Why did I love this book?

No matter how much of a junkie you think you are about Special Operations and our history, you don’t know anything about where modern American spycraft and Special Ops came from unless you’ve studied Wild Bill Donovan and his creation, The Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

To truly understand the present, you must first understand the past. If you consider yourself a student or fan of Special Operations, read this book to learn more about the man, and his baby that eventually led to both the US Army Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency.

By Douglas Waller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wild Bill Donovan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Entertaining history…Donovan was a combination of bold innovator and imprudent rule bender, which made him not only a remarkable wartime leader but also an extraordinary figure in American history” (The New York Times Book Review).

He was one of America’s most exciting and secretive generals—the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still intensely debated, “Wild Bill” Donovan was director of the Office of Strategic Services (the country’s first national intelligence agency) and the father of today’s CIA. Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on…

Book cover of Zero Footprint: The True Story of a Private Military Contractor's Covert Assignments in Syria, Libya, and the World's Most Dangerous Places

Why did I love this book?

Many Americans who follow geopolitics, the military, or our nation’s involvement in the Global War on Terror know that Private Military Contractors (PMCs) have become a way in which much of these covert and clandestine wars are fought. Even those who know that PMCs exist don’t know much about the types of missions they do, the types of people who staff these outfits, and the places that they’ve been in modern military history.

Zero Footprint chronicles the exploits of one British citizen on his path from a member of the heralded British Tier 1 unit The Special Air Service (SAS). The book follows his life from what he thought was a career-ending injury that led to his being on the frontlines of every major engagement in the clandestine Global War on Terror. This guy was even in Benghazi the night of the famed “13 hours” attack, and this book gives his frontline insights into who and what he believes were truly behind it.

By Simon Chase, Ralph Pezzullo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zero Footprint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This national bestseller is a dramatic insider account of the world of private military contracting.

Armored cars, burner phones, top-notch weaponry and top-secret missions -- this is the life of today's private military contractor. Like author Simon Chase, many PMCs were once the world's top military operatives, and since retiring from outfits like US Navy SEAL TEAM Six and the UK's Special Boat Service, they have devoted their lives to executing sensitive and hazardous missions overseas.

Working at the request of U.S. and British government entities as well as for private clients, he takes on jobs that require "zero footprint,"…

Book cover of Killer Elite: Completely Revised and Updated: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team

Why did I love this book?

Although they once hoped to remain as eternally clandestine and unknown units, the famed Delta Force and Seal Team 6 had their covers blown and have now been memorialized in various books, movies, and television shows. There are still units within the Special Operations and Clandestine Services worlds that remain shrouded in mystery, though, which is exactly how they like it.

This book walks you through the history, jobs, and some of the high-profile missions of one of these such units, once known simply as “The Activity.” A unit so secret that they changed their official unit name every 30 days, their soldiers do not wear uniforms, and who performs the types of missions that everyone hopes are being conducted but nobody knows who has the capabilities to do so. 

This book is the perfect representation of the pinnacle of intelligence, strength, and bravery that exists within the US Special Operations community, and the lengths to which Americans will go to protect all that they hold dear.

By Michael Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Killer Elite as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America's most secret Special Forces unit does not even have a name. Formed as the 'Intelligence Support Activity', it has had a succession of innocuous titles to hide its ferocious purpose. It exists to 'undertake activities only when other intelligence or operational support elements are unavailable or inappropriate'. Translated from Pentagon-speak, this means operating undercover in the world's most dangerous places, penetrating enemy organizations including Al Qa'eda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. 'The Activity' combines the spy work of the CIA with the commando/SAS role of the Green Berets. It not only provides the intelligence on the ground - it translates…

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