The best military history books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about military history and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Pan-Asianism and Japan's War 1931-1945

Important for Japan’s shifting policy in China, but also for the responses in China and in Russia.  Identifies key figures in the military responsible for war planning and their conflicts as well as the role of the emperor. This book emphasizes the twisting path toward Pearl Harbor and how it might have been avoided.

Pan-Asianism and Japan's War 1931-1945

By Eri Hotta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pan-Asianism and Japan's War 1931-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book explores the critical importance of Pan-Asianism in Japanese imperialism. Pan-Asianism was a cultural as well as political ideology that promoted Asian unity and recognition. The focus is on Pan-Asianism as a propeller behind Japan's expansionist policies from the Manchurian Incident until the end of the Pacific War.

Who am I?

I have a strong, if contrarian, interest in modern history, Asian history in particular. I have published more than a dozen articles and book reviews on the subject, and I have taught courses on modern Asian history (China, Japan, Vietnam, India) at New York University, where I have been a professor since 1968. A brief history of my somewhat unusual academic career may be found in a 50-page memoir published via Amazon in 2020 together with an appendix containing a sampling of my short writings. It is titled Moss Roberts: A Journey to the East. The memoir but not the appendix is free via Researchgate. In addition, I have studied (and taught) the Chinese language for more than half a century, and published translations of classical works of literature and philosophy.   


I wrote...

Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

By Guanzhong Luo, Moss Roberts (translator),

Book cover of Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

What is my book about?

Although a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) epic, Three Kingdoms has contemporary relevance since it involves China’s recurring experience of national unity and national division. This may explain why it is still widely known in China, and also in Korea and Vietnam, which have suffered internal division, and even in Japan, which shares so much culture and history with them. These four nations may be said to constitute Confucian Asia.

Book cover of The Art of War in Western World

If you are to be a serious student of war, warfare, and tactics, then you will need a general reference guide. This book should be your go-to reference for general knowledge on this subject. Jones elegantly combines three major components of war (tactics, strategy, and logistics) to explain the last 2,500 years of military history, from phalanxes in ancient Greece through to the Thirty Years’ War that shaped modern Europe. Well written and thoroughly researched, I have kept it on my desk for the last thirty years.

The Art of War in Western World

By Archer Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The magnum opus of one of America's most respected military historians, "The Art of War in the Western World" has earned its place as the standard work on how the three major operational components of war - tactics, logistics, and strategy - have evolved and changed over time. This monumental work encompasses 2,500 years of military history, from infantry combat in ancient Greece through the dissolution of the Roman Empire to the Thirty Years' War and from the Napoleonic campaigns through World War II, which Jones sees as the culmination of modern warfare, to the Israeli-Egyptian War of 1973".

Who am I?

I spent 40 years as a soldier studying war. After graduation from Royal Military College, I joined the Armoured Corps. Throughout history, we have regaled each other with stories of war. From Greek myths to Norse sagas to modern movies, we cannot seem to get enough of war stories. And yet, we know that war is inherently a bad idea. It is evil. It is a form of collective madness. War is destructive and cruel, unworthy of our better selves. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, war breaks the bonds of our affection and does not speak to our better angels. I study it in order to better understand this madness.


I wrote...

Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics

By Charles Oliviero,

Book cover of Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics

What is my book about?

Pundits have long predicted the end of conventional warfare, but it is here to stay. Counterinsurgency, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, peace enforcement, policing duties, all of these forms, like conventional warfare, are as old as mankind. Modern militaries claim that they are professional bodies, responsible to teach, control and discipline their members. But at least one aspect of this claim is poorly executed: tactics are not taught to junior leaders, which is why Praxis Tacticum is essential reading for all junior officers and NCOs.

There is an old military adage that there is no teacher like the enemy. It is a truism, but before that dreadful reality, the wise commander will prepare to meet that enemy and become the teacher and not the student.

Book cover of The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present

Dupuy & Dupuy’s Encyclopedia of Military History is the historical bedrock of strategic studies. Despite its name, it is not so much an encyclopedia, as a readable chronological account of world history. It is integrated with insightful commentary on technology, tactics, leadership, and society, presented at the beginning of each chapter, and within sections dedicated to specific battles and wars. Although Wikipedia now exceeds it in the detail of the events and the background of the conflicts covered, Wikipedia lacks a roadmap or the careful examination of the cumulative historical changes that underpin warfare. I assign this fourteen hundred-page text as the primary text in my introduction to strategic studies course. 

The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present

By Richard Ernest Dupuy, Trevor N. Dupuy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am a professor of political science with a focus on strategic studies and the causes of war, and before that, I was an operations officer at an army engineering regiment during the Cold War, and before that I was an adolescent wargamer obsessively applying math to sociological problems, and before that an enthusiast of military history. I have had the generosity of providence to conduct research in and on Pakistan’s military for over ten years, as well in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Egypt. These are the books I think every scholar of strategic studies should start with, as they provide an inspirational and the most direct path to strategic insight.   


I wrote...

Strategic Nuclear Sharing

By Julian Spencer-Churchill (Schofield),

Book cover of Strategic Nuclear Sharing

What is my book about?

Countries should not be sharing nuclear weapons technology, because giving away or losing control over the knowledge of such a substantial amount of military power, could adversely affect the country in the future. However, strategic nuclear sharing is not rare, particularly between democracies, and developing nuclear arsenals in other countries will often be enabled when countries face a common adversary. The biggest factor facilitating nuclear non-proliferation is the fear that major powers will be equipping the enemies of their principal adversary, thereby undermining the ability of major powers to intervene. This causes a collusive practice by the major powers to coordinate together a policy to limit the spread of nuclear weapons through the implementation of international agreements. 

Warfare and Armed Conflicts

By Micheal Clodfelter,

Book cover of Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492-2015

Warfare and Armed Conflicts is indeed an Encyclopedia, arranged chronologically, that surveys five centuries of battles and wars. What makes it so indispensable is that it focuses not on the chronology of events or personalities, but primarily on the presentation of available numbers, including the size of armies in battles, personnel casualties, and equipment losses. A study of strategy, war causation, victory, and defeat, depends heavily on understanding the relative strengths and capabilities of adversaries, which makes this text so valuable for understanding the causes of the outcomes of battles and wars. The presentation of numbers often challenges the conventional wisdom of events, and helps explain the periodic disasters of military history.    

Warfare and Armed Conflicts

By Micheal Clodfelter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In its revised and updated fourth edition, this exhaustive encyclopedia provides a record of casualties of war from the last five centuries through 2015, with new statistical and analytical information. Figures include casualties from global terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fight against the Islamic State. New entries cover an additional 20 armed conflicts between 1492 and 2007 not included in previous editions. Arranged roughly by century and subdivided by world region, chronological entries include the name and dates of the conflict, precursor events, strategies and details, the outcome and its aftermath.

Who am I?

I am a professor of political science with a focus on strategic studies and the causes of war, and before that, I was an operations officer at an army engineering regiment during the Cold War, and before that I was an adolescent wargamer obsessively applying math to sociological problems, and before that an enthusiast of military history. I have had the generosity of providence to conduct research in and on Pakistan’s military for over ten years, as well in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Egypt. These are the books I think every scholar of strategic studies should start with, as they provide an inspirational and the most direct path to strategic insight.   


I wrote...

Strategic Nuclear Sharing

By Julian Spencer-Churchill (Schofield),

Book cover of Strategic Nuclear Sharing

What is my book about?

Countries should not be sharing nuclear weapons technology, because giving away or losing control over the knowledge of such a substantial amount of military power, could adversely affect the country in the future. However, strategic nuclear sharing is not rare, particularly between democracies, and developing nuclear arsenals in other countries will often be enabled when countries face a common adversary. The biggest factor facilitating nuclear non-proliferation is the fear that major powers will be equipping the enemies of their principal adversary, thereby undermining the ability of major powers to intervene. This causes a collusive practice by the major powers to coordinate together a policy to limit the spread of nuclear weapons through the implementation of international agreements. 

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

By Gordon A. Craig (editor), Peter Paret (editor), Felix Gilbert (editor)

Book cover of Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

Makers of Modern Strategy, comprising 29 essays, is the most compact compendium of the key strategic ideas from the last three centuries, which influence contemporary events. It is a substantial revision of a seminal 1943 text published by Princeton University to inform strategic studies analysts during the Second World War. It is primarily rich in linking national strategies to key thinkers, in historical context, and it covers the full spectrum of social, historical, institutional, economic, revolutionary, and military practices. It is often assigned as standard text in senior military staff colleges. Several of its essays are mandatory readings in my strategic studies classes, particularly on insurgency, and the strategic theories that informed the Third Reich war aims.  

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

By Gordon A. Craig (editor), Peter Paret (editor), Felix Gilbert (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The essays in this volume analyze war, its strategic characterisitics and its political and social functions, over the past five centuries. The diversity of its themes and the broad perspectives applied to them make the book a work of general history as much as a history of the theory and practice of war from the Renaissance to the present. Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age takes the first part of its title from an earlier collection of essays, published by Princeton University Press in 1943, which became a classic of historical scholarship. Three essays are repinted…

Who am I?

I am a professor of political science with a focus on strategic studies and the causes of war, and before that, I was an operations officer at an army engineering regiment during the Cold War, and before that I was an adolescent wargamer obsessively applying math to sociological problems, and before that an enthusiast of military history. I have had the generosity of providence to conduct research in and on Pakistan’s military for over ten years, as well in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Egypt. These are the books I think every scholar of strategic studies should start with, as they provide an inspirational and the most direct path to strategic insight.   


I wrote...

Strategic Nuclear Sharing

By Julian Spencer-Churchill (Schofield),

Book cover of Strategic Nuclear Sharing

What is my book about?

Countries should not be sharing nuclear weapons technology, because giving away or losing control over the knowledge of such a substantial amount of military power, could adversely affect the country in the future. However, strategic nuclear sharing is not rare, particularly between democracies, and developing nuclear arsenals in other countries will often be enabled when countries face a common adversary. The biggest factor facilitating nuclear non-proliferation is the fear that major powers will be equipping the enemies of their principal adversary, thereby undermining the ability of major powers to intervene. This causes a collusive practice by the major powers to coordinate together a policy to limit the spread of nuclear weapons through the implementation of international agreements. 

Book cover of The Transnational World of the Cominternians

For a long time, studies of the Comintern focused on the political organization itself. Brigitte Studer’s work focuses on developing a cultural history of the organization, focusing on what she calls the “Cominternians,” the various communists who worked in the apparatus. Here, she uses a variety of lenses, from Moscow as a transnational hub, to the role of gender, to the impact of the Stalinist terror on these members. By also focusing on a wide array of experiences, she showcases the hope many Cominternians had, but also the betrayal they experienced as Stalinism changed the movement in the 1930s. Partially responsible for the transnational turn in Comintern studies, this book is a must-read for anyone looking to know more about the organization. 

The Transnational World of the Cominternians

By Brigitte Studer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The 'Cominternians' who staffed the Communist International in Moscow from its establishment in 1919 to its dissolution in 1943 led transnational lives and formed a cosmopolitan but closed and privileged world. The book tells of their experience in the Soviet Union through the decades of hope and terror.

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the topic of international relations and when I started graduate studies, I focused on Russian and Soviet foreign policy between the World Wars. When I began my research, I learned of the existence of the Comintern and was fascinated both by this attempt to develop a worldwide movement and its connection to Soviet foreign policy. Since then, I have focused on trying to understand the individuals who populated the parties and the organization and unearthing a legacy that still resonates today. One cannot fully understand the history of decolonization or of human and civil rights movements without considering the influence of the Comintern. 


I edited...

Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

By Oleksa Drachewych (editor), Ian McKay (editor),

Book cover of Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

What is my book about?

In 1919, the Communist International was formed in Moscow, Russia. The Communist International’s (Comintern) purpose was to guide the world communist movement and bring about revolution. Over time, with the failure of the communist revolution in Europe, priorities changed. A new area of concern for the movement was the fight against imperialism and, later, the fight against racism. Left Transnationalism brings together scholars from all over the world to analyze how the Comintern and its goals resonated in various regions outside of Europe. Taking a transnational perspective, this collection provides new insights into the development of the communist movement, the legacy of interwar communism, and how anti-imperialism or racial equality became intertwined with the communist movement. 

Book cover of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

First published in the aftermath of 9/11, this compact book still packs a wallop. Hedges forces us to think deeply about how we define the term “war” and why human beings remain so attracted to something so horrible. And there are many definitions here. Hedges alternatively calls war a “drug,” a “crusade,” a “lethal addiction,” and a “myth.”

There’s also a warning here about the relationship between war and patriotism that remains as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. Hedges cautions his readers not to be seduced by the “patriotic drivel” that often is made worse by war. This isn’t an uplifting account of war. Nor is it meant to be.

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

By Chris Hedges,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living."Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows…

Who am I?

I am the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. I’ve been teaching courses on the relationships between war and society for years and am fascinated not just by the causes and conduct of war, but, more importantly, by the costs of war. To me, Americans have a rather peculiar connection with war. In many ways, war has become an integral part of American conduct overseas—and our very identity. And yet we often don’t study it to question some of our basic assumptions about what war can do, what it means, and what the consequences are for wielding armed force so readily overseas.


I wrote...

Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

By Gregory A. Daddis,

Book cover of Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

What is my book about?

Pulp Vietnam delves into the world of men’s adventure magazines, popular in the United States from the 1950s until the early 1970s. Catering to a white, male audience, they featured pin-up girls, exploits of courageous soldiers in battle, and exotic tales of adventure. They also appealed to working-class men, the same target audience forming the bulk of American ranks in the Vietnam War. Within these trendy magazines—boasting titles like Man’s Conquest and For Men Only—men read exciting tales that brought together two popular notions of masculinity: the heroic warrior and the sexual conqueror. Rather than low-brow kitsch, they were perceptive Cold War cultural commentary and a source of untapped insights about those young American soldiers heading off to war in the 1960s.

The Napoleonic Wars

By Alexander Mikaberidze,

Book cover of The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

Although the Napoleonic Wars are most commonly discussed from a French perspective, with their roots in ideology and the Wars of the French Revolution, they are increasingly being understood as the climax of conflicts over power and colonial possessions that had raged between the major European powers across the long eighteenth century. In this hugely ambitious and highly readable book, Alex Mikaberidze considers the Napoleonic Wars as part of a wider global conflict in which France and Britain struggled for dominance, a conflict that extended to the Americas, Egypt, Iran, the Indian Ocean, even to China and Japan, and assesses their role in defining the post-war world.

The Napoleonic Wars

By Alexander Mikaberidze,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Austerlitz, Wagram, Borodino, Trafalgar, Leipzig, Waterloo: these are the places most closely associated with the Napoleonic Wars. But how did this period of nearly continuous warfare affect the world beyond Europe? The immensity of the fighting waged by France against England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and the immediate consequences of the tremors that spread from France as a result, overshadow the profound repercussions that the Napoleonic Wars had throughout
the world.

In this far-ranging work, Alexander Mikaberidze argues that the Napoleonic Wars can only be fully understood with an international context in mind. France struggled for dominance not only on…

Who am I?

Now an emeritus professor of history at the University of York, I have long been fascinated by France, by its history and identity, and by its innumerable tensions and contradictions. In the course of my career I have published more than a dozen books on different aspects of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, ranging from a biography of Napoleon in 2011 to more specialized works on the experience and memory of war – on the soldiers of the Revolution, on the letters and memoirs they wrote, and on the legacy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars for nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. My current research focuses on France’s place in the wider Atlantic world and on the significance of the Revolution and Empire in world history.


I wrote...

The Death of the French Atlantic: Trade, War, and Slavery in the Age of Revolution

By Alan Forrest,

Book cover of The Death of the French Atlantic: Trade, War, and Slavery in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

The Death of the French Atlantic examines the dramatic decline of France’s Atlantic empire in the Age of Revolution, showing how three major forces – war, revolution and anti-slavery – created instability and led to the loss of her richest Caribbean colony, Saint-Domingue, to insurrection and revolution. The book underlines the importance of slaving to the prosperity of France’s west-coast ports and relies heavily on individual testimony as it follows merchants, planters and ships’ captains as they criss-crossed the Atlantic world.  It concludes by examining the uneasy memory of these years in port cities such as Nantes, Bordeaux and La Rochelle, a memory that has left an indelible mark on race relations in France today.

The Samurai

By Stephen Turnbull,

Book cover of The Samurai: A Military History

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.

The Samurai

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.


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.


I wrote...

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

By Thomas Lockley, Geoffrey Girard,

Book cover of African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan

What is my book about?

The man who came to be known as Yasuke arrived in Japan in the 16th century, an indentured mercenary arriving upon one of the Portuguese ships carrying a new language, a new religion, and an introduction to the slave trade. Curiously tall, bald, massively built, and black-skinned, he was known as a steadfast bodyguard of immense strength and stature, and swiftly captured the interest, and thence the trust, of the most powerful family in all of Japan. Two years later, he vanished.

Yasuke is the story of a legend that still captures the imagination of people across the world. It brings to life a little-known side of Japan - a gripping narrative about an extraordinary figure in a fascinating time and place.

The Soul of Battle

By Victor Davis Hanson,

Book cover of The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny

Victor Davis Hanson, a PhD classics professor and historian, puts forth a fascinating account of three military leaders who brought an end to powers who held people in bondage. Which three? 

Epaminondas broke the power of Sparta by freeing the Helots. The Spartans held the Helots in slavery to do all the farming so they could focus on military training. Epaminondas not only defeated the Spartans in battle, but he also brought an end to the slavery that empowered them.

William Tecumseh Sherman, in his famous march to the sea, broke the Confederacy. When all seemed lost for Lincoln, word came like a thunderbolt from Sherman that, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” Shermans Army of the West proved that the South could be defeated. This bringing an end to slavery.   

George Patton, “…you will continue your victorious course to end that tyranny…” Hanson speculates that the war could have…

The Soul of Battle

By Victor Davis Hanson,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I have been interested in history and in particular military history for my entire life. Since 2006 I have been a George Washington interpreter. I portray the great man in first person live presentations and in documentary film. I have devoted a great deal of time in study of him. As a result of my studies of Washington, I felt compelled to write a book about him. I wanted to capture aspects of him not covered in most books or in film. Four of the books I reviewed involve George Washington.


I wrote...

George Washington at War - 1776

By John Koopman III,

Book cover of George Washington at War - 1776

What is my book about?

A fast paced, action packed, historical novel on the early campaigns of the American Revolution. The “Siege of Boston” and the “Battle of Harlem Heights” will be given a fresh and exciting look. Learn new insights about the character of George Washington. As horses were key to the time period, the reader will learn much about them.

Follow the exploits of three groups of Continental soldiers in Washington’s Army. The Abbot Brothers of Andover, Massachusetts, who join up to avenge the death of their older brother who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill. Sergeant Justus Bellamy of Cheshire, Connecticut, provides bold leadership to the men of his company. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton of Ashford, Connecticut, leads his Rangers on dangerous missions.

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