The best books about military officers

4 authors have picked their favorite books about military officers and why they recommend each book.

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American Caesar

By William Manchester,

Book cover of American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964

Manchester’s biography of Douglas MacArthur provides a sympathetic but generally evenhanded characterization of MacArthur’s personality and life contributions.  He provides a detailed background of MacArthur’s military history and his capability of managing complex administrative duties in a complex world.  He acknowledged MacArthur’s skill and bravery in challenging circumstances.  In balance of his descriptions of MacArthur, he also noted complex circumstances in which he was difficult to deal with and sometimes suspicious and mistrustful of others. In his characterization of MacArthur as “Julius Caesar” he characterized MacArthur as having great intellect, brilliant strategic generalship, and political ambition as well as compassion. 


Who am I?

James Neal Butcher is a professor emeritus of the Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota. At age 17, he enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. He served 2 years in a parachute infantry division (82nd Airborne). He volunteered for service in the Korean War and served one year as an infantry soldier in the 17th Infantry Regiment during the war including the battles for Jane Russell Hill in October 1952 and Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. In 2013 he published a memoir of his early life and his military experience Korea: Traces of a forgotten war. 


I wrote...

Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

By James N. Butcher,

Book cover of Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

What is my book about?

The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war. In his book, Professor James N. Butcher relives his experiences as an infantryman with Fox Company of the 17th Infantry Regiment, during the final year of the Korean War (1952-1953). In a graphic portrayal of living conditions on the front, Butcher describes combat actions that occurred in two major battles of this period the Battle for Jane Russell Hill (a part of Triangle Ridge) and the First Battle of Pork Chop Hill and makes a strong case for why we as Americans need to remember what happened there and why.

Alexander the Great

By Philip Freeman,

Book cover of Alexander the Great

Of all the characters in history, few have accomplished as much as Alexander the Great. It has been over two thousand years since the young man from Macedonia set out with his father’s army and conquered the entire Persian and Egyptian empires in just six short years. Philip Freeman brings this incredible story to life in his book Alexander the Great. I was mesmerized by the politics and behind-the-scenes machinations of this man and the court he controlled as he marched his army across the scorching deserts and inhospitable terrain. The young king was forced to confront both traitors in his midst and enemies at the point of his spear, all the while keeping his iron grip on a rebellious populous. A lively read!


Who am I?

I have always loved reading and feel a natural attraction to history and the lessons it can give us. I want to learn something new whenever I pick up a book but also enjoy the story and characters as well. Since 2010, I have authored six historical novels of my own and am working on my seventh. I carefully weave years of extensive research into a fast-paced, exciting story that pushes all the right buttons! Intrigue, love, fear, and hope are integral parts of my novels, and I hope along the way, my readers will gain a new insight into a different culture or era they never knew before.  


I wrote...

Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze

By Thomas J. Berry,

Book cover of Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze

What is my book about?

Five men and women in Ancient Greece are set on a dangerous journey of self-discovery during the bitter conflict of the Peloponnesian War.

The Olympic festivals honor the gods with their renowned athletic contests and one woman finds herself in a deadly gamble when she must make an agonizing choice. A young helot slave longs for freedom while a new wife imperils herself to stand by her husband and home. When a wealthy aristocrat finds his world turned upside down, he must learn what true sacrifice is all about. A Spartan officer who has lived by a strict code of tradition must discover new ways to cope in an unconventional war.  Who will survive and what will their lives be like when it's over?

Custer's Trials

By T.J. Stiles,

Book cover of Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

When I first heard about Custer’s Trials, I thought it was almost sacrilegious to write a biography of the Boy General without a full, descriptive chapter on the Last Stand. Stiles instead covered the battle in an epilogue about the Court of Enquiry into the conduct of Maj. Marcus Reno at the Little Bighorn, where he was Custer’s second in command. Nevertheless, Stiles’ book is an engrossing psychological portrait of Custer that puts his life in the context of his times. Stiles addresses the changes in American culture—moving toward a modern, industrial society—that shaped the lives of the Civil War generation. You’ll not only get a new view of Custer from reading Custer’s Trials, you’ll get a better understanding of the development of the United States.


Who am I?

As a journalist, the Little Bighorn fascinates me because it has all the elements of a great story: larger-than-life characters, conflict, fighting against the odds, and mystery. I turned that fascination into research when I left newspapering to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Texas. I wrote a number of articles about press coverage of Custer and the Last Stand, and this research eventually led to two books, most recently a biography of Custer focusing on his artistic personality, especially his writing career. I’ve continued to explore the history of war reporting, always looking for topics that make good stories.


I wrote...

Ambitious Honor: George Armstrong Custer's Life of Service and Lust for Fame

By James Mueller,

Book cover of Ambitious Honor: George Armstrong Custer's Life of Service and Lust for Fame

What is my book about?

George Armstrong Custer, one of the most familiar figures of nineteenth-century American history, is known almost exclusively as a soldier, his brilliant military career culminating in catastrophe at Little Bighorn. But Custer, author James E. Mueller suggests, had the soul of an artist, not of a soldier. Ambitious Honor elaborates this radically new perspective, arguing that an artistic passion for creativity and recognition drove Custer to success—and, ultimately, to the failure that has overshadowed his notable achievements.

What Ambitious Honor provides is the context for understanding how Custer's theatrical personality took shape and thrived, beginning with his training at a teaching college before he entered West Point. Teaching, Mueller notes, requires creativity and performance, both of which fascinated and served Custer throughout his life.

The Landmark Arrian

By Robert B. Strassler, James Romm,

Book cover of The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander

Arrian is one of the few primary sources used to illuminate the campaigns of Alexander the Great. It is also one of the few primary sources to focus directly on the Scythians – in this case, the Saka (an eastern group of Scythians). After conquering the Bactrian region, Alexander faced war with the Scythians, as well as local rebellions, which the Scythians played a role in. Arrian’s account is an important source for understanding the Scythians as it speaks directly to the clash of an army built for pitched battle against an army build for more mobile warfare.


Who am I?

I'm an author who believes that history contains an endless number of stories of how our past peers dealt with and contributed to the tension, fusion, and reinvention that is human existence. When writing The Greek Prince of Afghanistan, which focuses on the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom of ancient Afghanistan, I included a Scythian character, because I felt the novel’s story, like humanity’s story, is best told through multiple perspectives. The above books helped me greatly in that effort.

I wrote...

The Greek Prince of Afghanistan

By David Austin Beck,

Book cover of The Greek Prince of Afghanistan

What is my book about?

The Greek Prince of Afghanistan follows the early life of Demetrius, prince of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom of ancient Afghanistan. He lives in a world of cultural fusion and conflict, and he faces threats from every direction. From the west, an army approaches under the banners of Antiochus, a Hellenistic monarch obsessed with ruling the lands once conquered by Alexander. From within, tensions build between the kingdom's Greek elite and non-Greek subjects. In desperate need of allies for the imminent war, Demetrius rides north to secure an alliance with the Scythians, a people rumored to eat their prisoners and feed their elderly to the dogs. But with his kingdom divided, their help may not be enough.

Grant Takes Command

By Bruce Catton,

Book cover of Grant Takes Command

Bruce Catton wrote extensively about the noble but ill-starred Army of the Potomac and is widely known for his wonderful trilogy recounting that army’s path through the American Civil War. With Grant Takes Command, Catton looks west for a time toward General Ulysses S. Grant and how he came east to lead all the Union armies toward eventual victory. Recounting Grant’s (and the country’s) journey from the opening of the cracker line in Chattanooga in 1863, through the Battle of the Wilderness (a subject that captured my imagination!) and the Overland Campaign and on to Appomattox Courthouse and the surrender of the Confederacy, Catton’s book moves through its narrative with a style and verve to match any piece of gripping fiction. 


Who am I?

I came to Civil War studies fairly late in life but still relatively callow, by a route too roundabout to explain. But after reading James McPherson’s, Battle Cry of Freedom (there’s a bonus book!), I found I had a love of every facet of the era. The only thing I’d ever wanted to be was a writer and, as I delved deeper into the vast body of literature on the American Civil War, I finally felt as if I’d found the subject I could pour all my passion into (that and my enduring love of dogs). My novel Wilderness, along with a few novels published in French, was the result.


I wrote...

Wilderness

By Lance Weller,

Book cover of Wilderness

What is my book about?

Thirty years after the Civil War's Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It's a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.

In its contrasts of light and dark and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. 

Lee Considered

By Alan T. Nolan,

Book cover of Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History

Alan Nolan became one of the first to challenge the Lee myth that had been created in the decades after the general’s death in 1870. He starts with the premise that Lee was a good man whose actions have been distorted beyond all recognition. He then subjects the historical record to a withering cross-examination. Nolan asks: Why did Lee commit treason? Did he really oppose slavery? Did his stubborn persistence harm his beloved state of Virginia? What did he do to unite the nation after the war? Nolan even challenges to the traditional belief that Lee was magnanimous to his enemies, writing, “The historical record shows that Lee constructed a demonic image of the Federals.” This book takes no quarter and may infuriate Lee’s supporters.

Who am I?

I am the author of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee and A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. I’ve been a teacher, editor, and writer for over twenty-five years. The Civil War, in particular, has been my passion since I first read Bruce Catton’s The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War as an elementary school student in the 1960s. My articles on Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant have been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and on the History News Network.


I wrote...

A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

By John Reeves,

Book cover of A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

What is my book about?

A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation’s capital. Robert E. Lee, who faced tremendous difficulties replacing fallen soldiers, lost 11,125 men—or 17% of his entire force during the battle. On the opposing side, the Union suffered 17,666 casualties.

The alarming casualties do not begin to convey the horror of this battle, one of the most gruesome in American history. The impenetrable forest and gunfire smoke made it impossible to view the enemy. Officers couldn’t even see their own men during the fighting. The incessant gunfire caused the woods to catch fire, resulting in hundreds of men burning to death. “It was as though Christian men had turned to fiends, and hell itself had usurped the place of the earth,” wrote one officer.

Sherman

By John F. Marszalek,

Book cover of Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order

This book is the single best biography of Sherman – the good, the bad, the ugly – by one of the foremost scholars of the Civil War. Marszalek’s portrait of Sherman as a man who sought order in all aspects of his life provides valuable insight into Sherman’s military genius and his personal failings. This biography gives the most comprehensive portrait of the intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically complex man whose legacy continues to be debated today. This is the one-stop-shop for those who want to get to know the man I believe to be the most interesting personality of the Civil War.


Who am I?

I was fated to write about war. Born on Guam to a Navy hospital corpsman and his intrepid wife, I spent four years on tank-littered beaches of Saipan and sailed to Japan on a U.S. Navy LST at the age of seven. When I graduated from college with a major in journalism, a Navy man, the late great Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson hired me as his press secretary, and we talked military history even as he made it in Afghanistan. Thirty-three years later, I went back to school for an MA in History. As I write, my great grandfather’s bugle from the Spanish-American War and the flag that covered my father’s coffin at his Arlington Cemetery funeral sit atop my shelves of military history books.


I wrote...

Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War--For Better and for Worse

By Candice Shy Hooper,

Book cover of Lincoln's Generals' Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War--For Better and for Worse

What is my book about?

The story of the Civil War is not complete without examining the extraordinary lives of Jessie Frémont, Nelly McClellan, Ellen Sherman, and Julia Grant, wives of Abraham Lincoln’s top generals.

Once shots were fired on Fort Sumter, these four women were launched out of their private lives into a wholly different universe, where their relationships with their husbands and their personal opinions of the President of the United States had national and historical consequences. Using letters, memoirs, and other primary sources—and, for the first time, mapping their wartime travels—I explore the very different ways in which these remarkable women responded to the unique challenges of being Lincoln’s generals’ wives. Published in 2016, my book won three national awards.

The Virtues of War

By Steven Pressfield,

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

The internet has made possible what used to be only a dream for readers. Now we can contact our favorite authors, which is what I did while in the middle of this book. I emailed Steven Pressfield just to tell him how much I loved his battle descriptions, and he wrote back thanking me and saying that people usually emailed to ask something of him rather than to compliment his writing. As a former Marine, he knows how to bring ancient battles alive in the modern world. The Alexander he gives us is one you can easily imagine soldiers following to the ends of the earth.


Who am I?

I like books to grab and hold my attention. That’s what I like about music, too, which is why I co-host a heavy metal podcast when I’m not teaching Latin or writing books and articles. Having taught Latin and Classics for over thirty years from middle school through undergrad, I know what people enjoy about the Greco-Roman world and what they often missed out on in school. I love reading this stuff, too, whether prepping for class, doing research for my next publication, or while listening to head-banging greats of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so dig in and get ready to rock with the Romans and groove with the Greeks!


I wrote...

Latin for Dummies

By Clifford A. Hull, Steven R. Perkins,

Book cover of Latin for Dummies

What is my book about?

Earn-lay atin-Lay? No, not that kind of Latin! You can learn true Latin, with conjugations, declensions, and all those extra syllables - and it's easier than you think. In fact, most people mistakenly think of learning Latin as perhaps the most useless, tedious, and difficult thing to do on earth. They couldn't be more wrong.

Latin For Dummies takes you back for a quick jaunt through the parlance of ancient Rome, as well as discussing the progress of Latin into church language, and its status today as the"dead" language that lives on in English, Spanish, Italian, and most other Western tongues. Written for those with zero prior knowledge of Latin, this snappy guide puts the basics at your fingertips and steers clear of the arcane, schoolmarm stereotype of endless declensions and Herculean translations.

Grant

By Ron Chernow,

Book cover of Grant

I was fifteen the first time I went through U. S. Grant’s house in Galena, Illinois. I’ve been there two or three times since and what stands out most to me is the copies of his memoirs they have on display. One look at them, made me rush out and buy a first edition.

Papers and politicians relished telling stories about Grant’s drinking. Many people believed it, but Abraham Lincoln wasn’t fooled. He understood that Ulysses S. Grant was the indispensable man. When other generals stopped to rest on their laurels, Grant raced forward, ever-ready to fight another battle. Lincoln laughed it off when politicians demanded that he remove Grant for his fabled drunken escapades. “Tell me what brand of whiskey he drinks,” quipped Lincoln. “I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”

It was Lincoln’s way of saying he had total faith in Grant.…


Who am I?

What could be cooler to a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s than the Civil War? TV spoon-fed us westerns—Bonanza, F-Troop, The Lone Ranger, and The Wild, Wild West. Many of the stories were set during the Civil War or had characters molded by it. And then, somewhere in the mid-1960s, my parents took me to a civil war reenactment. Guns cracked. Cannons boomed, and men fell. I was hooked. I’ve devoured every Civil War book I could get my hands on for the past fifty years and watched every movie remotely connected to the subject. So, it’s only natural I wrote a book about it.


I wrote...

1861: Civil War Beginnings

By Nick Vulich,

Book cover of 1861: Civil War Beginnings

What is my book about?

It’s 1860. Military societies form throughout the south, drilling and waiting for orders to attack. The threat: Abraham Lincoln. Southerners are convinced his election means the end of life as they know it.

Lincoln has received hundreds of death threats since his election. As he travels to Washington for his inaugural, things turn deadly. Rumors say thousands of bloodthirsty Southerners intend to storm the capital, burn the public buildings, and kill the president-elect before he reaches the capital. The attack on Fort Sumter is still months off, but for Abraham Lincoln, war is imminent and real. Very real.

Washington

By Ron Chernow,

Book cover of Washington: A Life

I find Ron Chernow’s biography to be the most informative and comprehensive. It is quite a tome at over 800 pages, but worth the read. Chernow has fascinating insights into his character. Washington had a temper that he sought to control. Even in that, he made an impression on people. From the introduction of the book, “His contemporaries admired him not because he was a plaster saint or an empty uniform but because they sensed his unseen power.”

We see Washington develop over his life from early childhood. The loss of his father at age eleven brought him closer to his brother Lawrence, fourteen years his senior. Lawrence became a father figure to him.

After service in the French and Indian War, Washington married Martha Custis. There was true love in the marriage. She spent every winter with him throughout the eight years of the Revolution. She came with…


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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