18 books directly related to military policy 📚

All 18 military policy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

Why this book?

Kaplan does a marvelous job describing, as the subtitle indicates, “the secret history of nuclear war.” It is in a sense a sequel to Kaplan’s earlier The Wizards of Armageddon, which examined theorists of nuclear annihilation. In The Bomb, Kaplan takes us on a deep dive into the bowels of actual doomsday planning; an unforgettable and darkly educational trip!

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

By Fred Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war-and Presidents' actions in nuclear crises-from Truman to Trump.

Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as "a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter," takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff's "Tank" in the Pentagon, and the vast chambers of Strategic Command to bring us the untold stories-based on exclusive interviews and previously classified documents-of how America's presidents and generals have thought about, threatened, broached, and just barely…

Book cover of With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War

Why this book?

If Jonathan Schell’s Fate of the Earth examined the scientific, ecological, and social impacts of nuclear war, Robert Scheer’s With Enough Shovels is a direct inquiry into the Reagan Administration about their initial thoughts on the subject. Those thoughts, frankly, are frightening. As the title implicates, then-Deputy Under Secretary of Defense T.J. Jones literally suggested that surviving thermonuclear war was easy: “Dig a hole, cover it with a couple of doors and then throw three feet of dirt on top…it’s the dirt that does it…if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.” Comments by Reagan, Vice President Bush, Defense Secretary Weinberger, and an increasing contingent of “Neo-Conservatives” writing in journals such as Commentary echoed these sentiments. In part, Scheer’s book began a long process of the Reagan Administration scaling back their bravado and recognizing the real dangers of the atomic age. 

With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War

By Robert Scheer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it."" Scheer, a Los Angeles Times reporter and former Ramparts editor, got that assessment of American civil defense capabilities from T. K. Jones, current Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Strategic and Theater Nuclear Forces, and a former Boeing manager. What ""T.K."" meant was that, with a shovel, anyone can dig a fallout shelter--a simple hole in the ground with a door over the top and three feet of earth on top of that. ""It's the dirt that does it,"" he said. The fact that…

Book cover of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army During the Civil War

Why this book?

Most Confederate soldiers were not slaveholders, but as historian Colin Woodward argues, all of them were products of a slaveholding culture and, as a result, fought to maintain the rigid racial hierarchy that had come to define their respective communities. Appreciating the central place that the defense of slavery occupied for most Confederates helps us to better understand why the war lasted as long as it did. Some of the most interesting chapters in this book explore the roles played by thousands of body servants that accompanied officers from the slaveholding class. Enslaved men performed a wide range of jobs, including cooking meals, washing clothes, and digging ditches. Their presence served as a constant reminder of the army’s reliance on enslaved labor and its broader significance as the Confederacy’s “cornerstone.”

Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army During the Civil War

By Colin Edward Woodward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Confederate army went to war to defend a nation of slaveholding states, and although men rushed to recruiting stations for many reasons, they understood that the fundamental political issue at stake in the conflict was the future of slavery. Most Confederate soldiers were not slaveholders themselves, but they were products of the largest and most prosperous slaveholding civilization the world had ever seen, and they sought to maintain clear divisions between black and white, master and servant, free and slave.

In Marching Masters Colin Woodward explores not only the importance of slavery in the minds of Confederate soldiers but…

Book cover of Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword

Why this book?

In the whole of military history, no year was more important than 1945. Why? Because it introduced nuclear weapons to the world and the world to nuclear weapons. Both before and after Hiroshima new weapons have always affected the way war is waged; whereas nuclear ones, by threatening to turn even the “victor” into a radioactive desert, have cast doubt on the purpose for which may be waged and even whether it can be waged at all. 

As the current war in Ukraine has shown once again, provided both sides have a credible second-strike capability using nuclear weapons to win a war is impossible. So what can they be used for and how? Proceeding step by step Schelling, a Nobel-Prize winning professor of game theory, provides the answers in ways that not only have not been improved upon since the book was published in 1965 but are easy to understand and often entertaining as well.

Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Traditionally, Americans have viewed war as an alternative to diplomacy, and military strategy as the science of victory. Today, however, in our world of nuclear weapons, military power is not so much exercised as threatened. It is, Mr. Schelling says, bargaining power, and the exploitation of this power, for good or evil, to preserve peace or to threaten war, is diplomacy-the diplomacy of violence. The author concentrates in this book on the way in which military capabilities-real or imagined-are used, skillfully or clumsily, as bargaining power. He sees the steps taken by the U.S. during the Berlin and Cuban crises…

Book cover of The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

Why this book?

This book genuinely changes our understanding of British defence policy before the First World War. It is often assumed that the German challenge to British naval supremacy before 1914 was a mirage and that fears that Germany might launch an invasion of the British Isles were simple scaremongering. The reality was different. The Royal Navy may have been bigger and stronger than its German counterpart, but its task was harder and its leaders were not confident that they could prevent German soldiers from landing on British soil. Based on first-rate research, this book explains why.

The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914

By David G. Morgan-Owen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Fear of Invasion presents a new interpretation of British preparation for War before 1914. It argues that protecting the British Isles from invasion was the foundation upon which all other plans for the defence of the Empire were built up. Home defence determined the amount of resources available for other tasks and the relative focus of the Army and Navy, as both played an important role in preventing an invasion. As politicians were reluctant to
prepare for offensive British participation in a future war, home defence became the means by which the government contributed to an ill-defined British 'grand'…

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

Why 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.

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

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 No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes

Why this book?

I have been teaching about the wars in Afghanistan since 2004 and this book is the best at showcasing how individual lives are indelibly affected by armed conflict. Gopal is fabulous in humanizing his characters—a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed Afghan government, or a village housewife. And he demonstrates how none of these people fit neatly into the preconceived categories applied to them by Americans.

Perhaps better than any other book on Afghanistan after 9/11, Gopal also reveals the limits of US military power overseas. In many ways, the presence of American soldiers exacerbated local conflict rather than ameliorating it. A powerful book arguing against those who extol the value of “generational wars” to achieve US foreign policy objectives.

No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes

By Anand Gopal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Good Men Among the Living as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through their dramatic stories, Gopal shows that the Afghan war, so often regarded as a hopeless quagmire, could in fact have gone very differently. Top Taliban leaders actually tried to surrender within months of the US invasion, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist - yet the Americans were unwilling to accept such a turnaround. Instead, driven by false intelligence from their allies and an unyielding mandate to fight terrorism, American forces continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day. With its intimate accounts of life…

Book cover of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - The Last Great Battle of the American West

Why this book?

James Donovan combined impeccable research with an engaging style to produce the best book about the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The battle is the subject of more books than just about any other fight in American history, but Donovan’s has set a new standard. I referred to the book regularly while writing my biography of Custer. You can’t really begin to understand a complex battle like the Little Bighorn without a seasoned guide. But Donovan doesn’t just explain the battle. He writes in a way that gives his book the feel of a novel rather than a dry recitation of facts. A Terrible Glory will take you on an exciting ride and teach you everything you need to know about Custer’s Last Stand.

A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - The Last Great Battle of the American West

By James Donovan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Terrible Glory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June of 1876, on a hill above a river called the Little Bighorn, George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command were annihilated by 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne. The news of this stunning defeat caused an uproar, and those involved promptly began to point fingers in order to avoid responsibility. Custer, who was conveniently dead, took the brunt of the blame. The truth, however was far more complex. A TERRIBLE GLORY is the first book to tell the entire story of this fascinating battle, and the first to call upon new findings of the last 25…


Book cover of War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command

Why this book?

Published in 2016, the provocative title of this novel seemed outlandish at the time, but regrettably, some of what it predicted has now come to pass. As you’d expect from a novel written by such a senior Army officer, this is a military novel delivered with technical accuracy and an eye on strategy, but also contains some interesting political elements – and how military chiefs interact with them. The politicians have often been renamed, but it’s not too hard to draw a dotted line to the real world. Owing to the author’s closeness to the events he describes, sometimes this doesn’t feel like a novel at all, more like a work of military history viewed from an unknown future, particularly when viewed through the lens of the horrors we’ve seen in Ukraine. 

War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command

By General Sir Richard Shirreff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller

'You fail to read this book at your peril' - Admiral James G Stavridis, US Navy, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Closely modelled on his NATO experience of war gaming future conflicts, 2017 War With Russia is a chilling account of where we are heading if we fail to recognise the threat posed by the Russian president.

Written by the recently retired Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and endorsed by senior military figures, this book shows how war with Russia could erupt with the bloodiest and most appalling consequences if the necessary steps are not…


Book cover of Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941

Why this book?

Although not technically about the Pearl Harbor attack, Those Angry Days is an excellent companion to understand the mood in America in those months before the attack.  While Grew was focused on avoiding an almost inevitable conflict between Japan and the United States, Olson shows that Americans in general and President Roosevelt in particular were far more focused on whether and how to engage in the ongoing conflict in Europe.

Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941

By Lynne Olson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND KIRKUS REVIEWS

From the acclaimed author of Citizens of London comes the definitive account of the debate over American intervention in World War II—a bitter, sometimes violent clash of personalities and ideas that divided the nation and ultimately determined the fate of the free world.

At the center of this controversy stood the two most famous men in America: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who championed the interventionist cause, and aviator Charles Lindbergh, who as unofficial leader and spokesman…

Book cover of Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy

Why this book?

Barry Posen is a civilian expert in U.S. defense issues at MIT. This book influenced lots of foreign policy experts who have come around to accept the argument of Restraint that the United States ought to radically reduce its military commitments abroad, notably in the Persian Gulf. The book is a key source for my own because Posen shows why the U.S. military presence there has no real effect on the security of oil supply, threats to which are routinely and wildly exaggerated. Posen believes, therefore, that something like “prestige” or acting like a superpower because it can, better explains that expansive and wasteful military posture. 

Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy

By Barry R. Posen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The United States, Barry R. Posen argues in Restraint, has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. Since the collapse of Soviet power, it has pursued a grand strategy that he calls "liberal hegemony," one that Posen sees as unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. Written for policymakers and observers alike, Restraint explains precisely why this grand strategy works poorly and then provides a carefully designed alternative grand strategy and an associated military strategy and force structure. In contrast to the failures and unexpected problems that have stemmed from America's consistent overreaching, Posen makes an urgent argument for restraint…


Book cover of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon

Why this book?

This book entertains while recounting the militarization of our foreign policy. Post-retirement, I worked briefly for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and later as a contractor helping to train military units headed for Iraq and Afghanistan. Our professional military is a superb fighting machine but the decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan inevitably resulted in challenges diplomats and development workers are best equipped to handle. The budget-slashing reinvention of government during the Clinton years meant there weren’t enough trained civilians to handle existing priorities much less a surge to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. As Rosa Brooks writes, from the perspective of both an insider and a superb reporter, the military became everything. The military had the money while civilian agencies like State and USAID were underfunded.

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon

By Rosa Brooks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A dynamic work of reportage" (The New York Times) written "with clarity and...wit" (The New York Times Book Review) about what happens when the ancient boundary between war and peace is erased.

Once, war was a temporary state of affairs. Today, America's wars are everywhere and forever: our enemies change constantly and rarely wear uniforms, and virtually anything can become a weapon. As war expands, so does the role of the US military. Military personnel now analyze computer code, train Afghan judges, build Ebola isolation wards, eavesdrop on electronic communications, develop soap operas, and patrol for pirates. You name it,…

Book cover of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Why this book?

Russia and the U.S. each possess a Doomsday Machine: a weapon that could wipe out our species. If either launched their thousands of nuclear ICMBs, that would probably doom us, even if the other did not retaliate. So argues Ellsberg, who confesses his role in creating the menace.  (None of the seven other nuclear nations have more than a few hundred, as a deterrent.) The book’s invaluable history includes multiple occasions when either Russia or the U.S. came perilously close to triggering Armageddon. When I was flying in the Strategic Air Command, we launched three times. Barely before it was too late, we were recalled. But that was before ICMBs; ICMBs can not be recalled. Read this book and spread its message.

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction

From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, the first insider expose of the awful dangers of America's hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that is chillingly still extant

At the same time former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentagon Papers, he also took with him a chilling cache of top-secret documents related to America's nuclear program in the 1960s. Here for the first time he reveals the contents of those now-declassified documents and makes clear their shocking relevance for today.

The Doomsday Machine is Ellsberg's hair-raising…

Book cover of Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age

Why this book?

Zak is an award-winning reporter for the Washington Post where his gift for prose is on regular display. When he turned his skillful journalist’s eye toward nuclear weaponry and present-day anti-nuclear activism, the result was a book that takes readers through the night and aftermath of a break-in at one of the most secure facilities in the country, and a look at the moments and forces in history that shaped the people involved.

Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age

By Dan Zak,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On July 28, 2012, three senior citizens broke into one of the most secure nuclear-weapons facilities in the world. An 82 Catholic nun, a Vietnam veteran, and a house smeared the walls with human blood and spray-painted quotes from the Bible. Then they waited to be arrested. This simple act spawned a complex discussion. In Almighty, Washington Post writer Dan Zak examines how events over the past 70 years led to this act, one of the most successful and high-profile demonstrations of anti-nuclear activism.

Book cover of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Why this book?

Arguably the most famous national security whistleblower in U.S. history, Daniel Ellsberg became a household name for releasing the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret military study of the Vietnam War, in 1971. Secrets is a fascinating account of how a quintessential Washington insider became the archetypal outsider and, as a result, faced the prospect of decades in prison for passing national security information to the press in the public interest. Ellsberg’s story reveals how the decision to “blow the whistle” is often long and fraught, while knowing the wrath of the state that awaits. A series of plot twists gives a sense of intrigue and suspense to the outcome of the case. Widely considered a principled whistleblower today, Ellsberg’s fate could have been dramatically different and had important legacies for whistleblowing and press freedom.

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The true story of the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, the event which inspired Steven Spielberg's feature film The Post

In 1971 former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers - a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam - to the New York Times and Washington Post. The document set in motion a chain of events that ended not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War. In this remarkable memoir, Ellsberg describes in dramatic detail the two years he spent in Vietnam as a U.S. State Department observer, and how he came…

Book cover of Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Why this book?

There are a great many books written on the Soviet-German conflict. In this volume, Fritz makes the most of all the recent research and his familiarity with Hitler’s military career, to create a vibrant narrative of the largest conflict in World War II. What makes this account different is Fritz’s ability to weave together the story of the campaigns and the murderous, genocidal strategies pursued by the German invader. Hitler waged two wars, against the Red Army and against the Jews. Fritz charts their twin course, making greater sense of the nature of a savage and merciless war.

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

By Stephen G. Fritz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On June 22, 1941, Germany launched the greatest land assault in history on the Soviet Union, an attack that Adolf Hitler deemed crucial to ensure German economic and political survival. As the key theater of the war for the Germans, the eastern front consumed enormous levels of resources and accounted for 75 percent of all German casualties. Despite the significance of this campaign to Germany and to the war as a whole, few English-language publications of the last thirty-five years have addressed these pivotal events. In Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East, Stephen G. Fritz bridges the gap…

Book cover of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

Why this book?

Japan 1941 peels back the layers of Japan’s national ideology before the Pearl Harbor attack. Well researched, her bold and insightful exposé explains the brewing conflict between military and political leaders, their decisions, drive, and devotion to their country, and their influence on an isolated nation of hyper-patriotic citizens.

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

By Eri Hotta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japan 1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking history that considers the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective and is certain to revolutionize how we think of the war in the Pacific.

When Japan launched hostilities against the United States in 1941, argues Eri Hotta, its leaders, in large part, understood they were entering a war they were almost certain to lose. Drawing on material little known to Western readers, and barely explored in depth in Japan itself, Hotta poses an essential question: Why did these men—military men, civilian politicians, diplomats, the emperor—put their country and its citizens so unnecessarily in harm’s way? Introducing…


Book cover of Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump

Why this book?

I’ll never forget how enthralled I was from the very beginning of Reign of Terror. Ackerman begins the book with a fascinating contrast in behavior that demonstrates that Americans have not abandoned nearly as much of their race prejudices as we like to pretend. In 1995, when Timothy McVeigh (with the help of many white supremacist groups) bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, he was put through all of the standard legal procedures required under the law. When the United States was hunting extremists in the war on terror, we created places such as Guantanamo Bay and other CIA black sites to extrajudicially hold and torture people. The way Ackerman frames America’s behavior during the war on terror makes Reign of Terror a must-read in my opinion. 

Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump

By Spencer Ackerman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Critics' Top Book of 2021

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman's deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued." -The New York Times

"One of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era." -New York Magazine

An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction

For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States…