The best books about the war on terror

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the war on terror and why they recommend each book.

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Jawbreaker

By Gary Berntsen, Ralph Pezzullo,

Book cover of Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the Cia's Key Field Commander

The world of Special Operations is typically classified and shrouded in secrecy, for good reason. There are many major, society-changing events that people never truly learn the full story behind due to the need for secrecy or participants who remain tight-lipped until their dying days out of force of habit.

In Jawbreaker, author Ralph Pezzullo was given unparalleled access to the men who were first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11, including the man who ran the CIA’s clandestine fight against Al Qaeda and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

You don’t know anything about the beginning of what became a twenty-year war until you’ve read this book.


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.

A Military History of Australia

By Jeffrey Grey,

Book cover of A Military History of Australia

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


Who am I?

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


I wrote...

Bad Characters

By Peter Stanley,

Book cover of Bad Characters

What is my book about?

Having left the Australian War Memorial in 2007 I felt able to write what I liked about Australia’s experience of the Great War, a key episode in Australia’s sense of national identity. Picking up an insight from the official historian, Charles Bean, that his history accepted ‘the good and the bad’ of the story (but realising that neither he – nor anyone - had said much about the ‘bad’), I began to explore the other side of the medal, researching what Australians celebrate as their soldiers’ ’larrikinism’ – harmless high spirits.

I showed that Australians, while good fighters, made poor soldiers – unwilling to submit to military discipline, prone to say what they thought and while venerating mateship, more likely to desert than any other army in the British empire. Expecting to affront those who venerate ‘the Anzacs’, I was surprised to find that readers accepted that (as Bean had seen) war history needed to encompass the ‘good and bad’ – and the book jointly won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, an award that dramatically changed my career.

The Pride of Baghdad

By Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon (illustrator), Todd Klein (illustrator)

Book cover of The Pride of Baghdad

This powerful graphic novel illustrates—literally and figuratively—the many casualties of religious conflict. Set in Baghdad in 2003 and told from the perspective of a pride of lions, this book captures the struggle for survival, the loss of innocence, and the collateral damage inflicted by war. A clear allegory, this book has proven an excellent teaching tool. The Pride of Baghdad raises important questions about clashing viewpoints, loyalty, sectarian violence, the true price of war, and who, ultimately, pays it. Although narrated by four lions, the story offers a heartbreakingly realistic glimpse into Iraq during the US-led invasion, the consequences of which reverberate still. As I watch the terrible events playing out daily in Ukraine, my mind drifts back to this book, and I am reminded that past is prologue. We are witnesses right now. And may we all be on the right side of history.

Who am I?

Frequent visits to my parents’ Maltese homeland from the time I was very young piqued my interest in the island’s opulent history. Life under the rule of the Knights of St John fascinated me most. The Maltese Islands lend themselves very well to literary descriptions—gifted with four compass points of natural beauty, the smell of the sea constant no matter how far inland one might venture, ancient temples that predate the pyramids of Egypt. It was during a pre-college trip to Malta in July 2000 that the idea to write a novel based on the Siege of 1565 took root, thanks to a visit to the Malta Experience in Valletta.


I wrote...

Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

By Marthese Fenech,

Book cover of Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

What is my book about?

The violent clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John on the island fortress Malta serves as the backdrop to Eight Pointed Cross. Siblings Domenicus and Katrina Montesa live under threat of raids by corsairs loyal to the Ottoman Sultan. Hundreds of leagues away in Istanbul, Demir’s dream of becoming a horseman in the Sultan’s cavalry is his only salvation against torment by his cruel brother.

The 1551 Turkish invasion of Malta and the island’s bloody defence will change the lives of the three protagonists, whose fates are intertwined not only with each other, but with nobles and peasants, knights and corsairs, on both sides of the conflict as the novel sweeps across the Mediterranean. Surviving this battle-soaked world of swords and scimitars will test the limits of every character’s courage, loyalty, and love.

Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror

By Bruce Holsinger,

Book cover of Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror

This book is very much a product of the George W. Bush years, when American adventurism in the Middle East, domestic surveillance programs, and the rise of Islamophobia seemed like the biggest problems facing America. While this makes the book feel a little dated in places, it remains one of the most fascinating case studies of the distortion of the Middle Ages for political purposes. Holsinger meticulously details how neoconservative thinkers repeatedly described Al Qaeda and the Taliban as “medieval” and “feudal” (even though their extremist ideology was a distinctly modern phenomenon) as well as how the neomedieval school of political theory was used to intellectually justify torture, extradition, and the War on Terror more broadly.  


Who am I?

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood fascination with the distant past was sparked by hours of leafing through The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World and countless viewings of the “Indiana Jones” movies. Today, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at Mercy College and an archaeologist specializing in the eastern Alpine region during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The author of three books and numerous scholarly articles, my research interests include ceramic technology, social identity, and the appropriation of the medieval past by modern ideologies.    


I wrote...

The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

By K. Patrick Fazioli,

Book cover of The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination

What is my book about?

The Middle Ages—to paraphrase William Faulkner—are never dead. (In fact, they aren’t even past!) My book explores how the idea of the medieval has served as a funhouse mirror through which modernity sees itself, whether to celebrate our supposed triumph over barbarism and superstition or to lament the loss of a more innocent and rooted world. Drawing on history, archaeology, and anthropology, The Mirror of the Medieval not only traces how modern ideologies have appropriated the medieval past but also investigates shifts in technology, social identity, and religious belief from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages in the eastern Alpine region.  

How to Win a Cosmic War

By Reza Aslan,

Book cover of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror

A popular author of books on Islam and Christianity, Aslan in this book expounds on the idea of cosmic war that I have discussed in Terror in the Mind of God, and more recently as the central subject of my God at War: A Meditation on Religion and Violence. Aslan correctly asserts that struggles that are animated by visions of cosmic war are not easily defeated through conventional means. He cites the “war on terror” proclaimed by President George W. Bush as an ill-conceived effort to fight one concept of cosmic war with another and concludes that the best way to fight a cosmic war is to refuse to fight like one. 


Who am I?

Though religious violence is an odd obsession for a nice guy like me, the topic was forced on me. Having lived for years in the Indian Punjab, I was struck by the uprising of Sikhs in the 1980s. I wanted to know why, and what religion had to do with it. These could have been my own students. It is easy to understand why bad people do bad things, but why do good people—often with religious visions of peace—employ such savage acts of violence? This is the question that has propelled me through a half-dozen books, including the recent When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends. 


I wrote...

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

By Mark Juergensmeyer,

Book cover of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

What is my book about?

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press). Now in its 4th edition, this is only one of many books on religious violence that I have written, but it’s the one that endures. It is based on my conversations with militants in every religious tradition—from Islam and Judaism to Buddhism and Christianity--and tries to get inside their worldviews. It explores the idea of terrorism as performance violence, and probes the role that religious images of cosmic war play in contemporary struggles from ISIS to the Christian right.

No Easy Day

By Mark Owen, Kevin Maurer,

Book cover of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

Mark Owen gives a rare look into his career as an assaulter in the US Navy’s SEAL Team Six—the men at the tip of the spear who killed the most notorious terrorist ever. Rich in detail, the reader lands with the Team in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in the darkness and busts through his door. Owen’s story grabs you tightly and doesn’t let go—a thrilling read and one for the history books.


Who am I?

I’m a NYT and international bestselling author, with the movie rights to one of my books purchased by Vin Diesel. My books have been translated into 13 languages, and I’ve published with three of the Big Five publishers: Simon and Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette UK. My writing has been called “action packed…harrowing…adrenaline laced” by The New York Times. I wasn’t a SEAL, but I completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert, blew up stuff, and practiced small-unit tactics during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. Secretly, I’m a dark chocolate thief.


I wrote...

Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper

By Stephen Templin, Howard E. Wasdin,

Book cover of Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper

What is my book about?

When the Navy sends their elite, they send the SEALs. When the SEALs send their elite, they send SEAL Team Six—a secret unit tasked with counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and counterinsurgency.

In this dramatic, behind-the-scenes chronicle, Howard Wasdin takes listeners deep inside the world of Navy SEALs and Special Forces snipers, beginning with the grueling selection process of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL - the toughest and longest military training in the world.

American Sniper

By Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

Book cover of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

Books that tell the story of Special Operations soldiers fighting in the Global War on Terror typically focus all of their efforts on adrenaline, explosions, the men, and the teams. While those are all critical elements and essential to the stories, most of them leave out one of the most crucial factors to keeping Special Operations troops in the fight.

In Special Forces, we had many sayings, but one of the most important was, if momma ain’t happy, Joe ain’t happy.” 

All active duty soldiers engaged in war, even we Special Operators, depend on our families to keep us going. These may be the details required to keep the household running, keeping the family happy, healthy & fed (as nearly all Special Operators are extremely family-oriented), but also to be the rocks that we can fall back on when needed, the support to keep us pushing forward, and…


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.

Zero Footprint

By Simon Chase, Ralph Pezzullo,

Book cover of Zero Footprint: The True Story of a Private Military Contractor's Covert Assignments in Syria, Libya, and the World's Most Dangerous Places

Many Americans who follow geopolitics, the military, or our nation’s involvement in the Global War on Terror know that Private Military Contractors (PMCs) have become a way in which much of these covert and clandestine wars are fought. Even those who know that PMCs exist don’t know much about the types of missions they do, the types of people who staff these outfits, and the places that they’ve been in modern military history.

Zero Footprint chronicles the exploits of one British citizen on his path from a member of the heralded British Tier 1 unit The Special Air Service (SAS). The book follows his life from what he thought was a career-ending injury that led to his being on the frontlines of every major engagement in the clandestine Global War on Terror. This guy was even in Benghazi the night of the famed “13 hours” attack, and this book gives…


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.

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