The best books that provide a unique insight into military history

Duncan Falconer Author Of First into Action
By Duncan Falconer

Who am I?

I must be something of a specialist on the impact of conventional and guerrilla warfare on the civilian population. Truth is, leaving school, I never intended to have anything to do with war beyond the books I enjoyed reading. On leaving the military in my 30s I employed the only skills I had and managed organisations and mostly news teams operating in conflict zones all over the world. I matured into a crisis manager, responding and consulting to crisis situations such as kidnap & ransoms, and evacuations from conflict zones. Most of the characters in my books are real, good and bad, taken from the vast theatre of my own experiences. 

I wrote...

First into Action

By Duncan Falconer,

Book cover of First into Action

What is my book about?

A dramatic personal account of life inside the UK's Special Boat Service. The memoir describes how Duncan Falconer joined the Royal Marines and, due to a series of unusual events, on completion of his Commando course, was sent to the SBS HQ in Poole to take part in the gruelling selection process along with 150 other Marines. Falconer was not expected to last a week. Three months later, on completion of the course, and along with just 8 other men, he was accepted into the ranks of the SBS, the youngest ever to join the unit in the modern era. First Into Action is packed with, often sad, sometimes hilarious, anecdotes of his life and times in the service.  

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Decisive Battles of the Western World and Their Influence Upon History

By J. F. C. Fuller, John Terraine,

Book cover of The Decisive Battles of the Western World and Their Influence Upon History

Why this book?

I read this book when I was 16 years old. It was my first military history book and I could not put it down. Up until then I had only read military fiction: War and Peace, Ben Hur – the bigger the books the better. What captivated me most about Fuller's 2 volumes was the battles he chose to describe, starting with Salamis in 480BC, had the outcomes been different the course of world history would have changed significantly. The world in which we live in today would not be the same. This only served to intensify my interest in the detailed descriptions and at the end of each battle I'd try and imagine how history might have been impacted had the outcomes been reversed. 

Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion

By Susan Travers, Wendy Holden,

Book cover of Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion

Why this book?

This is the remarkable, true story about an upper-class English woman, Susan Travers, who was chauffeur to French General Pierre Koenig during his North Africa campaign leading the Free French Foreign Legion while attached to the British 8th Army. Koenig became famous for holding out against German General Erwin Rommel at the battle of Bir Hakiem. Susan chose to remain at Bir Hakiem when all other women had been evacuated. At the height of the battle, running out of ammunition, Koenig ordered the evacuation and she drove him through machine-gun fire and a minefield, spearheading the hair-raising escape for the 3,000 soldiers. Susan was my friend and I was the first person to whom she revealed her secret love affair with Koenig, the basis of this book.

The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

By Christopher Andrew,

Book cover of The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

Why this book?

My line of work has only enhanced my fascination with spies and spying. Espionage was on the periphery of my world and I was privy, on occasion, to snippets of information that shed light on certain events. Reading this book was like being privy to a host of secrets, many during my own era. How fascinating to be taken through the history of espionage from biblical times until today. The author reveals missing pieces to many significant moments in history, where monumental decisions were made based on information bought and sold, died for, killed for, stolen, or extracted by torture or coercion. Equally fascinating is how so much of that information was misinterpreted, denied, ignored, inflated, or simply misplaced. Great battles were won and lost, kingdoms toppled, fortunes spent and made, often based on a single snippet of information.

Churchill's Most Secret 001: The Life Story of Commander Harold Wilkinson Goulding

By Jill Goulding,

Book cover of Churchill's Most Secret 001: The Life Story of Commander Harold Wilkinson Goulding

Why this book?

Henry Goulding was commander of the WW2 Special Boat Service. There is a dark, incomplete story here. The real drama is hidden between the lines and yet to be proven. Henry Goulding was a friend of Churchill, accomplished spy, fiercely patriotic, yet he did something out of character when he hid a briefcase packed with top-secret documents in his attic. He was summoned to a hospital in Scotland, despite being fit and healthy, escaped after a scuffle, telephoned his wife, was returned to the hospital where he died shortly after, apparently of natural causes. His medical records have never been released. I was contacted by his granddaughter, who years later found the briefcase, and asked if I might write a more detailed book tackling the mystery behind his death, a book begun by Sir Paddy Ashdown who died before completing a chapter. 

This book is currently out of print.

The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine

By Miko Peled,

Book cover of The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine

Why this book?

My first encounter with Israeli soldiers was in Ramallah during the second intifada. I was alone on the road late one night after curfew when a dozen Israeli soldiers, sons of Russian immigrants, dragged me from my vehicle and put a pistol to my head in a mock execution for their entertainment. My impression of Israeli soldiers was never great after that. Years later I met Miko Peled after reading his book about his time in the Israeli defence force and his relationship with his father, a highly decorated Israeli general who turned from hawk to dove in search of peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. Miko took up the same struggle after his father's death. We have so far, without success, tried to make a movie of that family struggle.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the French Foreign Legion, MI5, and Palestine?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the French Foreign Legion, MI5, and Palestine.

The French Foreign Legion Explore 12 books about the French Foreign Legion
MI5 Explore 12 books about MI5
Palestine Explore 28 books about Palestine

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Soviet Espionage, The Outsider, and Spy Chiefs if you like this list.