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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

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

Why 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.


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

By Gary Berntsen, Ralph Pezzullo,

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

Why 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.


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

By Douglas Waller,

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

Why 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.


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

By Simon Chase, Ralph Pezzullo,

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 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.


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

By Michael Smith,

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

Why 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.


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