The best books on war

The Books I Picked & Why

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

By Dave Grossman

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Why this book?

This book is about the psychological cost of learning to kill and the act of killing. What is the psychological difference between lobbing a mortar over a mountain versus putting a knife in someone's gut? It is huge. The author is a warrior who has fought and he writes in-depth about the psychological ramifications of these actions.

I gave this book to my son when he was young, I think this is an important read for everyone because as humans we are killing, we are fighting, and we are committing acts of violence all over the world. This book is brilliant. 


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Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel

By Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel

Why this book?

Kurt Vonnegut’s short masterpiece is a must-read for those who want to understand the insanity of war and also for those who want to study how to write a great book. Everyone needs to read this book, it is ridiculous... the different levels, the characters, what it means... all in only 150 pages. 

Kurt was in Dresden when it was firebombed during World War 2 and this book is 25 years of work to communicate the trauma and horror of that experience. He uses science fiction techniques, insane humor, and you need to read this book. This is about the best book I've ever read. 


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The Best and the Brightest

By David Halberstam

The Best and the Brightest

Why this book?

David Halberstam documents how fools go to war. This book is about the whiz kids that got us into the Vietnam war and ran it under the JFK and the Johnson administrations. The same ones who got us into the Iraq War, the Spanish American War, and so on. There is a quote that I love from this book that effectively says, "they used brilliant policies that defied common sense." And, that sums this all up. These whiz kids ran a war as if it was part of American politics and from thousands of miles away with memos and meetings in DC. They completely screwed it up.

David Halberstam was a correspondent in Saigon and knew these insiders. He wrote about the decision-making that was happening behind closed doors that led to one of our greatest follies. He is a master storyteller and I strongly recommend this book. 


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Tarawa: The Incredible Story of One of World War II's Bloodiest Battles

By Robert Sherrod

Tarawa: The Incredible Story of One of World War II's Bloodiest Battles

Why this book?

This is the best book on the Pacific campaign in World War 2. Tarawa was a small island the USA wanted to build a landing strip on and the Japanese put 5,000 soldiers in elaborate well built bunkers to defend it. Robert was a war correspondent who was on the beach for the invasion. You are right there with him as he is huddled in fear behind a burned-out tank during the landing. You can feel the bullets pinging near your head and see the dead all around you.

It was a massacre. It started with a rare low tide that prevented the landing craft from reaching the beach. The American troops had to wade through the water while Japanese machine guns raked them. The water turned red with American blood. Robert was there for everything and wrote it all. Even the aftermath as he surveyed the scene with the "victorious" American general. Read this book. 


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Sun Tzu's The Art of War

By Sun Tzu, Lionel Giles

Sun Tzu's The Art of War

Why this book?

This book is about the art of war, the artistry of war, and the thinking behind war. In The Best And The Brightest David Halberstam documents how the people running the Vietnam War had no grasp of what war was. And, they were going up against Ho Chi Minh who translated this book from Chinese to Vietnamese and ingrained the concepts into his soldiers. 

The Americans had all the technology and industry that was possible during this era. They had machine guns, bombs, aircraft, and helicopters. They were building ports, warehouses, flying over ping pong tables, ice-cold Coca Cola machines, whatever they wanted. And, nobody was thinking about war. They were thinking logically and that all these mechanical things were going to win the war. On the other side, the Vietnamese had this book. They studied this book and they lived this book. I was interviewing a 67-year-old member of the Vietnamese army and at 15 he was absorbing the lessons from this book. 


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