The best books about the exorbitant cost of America’s War in Iraq

Who am I?

I am a retired Army officer who served in a tank unit in Operation Desert Storm. After that war, I became convinced that the future of warfare looked more like America’s experience in Vietnam than like the war in which I had just fought. I taught at West Point and then served in another tank unit early in the war in Iraq before being sent to the Pentagon where I helped Generals David Petraeus and Jim Mattis write the Army and Marine Corps doctrine for counterinsurgency campaigns. I am now studying and teaching about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a professor at the U.S. Army War College.  


I wrote...

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

By John A. Nagl,

Book cover of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

What is my book about?

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife compares the course of the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 with the Vietnam War from 1950 to 1975. Both of these long campaigns demanded that foreign armies adapt to meet the demands of insurgencies with complicated strategies that incorporate politics, economics, information warfare, and training foreign armies and police forces. The British were more effective at this series of tasks in Malaya than was the American Army in Vietnam, with tragic results for America, Vietnam, and all of Southeast Asia. I closed the book by arguing that future American enemies were likely to fight us as terrorists and insurgents and that we needed to prepare for that kind of war.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

John A. Nagl Why did I love this book?

Packer examines why the United States invaded Iraq without a just cause and without a plan for what to do once it succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein. He explains the critical first few months of the war that set the course for everything that followed in a searing examination of America’s extraordinary hubris in the “War on Terror.” What sets Packer’s work apart is his ability to explain events in the White House and Pentagon and tie them to their bitter denouement on the streets of Baghdad. He tells the story of a big war of choice gone badly wrong before the first shots were fired. 

By George Packer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post Book World, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, USA Today, Time, and New York magazine.

Winner of the Overseas Press Club’s Cornelius Ryan Award for Best Nonfiction Book on International Affairs

Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing…


Book cover of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War

John A. Nagl Why did I love this book?

The insurgents of the title are a group of military officers, many of whom had taught at West Point’s Department of Social Sciences, who attempted to help the Army and the nation come to terms with the war in Iraq. Ironically, most had been opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003; nonetheless, they worked with great urgency to understand the conflict and produce better policies to minimize the suffering and harm to U.S. interests it caused. The team, led by Army General David Petraeus and Marine General James Mattis, created the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual that Petraeus implemented when he took command of the Iraq war effort in 2007, changing the course of the war and America’s understanding of the future of conflict.

By Fred Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE INSURGENTS unfolds against the backdrop of two wars waged against insurgencies-- wars which the Pentagon's top generals didn't know how to fight. But a small group of soldiers and scholars did have a plan for fighting these kinds of wars, people like General David Petraeus and Colonels John Nagl, David Kilcullen, and H.R. McMaster. In order to push the idea of "counterinsurgency" warfare, they behaved like insurgents within their own army-and very self-consciously so. Fred Kaplan explains where this idea came from, and how the men and women who latched onto this idea created a community (some would refer…


Book cover of The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual

John A. Nagl Why did I love this book?

Military doctrine is rarely particularly enthralling reading. However, this manual, published by the University of Chicago Press, was featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It provided a road map for General Petraeus to follow on the ground in Iraq with its focus on creating an Army that could learn and adapt while protecting the population rather than creating more insurgents with excessive violence. For more than two centuries, the Army’s missions had been “Attack” and “Defend”; this book added “Protect,” making it perhaps the most important Army doctrinal manual since the end of the Cold War.

By United States Army,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the U.S. military invaded Iraq, it lacked a common understanding of the problems inherent in counterinsurgency campaigns. It had neither studied them, nor developed doctrine and tactics to deal with them. It is fair to say that in 2003, most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than about counterinsurgency. This volume was written to fill that void. The result of unprecedented collaboration among top U.S. military experts, scholars, and practitioners in the field, the manual espouses an approach to combat that emphasizes constant adaptation and learning, the importance of decentralized decision making, the need to understand…


Book cover of You Know When the Men Are Gone

John A. Nagl Why did I love this book?

Wars change the societies in which they are fought, but they also profoundly affect the home front. Fallon’s collection of short stories examines the impact of the war in Iraq on America with a particular focus on the families of those serving in America’s most complicated and divisive war since Vietnam. You Know When the Men are Gone is honest, empathetic, and informed by the experience of being the wife of a soldier deployed in harm’s way, when every phone call or knock on the door causes your heart to stop. Even if they come home physically unharmed by war, all is not necessarily well.

By Siobhan Fallon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You Know When the Men Are Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Gripping, straight-up, no-nonsense stories about American soldiers and their families. . . simple, tough, and true.”—The New York Times

“Prose that's brave and honest.”—People

“Terrific. . . and terrifically illuminating.”—The Washington Post

An award-winning story collection from the author of The Confusion of Languages.

Through fiction of dazzling skill and astonishing emotional force, Siobhan Fallon welcomes readers into the American army base at Fort Hood, Texas, where U.S. soldiers prepare to fight, and where their families are left to cope after the men are gone. They’ll meet a wife who discovers unsettling secrets when she hacks into her husband’s email,…


Book cover of Thank You for Your Service

John A. Nagl Why did I love this book?

A sequel to The Good Soldiers, which told the story of an infantry battalion through some of the bloodiest fighting of the war during the “Surge” in Baghdad, David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service follows the soldiers on their return to the United States. All are marked forever by the experience of combat; many have devastating physical wounds while others struggle mentally and emotionally with what they have seen and done at their country’s call. Life after war can be harder than life in war, and Finkel unpacks how and why with an unsparing but compassionate eye. This book should be read by every politician with responsibility for sending troops to combat—before they start America’s next war.

By David Finkel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thank You for Your Service as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No journalist is better situated to reckon with the psychology of war than New York Times bestselling author David Finkel. In Thank You for Your Service he weaves a masterly, compelling narrative out of the troubling stories of a US infantry battalion as they return home from Iraq and attempt to survive peace.

Finkel writes frankly and compassionately about the soldiers, and about their partners and children: the heartbroken wife who wonders privately whether her returned husband is going to get better, or kill her; and the heroic victims, with the fresh taste of gunmetal in their mouths, who will…


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Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

By Jennifer Silva Redmond,

Book cover of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

Jennifer Silva Redmond Author Of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Writer of Memoir Editor of everything Sailor of Seas Daily Dog Walker Intrepid Traveler

Jennifer's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Jennifer Shea married Russel Redmond, they made a decision to spend their honeymoon at sea, sailing in Mexico. The voyage tested their new relationship, not just through rocky waters and unexpected weather, but in all the ways that living on a twenty-six-foot sailboat make one reconsider what's truly important.

In this charming, meditative memoir, the couple sails to Baja's Sea of Cortez, where they spend twelve months before sailing south and through the Panama Canal. Jennifer's unique experience on the boat weaves through time, from her bohemian 1960s childhood to being a struggling actor in New York.

Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

By Jennifer Silva Redmond,

What is this book about?

When Jennifer Shea married Russel Redmond, they made a decision to spend their honeymoon at sea, sailing in Mexico. The voyage tested their new relationship, not just through rocky waters and unexpected weather, but in all the ways that living on a twenty-six-foot sailboat make one reconsider what's truly important.

In this charming, meditative memoir, Jennifer recounts that fateful first year, moving back and forth with the currents of her life. On their voyage, the couple sailed Watchfire to Baja California's Sea of Cortez, where they spent twelve months before sailing south along Mexico and Central America and through the…


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Interested in the Iraq War, Iraq, and insurgency?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Iraq War, Iraq, and insurgency.

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