The best books that show a man is no more, or less, than the sum of his choices

Who am I?

I heard a Jordan Peterson interview in which he boiled down my entire life’s struggle in a single phrase.  The interviewer was pushing Jordon on the subject of male toxicity. Jordon said something like, “If a man is entirely unwilling to fight under any circumstance, he is merely a weakling. Ask in martial arts trainer and they will tell you they teach two things – the ability to fight and self-control. A man who knows how and also knows how to control himself is a man.”

I wrote...

Non-Semper Fidelis

By Sam Foster,

Book cover of Non-Semper Fidelis

What is my book about?

Non-Semper Fidelis is set in the USMC during the Vietnam era. The novel is about race in the USMC during a period when all of America was in flames after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

The Marine Corp is an organization run, and run with the efficiency of a precision machine, based on adherence to a strict code of conduct enforced by not only demanding leadership but the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The code is not designed to flex with the morality of the moment, even when that moment is one of the greatest social changes in American history. The struggle is reflected in two men’s attempt to maintain a personal code of honor and still adhere to the UCMJ. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of From Here to Eternity

Sam Foster Why did I love this book?

James Jones's brilliant debut novel must have had a great effect on me because I admit, in many ways, my book covers the same ground – how does a man maintain honor and dignity when constrained to live his life by the choices of other, and much more powerful men? I suppose the difference between our two themes is that the question in my book is about those same choices but wrapped in the question of race. Jones’s characters, while in the military, were dealing with personal issues. My Corporal Buck is dealing with an issue about which all of America is on fire.

From Here to Eternity is 70 years old. I read it in 1969, an eternity ago and it has lasted with me from there to here.  When I was in the Marine Corps I knew everything that was happening to me. But I didn’t know what it meant. It has taken me most of a lifetime to come to understand. If my novel helps one man come to understand his own demons of struggling to match his morals against the demands of his world, then I will have given a worthwhile gift. But if he merely enjoys watching someone else play it out, that will be enough.

By James Jones,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked From Here to Eternity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I'll never understand the fucking Army.'

Prew won't conform. He could have been the best boxer and the best bugler in his division, but he chooses the life of a straight soldier in Hawaii under the fierce tutelage of Sergeant Milt Warden. When he refuses to box for his company for mysterious reasons, he is given 'The Treatment', a relentless campaign of physical and mental abuse. Meanwhile, Warden wages his own campaign against authority by seducing the Captain's wife Karen - just because he can. Both men are bound to the Army, even though it may destroy them.

Published here…

Book cover of The Odyssey

Sam Foster Why did I love this book?

I think, in truth, that while I love the translation, it is really Homer and the understanding he has given me of the society that came to create all we think of as “Western Thought.” Odysseus was a man from whom I have learned much about being a man. Alone, cut off from all his companions he struggled for ten years and against obstacles thrown at him by the gods – ok, one god – armed with only his wit, cunning, and courage. And no matter what was thrown at him, he struggled and never gave up. And in the end his perseverance led him to be wrapped in the arms of all his loved and held dear.

By Homer, T. E. Lawrence (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Homer's great epic, The Odyssey, is perhaps Western literature's first adventure story, and certainly remains one of its finest. It describes King Odysseus of Ithaca's epic, ten-year quest to return home after the Trojan War. He encounters giants, sorceresses, sea-monsters and sirens, while his wife Penelope is forced to resist the suitors who besiege her on Ithaca. Both an enchanting fairy tale and a gripping drama, The Odyssey is immensely influential, not least for its rich complexity and the magnetism of its hero.

This Macmillan Collector's Library edition uses a translation by T. E. Lawrence, now remembered as 'Lawrence of…

Book cover of The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great

Sam Foster Why did I love this book?

As a teenager Alexander, to become The Great, is given to one of his father’s warriors – Telamon – to go on a life-threatening winter wolf hunt. A risk of building character and spirit his father is willing to take.  Later in life, during Alexander’s conquest, Telemon never wishes to rise above a colonel’s rank. He wants to remain in the midst of the fighting.  

When Alexander finally departs India to end his conquests Telamon leaves him to go off with a group of monks. When Alexander asks why that choice Telamon responds, “I schooled you as a boy Alexander, to be superior to fear and anger. You vanquished hardship and hunger and cold and fatigue. But you have not learned to master your victories. These hold you. You are their slave.” What more can a man learn from a book?

As for my liking this book, Pressfield is one of my favorite authors and this one of my favorites among his books. Why? How does any man who states that what defines a man is his choices not like a book where one of the lead characters is transformed, transformed from a man who is transformed from one who wishes to conquer other men to one who wishes to conquer himself.

By Steven Pressfield,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Virtues of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. So begins Alexander’s extraordinary confession on the eve of his greatest crisis of leadership. By turns heroic and calculating, compassionate and utterly merciless, Alexander recounts with a warrior’s unflinching eye for detail the blood, the terror, and the tactics of his greatest battlefield victories. Whether surviving his father’s brutal assassination, presiding over a massacre, or weeping at the death of a beloved comrade-in-arms, Alexander never denies the hard realities of the code by which he lives: the virtues of war. But as much as he was feared by…

Book cover of Valdez Is Coming

Sam Foster Why did I love this book?

Valdez is a humble and quiet Hispanic living in a Texas border town in the 1870s. When a hand riding with the most powerful rancher in the valley inadvertently kills a man, Valdez assumes responsibility of asking the rancher to pay a remittance to the widow. For his trouble he’s beaten almost to death. When he recovers Valdez becomes again the man he was in his youth, a US Army scout and sets out to destroy the rancher.  He kills one of the ranches thugs with a shot at 1,000 yards.  

Valdez is finally captured by the rancher’s hands. The foreman looks at Valdez’s rifle and, knowing what he’s seeing, asks, “Buffalo hunter?” Valdez responds, “No, Apache.” The foreman asks, “When?” Valdez’s response marks him as a man who has learned and earned wisdom. “Before I knew better.”

If you wonder why this book has stayed with me for so many years, read my opening statement and Jordon Peterson’s comment. Valdez is a man who was of violence but has come to conquer his own emotions and become a man of quiet stillness. But that does not mean he does not know how to fight. He does that as well as knowing when.

By Elmore Leonard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

No writer chronicles the battles of misfits, underdogs and renegades like Elmore Leonard ...

VALDEZ IS COMING is a stunning stale of morality and justice in which a simple, honest man is transformed into a killer - and begins a long journey of revenge against those who scarred his soul for ever.

Elmore Leonard's Western novels stand as some of the most vivid writing of his career. With all of his trademark sharp dialogue and set against a beautifully evoked landscape, this is a classic work that captures the wild and glorious spirit of the American West.

Book cover of King Rat

Sam Foster Why did I love this book?

James Clavell’s first book, King Rat, is the story of allied servicemen trapped by the Japanese in Singapore at the beginning of World War II and held captive for the duration in the infamous Changi prison. The captured consisted of some 10,000 men made up of a British regiment, a few Australian companies, and one small American platoon. After three years of brutal, virtually starvation conditions even the British Commanding General was reduced to a uniform of nothing more than rags. Only one prisoner, an American Corporal, had lost no weight, wore a freshly pressed uniform and spit-shined shoes every day. With physical courage and an understanding of human weaknesses and breaking points he dominated all the other prisoners and many of the guards as well. When the camp was liberated he was the only man among the survivors who left without one friend. Why? The key to both his dominant position and his complete human isolation was the same. His choices.

Watching two men who come from very different worlds – a patrician Englishman and a man who grew up tough in Brooklyn, make choices that not only bring them together but keep them alive in some of the harshest circumstances a man is called on to bare – what could be a more exciting adventure than that.

By James Clavell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set in Changi, the most notorious prisoner of war camp in Asia, King Rat is an heroic story of survival told by a master story-teller who lived through those years as a young soldier. Only one man in fifteen had the strength, the luck, and the cleverness simply to survive Changi. And then there was King.

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The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

By Susan Rowland,

Book cover of The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

Susan Rowland Author Of The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Part-time celt Modern alchemist Myth hunter Jungian

Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A traditional mystery with a touch of cozy, The Alchemy Fire Murder is for those who like feisty women sleuths, Oxford Colleges, alchemy, strong characters, and real concerns like trafficking, wildfires, racism, and climate change. This book especially works for those fascinated by myth and witches in history. Read for a seventeenth-century alchemist in Connecticut, a lost alchemy scroll stuck in a California Museum, and a blizzard in Los Angeles.

Murder ensues when an intern is attacked after making a momentous discovery with Mary Wandwalker, an inexperienced detective commissioned to recover the treasure vital to the survival of her Oxford college, St Julian’s. When the young man’s brother is falsely accused, Mary has to step in.

The Alchemy Fire Murder: a Mary Wandwalker Mystery

By Susan Rowland,

What is this book about?

Former Archivist Mary Wandwalker hates bringing bad news. Nevertheless, she confirms to her alma mater that their prized medieval alchemy scroll, is, in fact, a seventeenth century copy. She learns that the original vanished to colonial Connecticut with alchemist, Robert Le More. Later the genuine scroll surfaces in Los Angeles. Given that the authentic artifact is needed for her Oxford college to survive, retrieving it is essential.

Mary agrees to get the real scroll back as part of a commission for her three-person Enquiry Agency. However, tragedy strikes in Los Angeles. Before Mary can legally obtain the scroll, a young…

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