The best books about special forces

5 authors have picked their favorite books about special forces and why they recommend each book.

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The Brotherhood of the Rose

By David Morrell,

Book cover of The Brotherhood of the Rose

On one level, this novel is about Chris and Saul, two orphans raised by Eliot, a CIA operative, to become world-class assassins. After an international incident, Eliot decides Chris and Saul must be eliminated. Solid and engaging on that level, of course. But on a deeper level, it’s about two young men who trust their “father,” the one person who ever cared about them, only to feel the sting of his betrayal rock them to their core. The emotion makes the action matter. Everything is personal. The accurate tradecraft, killer action, and depth of character all combine to make this one of my favorite books. Fantasy readers will appreciate the secret society aspect of the assassins as well as the amazing action set-pieces.

Who am I?

My mother instilled a love of reading in me, and from an early age, I read everything from Agatha Christie to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Louis L’Amour to Marvel Comics. Stories are stories no matter how they’re classified, and genre is primarily a marketing tool to help readers find things they like. When I started writing, I often blended genres because I liked so many things. As I type this, I have 29 novels published with #30 on the way. The novels include science fiction, fantasy, horror, and thriller under my name, westerns as Dan Winchester, and a cozy mystery as Angie Cabot. Go figure.

I wrote...

Modern Sorcery: The First Jonathan Shade Novel

By Gary Jonas,

Book cover of Modern Sorcery: The First Jonathan Shade Novel

What is my book about?

Modern Sorcery at its core is about friendship. On the surface, it blends fantasy with mystery. The hero, Jonathan Shade, is a private investigator who handles cases dealing with magic and the supernatural. His protector, Kelly Chan, is a magically engineered assassin devoted to Jonathan because he showed her she could be more than just a killer. Esther, his secretary, is a ghost from the 1920s flapper era bound to her typewriter, and not-so-secretly in love with Jonathan. It’s the first of twelve novels about these characters. They’re loaded with action and humor.

Spies of No Country

By Matti Friedman,

Book cover of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

The life of a spy is psychologically difficult as he must keep loyalty to his own country, while secretly blending in with that of the enemy. For the Middle Eastern Jews who spied for Israel during its war of independence, the heroes of Matti Friedman’s excellent book, life was even more difficult, by upbringing and background their identity was interwoven with that of the enemy. In this book, Friedman follows these spies and covert warriors through a breathless sequence of assassinations and espionage operations against the Arab foes besieging Israel from all sides. Aside from being taken over by the plot, I love this book because it raises intriguing questions of identity during times of crisis and war, still relevant in the turbulent region of the Middle East and beyond. 

Who am I?

I am an Israeli military historian, addicted to stories on the unusual, mysterious and unknown. While many of my fellow scholars are interested in the daily and the mundane, I have taken a very different course. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by decisions human beings make in times of crisis, war, and other situations of partial knowledge and moral ambiguity. Therefore, I wrote on coups d’etat, military undergrounds, covert operations, and espionage. After graduating with a PhD from Harvard University, I began teaching world military history, modern Japanese history, and the history of espionage at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For me, reading about covert operations is both a hobby and a profession.

I wrote...

Fugitives: A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War

By Danny Orbach,

Book cover of Fugitives: A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War

What is my book about?

In the aftermath of WWII, the victorious Allies vowed to hunt Nazi war criminals “to the ends of the earth.” Yet many slipped away to the four corners of the world or were shielded by the Western Allies. Other Nazi fugitives became freelance arms traffickers, spies, and covert operators, playing a crucial role in the clandestine struggle between the superpowers. From posh German restaurants, Damascene safehouses and fascist holdouts in Franco's Spain, Nazi spies created a chaotic network of influence and information. This network was tapped by both America and the USSR adding a combustible ingredient to the Cold War covert struggle.

Shrouded in government secrecy, clouded by myths and propaganda, the enigmatic tale of Nazi fugitives in the early Cold War has never been properly told—until now.

Rainbow Six

By Tom Clancy,

Book cover of Rainbow Six

The best book I’ve read. I still have the hardcover edition that I bought twenty years ago, and it’s well-thumbed, trust me. Clancy, for me, was the master of the international action thriller. This one features a few of his better-known characters, including Ding Chavez and John Kelly (who was known by different names in other books). Kelly is tasked with creating a multinational anti-terror group using special forces personnel from around the world. Just in time, as a threat to mankind is unearthed.

Who am I?

When I was at school, reading was a chore. We were given books that held no interest and told to dissect the author’s words to find a deeper meaning. It put me off reading for years. It wasn’t until I came across a thriller that I discovered my love of books, and I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s nothing like mounting tension to get you flipping the pages, and I try to do that in my books. 

I wrote...

Run and Hide

By Alan McDermott,

Book cover of Run and Hide

What is my book about?

After her brother is killed in a faked suicide, CIA wet ops specialist Eva Driscoll teams up with ex-soldier Rees Colback, the one person who can help her find answers. Together they’re determined to uncover why members of his Special Forces squad are dying in mysterious circumstances. But with every agency in the country in hot pursuit, their only choice is to flee. The clock is ticking. They can’t run forever. It’s time to make a choice: kill or be killed…

Soul Patrol

By Ed Emanuel,

Book cover of Soul Patrol: The Riveting True Story of the First African American LRRP Team in Vietnam

In 1968, Ed Emanuel was handpicked to be part of the first six-man African American special operations (LRRP) unit in Vietnam. Team 2/6 of Company F, 51st Infantry, was dubbed the “Soul Patrol,” a glib, albeit superficial, label that belied the true depth of their brutal war experience. “Silence was essential in the field,” he reminds us in his memoir, but when he and other members of the Soul Patrol rotated to the rear, “Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,’” he writes, “could be heard streaming from the jukeboxes of nearby bars and clubs.” Music gave the Soul Patrol much-needed solace. 

Who am I?

Until today’s multiple catastrophes, the Vietnam War was the most harrowing moment in the lives of my fellow baby boomers and me. Drafted into the U.S. Army in early 1970, I spent 365 days in Vietnam as a combat correspondent. That experience changed my life, because as the Argentinian writer Jose Narosky has pointed out, “in war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” I have spent the past five decades trying to heal those wounds, writing three books grounded in my Vietnam experience, and have devoted my life to listening to the voices of our veterans, distilling their memories (often music-based), and sharing their words. 

I wrote...

We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

By Doug Bradley, Craig Werner,

Book cover of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

What is my book about?

In We Gotta Get Out of This Place, Doug Bradley and Craig Werner place popular music at the heart of the American experience in Vietnam. The authors explore how and why U.S. troops turned to music as a way of connecting to each other and the World back home and coping with the complexities of the war they had been sent to fight. Bradley and Werner also demonstrate how music was important for every group of Vietnam veterans—black and white, Latino and Native American, men and women, officers and “grunts”—whose personal reflections drive the book’s narrative. Together their testimony taps into memories—individual and collective—that capture a central, if often overlooked, component of the American war in Vietnam.

Killer Elite

By Michael Smith,

Book cover of Killer Elite: Completely Revised and Updated: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team

Although they once hoped to remain as eternally clandestine and unknown units, the famed Delta Force and Seal Team 6 had their covers blown and have now been memorialized in various books, movies, and television shows. There are still units within the Special Operations and Clandestine Services worlds that remain shrouded in mystery, though, which is exactly how they like it.

This book walks you through the history, jobs, and some of the high-profile missions of one of these such units, once known simply as “The Activity.” A unit so secret that they changed their official unit name every 30 days, their soldiers do not wear uniforms, and who performs the types of missions that everyone hopes are being conducted but nobody knows who has the capabilities to do so. 

This book is the perfect representation of the pinnacle of intelligence, strength, and bravery that exists within the US Special…

Who am I?

I’m a former Green Beret and combat veteran of OIF (Iraq), OEF (Afghanistan), and OEF-TS (North Africa). My first unit within Special Forces is the oldest within SF, and as such, I had the opportunity to work alongside some legends amongst men, people who were there in the early days of Special Operations. After leaving Special Forces I have written three published Special Operations-focused books, both fiction and non-fiction, which has led to a life of studying everything there is to know about Special Operations, the intelligence behind wars, and the history of both.

I wrote...

Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

By Robert Patrick Lewis,

Book cover of Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

What is my book about?

The life story of a troublesome youth who grows up and finds his way into the US Army Special Forces to join the fight against terrorism post-9/11. Love Me When I’m Gone follows one Green Beret as he serves his nation in Iraq, Afghanistan (where he earns the Purple Heart & Bronze Star), and North Africa, all while trying to maintain a working relationship with his high school sweetheart and the love of his life.

One Rough Man

By Brad Taylor,

Book cover of One Rough Man: A Spy Thriller

Military Thrillers: One Rough Man by Brad Taylor is the first novel in Taylor’s Pike Logan/Jennifer Cahill series. Taylor’s Logan/Cahill novels are currently the best military thrillers on the scene as Pike and Jennifer and their team of commandos dash across the globe kicking terrorist ass. I picked One Rough Man because it contains the duo’s origin story (you’ve got to have that), but you’ll be delighted to know there’s about 15 more Logan/Cahill thrillers just waiting for you (Taylor’s a prolific author). So grab One Rough Man and begin the Logan/Cahill saga. Meanwhile, I’ll sit back and await your thank you note.

Who am I?

I’ve been a bookworm ever since my grandfather lent me his Louis L'Amour books when I was in grade school. Eventually, I gravitated towards mystery/thrillers as my all-time favorite reads (including the various subgenres brought up in my book recommendations). In addition, I’ve been writing mystery/thrillers for the past dozen years. I am the author of the Mace Reid K-9 mystery series about the danger Reid and his pack of human remains detection dogs (cadaver dogs) get into and, hopefully, out of.

I wrote...

The Finders

By Jeffrey B. Burton,

Book cover of The Finders

What is my book about?

Jeffrey B. Burton's The Finders is the beginning of a fast-paced new series featuring a heroic golden retriever cadaver dog named Vira and her handler, Mason “Mace” Reid. Reid lives on the outskirts of Chicago and specializes in human remains detection. He trains dogs to hunt for the dead. He adopts a rescue dog with a mysterious past—a golden retriever named Vira. And when Reid begins training Vira as a cadaver dog, he comes to realize just how special the newest addition to his family truly is.

Suddenly, Reid and his prize pupil find themselves hurled into a taxing murder case. Mace must put all his trust in Vira's abilities to thwart a serial killer who has now set his sights on Mace himself.

Shadow Warriors

By Paul O’Brien, Wayne Fitzgerald,

Book cover of Shadow Warriors

Ireland is known as the land of a thousand welcomes, but most people aren’t aware of its sixty unbroken years of Peacekeeping duty with the UN and even less know of its elite special forces unit known as the Army Ranger Wing (ARW).

The ARW is seen by many as one of the most effective special forces in operation. Shadow Warriors gives an in depth look into the history of the ARW, set up against the backdrop of rising instances of international terrorism and its deployment in a variety of roles across dozens of countries. This is an easy and straightforward read for anyone interested in military related books.

Who am I?

I served for seven years in the Irish Reserve Defence Forces, finishing as a weapons specialist in the infantry. I’m very grateful for the time I served in uniform and the lifelong lessons I learned that have helped me in my personal and professional life. Being a lifelong fan of military science fiction, I wrote Big Red from the point of view of a young Irish soldier thrown into a genocidal war on Mars. I’m a co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community and our online magazine Bard of the Isles.

I wrote...

Big Red

By Damien Larkin,

Book cover of Big Red

What is my book about?

Traumatized by the effects of Compression travel, Irish soldier Darren Loughlin holds the key to the fate of Earth’s Martian colonies. With his Battalion decimated, his fractured memory holds the only clues to the colony-wide communications blackout.

With time running out, Darren pieces together his year-long tour of duty with the Mars Occupation Force. Stationed in the Nazi-founded New Berlin colony, ruled by the brutal MARSCORP, he recounts his part in the vicious, genocidal war against the hostile alien natives and all who question Terran supremacy. But as his memories return, Darren suspects he is at the centre of a plot spanning forty years. He has one last mission to carry out. And his alien enemies may be more human than he is…

Bravo Two Zero

By Andy McNab,

Book cover of Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq

This is a detailed account of a secret military mission behind enemy lines during the first Gulf War and how a series of minor setbacks can quickly escalate into a full-blown disaster. I first read it years before I'd had any knowledge of a battlefield. I read it again after I'd been caught up in my own terrifying experience of combat and took away a new appreciation of the realities of war – how stress on the battlefield narrows the field of vision to minute details which distort what is really going on. It's a lesson about war, but also about life – even with all the planning and the training, it's almost impossible to control what happens in the heat of battle. 

Who am I?

In 2003 I was travelling through Baghdad with US forces to report on the Iraq war. Suddenly an ear-shattering explosion cracked through our Humvee and a rush of hot debris swept past my face. The heavily armoured door warped inwards, and the vehicle lifted off the ground. Soldiers were screaming in terror and anger, clutching at bloody faces, arms, and legs. We’d been attacked by unknown members of the Iraqi resistance. The sheer terror of that moment gave me a new understanding of war  the sight, smells, sounds, and touch of combat – and a desire to tell the stories of the young soldiers who get caught up in it.  

I wrote...

Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War

By Tim Pritchard,

Book cover of Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War

What is my book about?

U.S. Marines from Task Force Tarawa are caught up in one of the most unexpected battles of the Iraq War. What started off as a routine maneuver to secure two key bridges in the town of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq degenerated into a nightmarish twenty-four-hour urban clash in which eighteen young Marines lost their lives and more than thirty-five others were wounded. It was the single heaviest loss suffered by the U.S. military during the initial combat phase of the war.

Ambush Alley tells the story of the deadliest battle of the Iraq war and how a routine military operation descends into a nightmarish 24-hour urban clash that leaves 18 young marines dead and 35 others wounded.  

Extinction Horizon

By Nicholas Sansbury Smith,

Book cover of Extinction Horizon

The whole series is amazing. My favorite part of this series is that it is an unapologetically kick-ass action zombie story. For those of you who just want to see zombies and war, this is the book for you. Also, I personally love the fact that the characters are diverse.

Who am I?

I heart zombies. I have always loved them. Even when I was a baby. Every time I could watch a zombie movie, I did. I even secretly rented zombie films from Blockbuster Video (remember those?) and the library without my parents knowing.

I wrote...

Zombie Run

By Dwayne Perkins, Koji Steven Sakai,

Book cover of Zombie Run

What is my book about?

What if you had to pretend to be a zombie to survive?

Hanson’s been living like a zombie since the apocalypse. Until he learns that his zombie crush is, like him, a human pretending to be a zombie. She introduces him to the Human Underground, shows him how to love, and teaches him that living is more than just being alive.

57 Hours

By Vesselin Nedkov, Paul Wilson,

Book cover of 57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama

Vesselin Nedkov was in Moscow on a business trip when he decided to buy a ticket to the Broadway style musical Nord-Ost, which was being shown at the Theater on Dubrovka. This book is his harrowing account of the ordeal as the theater and its thousand visitors were seized by armed terrorists and held for 57 hours before being "liberated" by the Russian special forces who attacked the theater with lethal gas. Rich in detail, his book also raises the many unanswered questions about the massive loss of innocent life. 

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

I wrote...

The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

By David Satter,

Book cover of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

What is my book about?

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, "it was surprising it took so long." Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

In this book, Satter tells the story of the apartment bombings and how Boris Yeltsin presided over the criminalization of Russia, why Vladimir Putin was chosen as his successor, and how Putin has suppressed all opposition while retaining the appearance of a pluralist state. As the threat represented by Russia becomes increasingly clear, Satter's description of where Russia is and how it got there will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about the dangers facing the world today.

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