The most recommended military history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 35 experts.

35 authors created a book list connected to military history, and here are their favorite military history books.
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Book cover of The Mexican National Army, 1822-1852

Stephen B. Neufeld Author Of The Blood Contingent: The Military and the Making of Modern Mexico, 1876–1911

From my list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history.

Who am I?

My passion for Mexican and military history came from many sources. Wandering in my 20s in Europe and Asia honed my appreciation for the historical experience. Good friends in the Canadian military made me curious about the odd rituals and strange subcultures they inhabited. As I moved from Calgary to Vancouver to Tucson I devolved from degree to degree, studying deviance, military history, Mexican culture, and finally finishing a dissertation that combined these elements into one work. And now I happily get to inflict all of this history on my students in California.  

Stephen's book list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history

Stephen B. Neufeld Why did Stephen love this book?

While maybe a bit conventional, this is one of very few military history books that gets deeply into the army during this incredibly turbulent period. De Palo provides a clear and well-researched study that is sure to appeal to specialists and armchair buffs. It is especially good at describing the strengths and limitations of the armed forces at this time. He offers a reliable reference for an era of revolving door presidencies, coups, and foreign invasions.

By William A. DePalo Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mexican National Army, 1822-1852 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The army of thirty-five thousand that engineered Mexico's independence was a melting pot of insurgent and royalist forces held together by the lure of rapid promotions and other military remuneration. Overwhelmed with internal threats such as Indian skirmishes and peasant uprisings, this poorly motivated, ill-trained army seldom enjoyed the respite, resources, or direction necessary to overcome challenges to territorial sovereignty posed by Spain, France, Texas, and the United States during Mexico's first three decades of nationhood. William A. DePalo, Jr., studies the birth and tumultuous adolescence of the Mexican National Army and examines how regional, social, political, and economic factors…


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

Duncan Falconer Author Of First into Action

From my list on providing a unique insight into military history.

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. 

Duncan's book list on providing a unique insight into military history

Duncan Falconer Why did Duncan love 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.

Book cover of The Iran-Iraq War

Kenneth M. Pollack Author Of Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness

From my list on Middle East military history.

Who am I?

After college I joined the CIA. They assigned me to the Iran-Iraq military account so I had a front-row seat for the Persian Gulf War. I went on to do two tours at the NSC and a quick stop at DoD in between, all working on Middle East political and security issues. I was unexpectedly thrown out by Bush II in 2001 and so had to flee to the think tank world. I’ve since written ten books on the political-military affairs of the Middle East and am now working on my eleventh, a history of the U.S. and Iraq since 1979 titled The Iraq Wars.

Kenneth's book list on Middle East military history

Kenneth M. Pollack Why did Kenneth love this book?

Wick Murray is one of America’s greatest military historians and Kevin Woods was the leader of the team sent by the U.S. government to exploit the documents and taped conversations captured by U.S. forces in Iraq after 2003. Murray was a key member of that team and they also interviewed many former Iraqi generals.  Finally, they also managed to unearth some Iranian accounts of the war—some from the Iraqi intelligence archives. Not surprisingly, this is a terrific account of the war, one that brings in all kinds of new material, especially from the Iraqi side. Their narrative description hits all of the key points of a very long, complex conflict, their insights and analysis are spot on, and the addition of the new material from the Iraqi side makes this the definitive work on the subject at least until comparable materials come to light from the Iranian side.

By Williamson Murray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Iran-Iraq War is one of the largest, yet least documented conflicts in the history of the Middle East. Drawing from an extensive cache of captured Iraqi government records, this book is the first comprehensive military and strategic account of the war through the lens of the Iraqi regime and its senior military commanders. It explores the rationale and decision-making processes that drove the Iraqis as they grappled with challenges that, at times, threatened their existence. Beginning with the bizarre lack of planning by the Iraqis in their invasion of Iran, the authors reveal Saddam's desperate attempts to improve the…


Book cover of Warfare: The Definitive Visual History

Jeremiah Ukponrefe Author Of Hive

From Jeremiah's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Fighter Reader Entrepreneur Creator Creative

Jeremiah's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jeremiah Ukponrefe Why did Jeremiah love this book?

Warfare tells a far greater story than most fiction that I’ve read, informing real-life strategies, battles, weapons, and characters across all human history and locations.

As a history lover, I enjoyed how Warfare provided a generous helping of detail in how war is handled through different time periods. Telling of strategies, politics, weapons, and the people that shaped history's greatest battles.

The book does an amazing job of telling the exact steps that led to the outbreak of certain wars through the backstories of its key players and the outcomes that followed. As a fantasy lover, to me, human history told a far greater story than most writers could.

Warfare is a novel just for those interested in the histories of human war, but also a tale of the human condition, told through some of humanity’s worst impulses.

By DK,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The most wide-ranging and visually arresting history of wars and warfare ever published, Warfare: The Definitive Visual History documents every major war or significant period of conflict in over 5,000 years of human history.

A must-have reference gift for military enthusiasts and general readers alike, no other book about warfare contains such a diverse selection of imagery including contemporary paintings and photographs, objects and artifacts, and specially commissioned artworks, maps, and diagrams.

Warfare: The Definitive Visual History includes a comprehensive directory of every major war, thematic spreads examining broader topics within the history of warfare, from the role of mercenaries,…


Book cover of The Face of War

Judith Mackrell Author Of The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II

From my list on WW2 – but written by women.

Who am I?

While I was child growing up in London, the war was a powerful presence in my life. It was there in the films we watched, in the comics my brothers read, and in my vague understanding of what it meant to be British. It was not a subject we ever studied at school and as an adult I’ve always felt frustrated by my inadequate knowledge of this world-changing conflict. When I first had the idea of writing about the six remarkable women who pioneered the way for female war journalists, it wasn’t just their personal stories that drew me in but the chance to learn more about WW2 itself.

Judith's book list on WW2 – but written by women

Judith Mackrell Why did Judith love this book?

Some readers may know about the late great Martha Gellhorn through her dramatically volatile relationship with the novelist Ernest Hemingway. But she was a fierce and passionate writer of fiction herself, and when I discovered her collection of war journalism I realised that she ranked and still ranks amongst the finest of war correspondents. Even decades after the event, Gellhorn still has the power to shock and move us. By choosing to put the suffering of individuals at the heart of her writing, by the unflinching detail of her descriptions, evoking the sights, smells, and sensations of war she drives home her own profound conviction that while the fight against fascism had been necessary in her time, war itself is nearly always an evil, driven by the cynicism and greed of powerful old men.

By Martha Gellhorn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A collection of “first-rate frontline journalism” from the Spanish Civil War to US actions in Central America “by a woman singularly unafraid of guns” (Vanity Fair).
 
For nearly sixty years, Martha Gellhorn’s fearless war correspondence made her a leading journalistic voice of her generation. From the Spanish Civil War in 1937 through the Central American wars of the mid-eighties, Gellhorn’s candid reporting reflected her deep empathy for people regardless of their political ideology. Collecting the best of Gellhorn’s writing on foreign conflicts, and now with a new introduction by Lauren Elkin, The Face of War is a classic of frontline…


Book cover of The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

Yakov Ben-Haim Author Of The Dilemmas of Wonderland: Decisions in the Age of Innovation

From my list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on.

Who am I?

I am a retired university professor. My research, in which I am still actively engaged, deals with decision-making under deep uncertainty: how to make a decision, or design a project, or plan an operation when major relevant factors are unknown or highly uncertain. I developed a decision theory called info-gap theory that grapples with this challenge, and is applied around the world in many fields, including engineering design, economics, medicine, national security, biological conservation, and more.

Yakov's book list on making decisions when you don’t know what’s going on

Yakov Ben-Haim Why did Yakov love this book?

The author presents a reasoned rational explanation of historical events: Agents act rationally from self-interest. History makes sense.

As I read the book, I was challenged to ask: how rational is human behavior? What does rationality mean in a world that we hardly understand because it is fraught with uncertainty?

Uncertainty and surprise are important in history: What will be the next revolutionary invention? Who will be the next charismatic leader? What new ideology will sweep away conventions? Does history really make sense? Can we really make rational decisions when we face deep uncertainty about the world?

By William H. McNeill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this magnificent synthesis of military, technological, and social history, William H. McNeill explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us. McNeill moves with equal mastery from the crossbow-banned by the Church in 1139 as too lethal for Christians to use against one another-to the nuclear missile, from the sociological consequences of drill in the seventeenth century to the emergence of the military-industrial complex in the twentieth. His central argument is that a commercial transformation of world society in the eleventh century caused military…


Book cover of Arms, Men, and Governments: The War Policies of Canada 1939-1945

Serge Durflinger Author Of Fighting from Home: The Second World War in Verdun, Quebec

From my list on Canada’s Second World War - that aren’t memoirs.

Who am I?

I read my first book on WWII when I was 8 years old. It was about the Battle of Britain and I’ve never looked back. I began specializing in 20th Century Canadian military history in very literally all its facets. Discussing the war with hundreds of Canadian veterans over the last half century has been immensely inspirational to me. I’ve obtained a Ph.D. in Canadian military history from McGill University, visited Canadian battlefields in Europe at least 15 times, worked as the WWII historian at the Canadian War Museum, and have published on many aspects of Canadian military history. For more than 30 years I have been able to teach these subjects to students.

Serge's book list on Canada’s Second World War - that aren’t memoirs

Serge Durflinger Why did Serge love this book?

This is a book of unparalleled scholarship by Canada’s finest military historian of all time.

Stacey’s magisterial, wide-ranging, immensely insightful, deeply researched, and engagingly written masterpiece illuminates those many policies and personalities that governed Canada’s tremendous war effort during the Second World War. It is literally one-stop shopping for understanding Canada’s wartime political intricacies (and intrigues!), diplomatic manoeuvring, and industrial and military mobilization.

No stone is left unturned, and Arms, Men, and Governments is, and will remain, unequalled. It has greatly influenced my understanding of this pivotal moment in Canadian military history, and I refer to it constantly in my research and teaching.

Book cover of The Samurai: A Military History

Thomas Lockley Author Of African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan

From my list on Japan’s global history.

Who am I?

I first came to Japan knowing nothing about the place I was going to live. With hindsight, that was perhaps foolish, but it started my adventure in Japanese history. At first, I stumbled through blindly, reading the odd book and watching dramas and movies for fun. But then I discovered Yasuke, an African who became samurai in 1581. He focused me, and I started reading to discover his world. History means nothing without knowing what came before and after, so I read more, and more, until suddenly, I was publishing books and articles, and appearing on Japanese TV. It has gone well beyond the African Samurai now, but I am eternally grateful to him for his guidance.

Thomas' book list on Japan’s global history

Thomas Lockley Why did Thomas love this book?

I would recommend anything by Stephen Turnbull, but I can only choose one, so I chose this. It is a blow-by-blow account of ‘The Age of the Country at War,’ Japan’s long 16th century, which ended with the unification of the country under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu. A key era in Japanese history, and there is still no other book in English to match it.

By Stephen Turnbull,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1977, The Samurai has long since become a standard work of reference. It continues to be the most authoritative work on samurai life and warfare published outside Japan. Set against the background of Japan's social and political history, the book records the rise and rise of Japan's extraordinary warrior class from earliest times to the culmination of their culture, prowess and skills as manifested in the last great battle they were ever to fight - that of Osaka Castle in 1615.


Book cover of Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

Kenneth M. Pollack Author Of Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness

From my list on Middle East military history.

Who am I?

After college I joined the CIA. They assigned me to the Iran-Iraq military account so I had a front-row seat for the Persian Gulf War. I went on to do two tours at the NSC and a quick stop at DoD in between, all working on Middle East political and security issues. I was unexpectedly thrown out by Bush II in 2001 and so had to flee to the think tank world. I’ve since written ten books on the political-military affairs of the Middle East and am now working on my eleventh, a history of the U.S. and Iraq since 1979 titled The Iraq Wars.

Kenneth's book list on Middle East military history

Kenneth M. Pollack Why did Kenneth love this book?

You cannot understand the military history of the Middle East without understanding the first five Arab-Israeli wars and over 40 years later the best book on the subject remains Dupuy’s touchstone work. Dupuy was a superb military analyst and historian. As an American he is about as even-handed as anyone can be with this ultimate of “Rorschach” tests. Better still, Dupuy extensively interviewed nearly all of the major political and military leaders on both sides of every war. He walked the ground of most of these battles with the combatants themselves. It is why his book remains the single best work on the subject and the foundation on which all later histories rest.

Book cover of A Military History of Australia

Peter Stanley Author Of Bad Characters

From my list on Australian military history.

Who am I?

I am a Research Professor in history at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I now mostly write on the military history of British India history but for 27 years I worked at the Australian War Memorial, Australia’s national military museum, where I became Principal Historian. Much of my career was devoted to Australian military history and more than half of my 40 or so books are in that field. That puts me in a good position to comment upon what I think are the five best books in the field of Australian military history (my own excepted, of course). 

Peter's book list on Australian military history

Peter Stanley Why did Peter love this book?

My late colleague at UNSW Canberra, Jeff Grey, wrote this important book at the age of just 31. The product of a military family, Jeff blossomed from a specialist in Commonwealth operations in the Korean war into the author of a confident, opinionated (but impressively well researched) general history that went through three editions before Jeff’s untimely death in 2016. Jeff deserves credit for seeing that despite the resurgence in interest in Australia’s military history over the 1980s, no one had spotted the need for a comprehensive book that showed us how the bits went together. Thirty years on, no one has bettered it.

By Jeffrey Grey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Military History of Australia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Military History of Australia provides a detailed chronological narrative of Australia's wars across more than two hundred years, set in the contexts of defence and strategic policy, the development of society and the impact of war and military service on Australia and Australians. It discusses the development of the armed forces as institutions and examines the relationship between governments and military policy. This book is a revised and updated edition of one of the most acclaimed overviews of Australian military history available. It is the only comprehensive, single-volume treatment of the role and development of Australia's military and their…