Photograph of Fort Monroe, Virginia

 

Reviews

Brief Thoughts on a Multitude of Media, from books, to television to movies and PodCasts

Rating Methodology

1 Star: Unreadable and/or filled with false or incorrect information

2 Stars: Readable but not enjoyable and/or author gets some facts wrong

3 Stars: Readable and/or enjoyable. I learned a little from reading this book.

4 Stars: Thoroughly enjoyable and I learned a great deal from reading this book 

5 Stars: Thoroughly enjoyable, and not only did I learn, but the author offers insights that advance knowledge


The Rise of the Military Welfare State

by Jennifer Mittlestadt

3 out of 5 Stars

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This was an interesting history on the development of many of the Army's social programs, from on-base clubs to Family Readiness Groups (FRGs). Mittelstadt contrasts how free market economists such as Milton Freedman advocated for simply giving soldiers more cash, while career soldiers such as Westmoreland advocated for the Army providing housing and other services. Interestedly, it was under Clinton and Gore that the Army moved to the free market models. 
What the book lacks is any insights or discussion on the way forward, and what the Army could do better. With that I would move the book to 4-stars. For any career officer, or anyone entering command, I would suggest this book as an excellent background on the services that soldiers and family members expect.


On Grand Strategy

by John Lewis Gaddis

4 out of 5 Stars

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This is a strong book on the considerations that go into grand strategy and the traits of someone who aspires to be a grand strategist. Gaddis offers a multitude of considerations using the teachings and lessons learned from the likes of Thucydides, Clausewitz, Octavian/Augustus, Napoleon, and Lincoln to name just a few. Some of these names, such as Napoleon serve as an example of poor strategy (albeit with outstanding tactics and operational art). 
The only shortfall I saw in this book was it's focus on Western strategy and strategists. A chapter on Mao, or Ho Chi Mihn would strengthen this book. 


War and the Art of Governance

by Nadia Schadlow

4 out of 5 Stars

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Terrific book. Schadlow, who is the current NSC deputy uses the case study method to examine America's success and failures in consolidating military victory. Schadlow argues that governance has been and always will be a key aspect of military operations, especially for the army, which is unique in its ability to gain and hold territory. Further, Schadlow makes the case that principles of war, specifically mass, still matter after major combat operations. When looking at force structure, the army needs to consider the capabilities to provide governance in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations. Simply wishing away the task to other government agencies who are not manned to do the job is the wrong path to take. 
Other interesting points is her critique of the 6-Phase model, which she argues led to linear thinking of when to begin governance and transition. Using the model, planners in Iraq waited until the beginning of Phase 4 to begin governance, in lieu of simultaneous combat and governance in rear areas. This led to the U.S. losing the initiative in multiple areas where Shia militias supported by Iran filled governance gaps.


The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805

by Charles Edward White

4 out of 5 Stars

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Probably the best book i have read on the development of the Prussian General Staff (this makes #3). Scharnhorst understood that nations should never rely on the "great man theory" for a military, rather they must create systems that allow for the continual replacement of each individual. Further, Scharnhorst took to ensure that the military became a profession, where the officers read and studied their profession. 
It's an expensive book, one that I had to receive through an inter-library loan (not paying over $100 for the book). This book may not be worth to purchase, but it is worth the time to read and reflect upon.


 

A Passion for Leadership;  Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service

by Robert M. Gates

4 out of 5 Stars

Fantastic book. Gates uses his lessons learned as the Director of the CIA, President of Texas A&M, and Secretary of Defense to write about leading change in large bureaucratic organizations. Gates focuses on a leader's ability to build teams and break down stovepipes as essential elements of strategic leadership. In building teams, Gates reflects that changing an organization may require a leader sacrifice speed of change with a gain of getting change right. Slowing down the pace allows for greater buy in of a program, as well as better developed recommendations from all those involved. 
Gates also reflects on the value of investing in personal relationships to help in gaining support for change proposals. This may mean frequent meetings with academics and state legislatures while serving at a public university, or taking the time to engage with people on the hill while serving in the Pentagon or at Langley. It is a fast read, and worth the time to do so. 


The Future of War;  A History

by Lawrence Freedman

5 out of 5 Stars

In this book, Freedman takes a look at the history of predictions as they relate to war. His history goes back to the late 19th Century all the way through recent documents such as the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends report.  


 

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

by Mark Levinson

3 out of 5 Stars

This book details the emergence and subsequent global dominance of the standard shipping container. Before the rise of the internet, globalization began with the standardization of rail lines, shipping, and trucking based on the invention of the connex. Indeed, entire communities dependent on dock workers who would load and unload ships when they came into port literally disappeared due to containerization. As it became apparent those jobs would go away, unions did their best to keep workers involved through legislation banning certain containers. 

The book is a long read, and at times becomes a slog as the author dives deep into the details of global shipping, the relationships between unions and corporations trying to change the industry, but well worth the time for anyone who has the slightest interest in logistics. 


Growing Physician Leaders: Empowering Doctors to Improve Our Healthcare

by Mark Hertling

4 out of 5 Stars

In this book, retired general Mark Hertling draws on his military experience with leadership and applies it to the medical profession. However, these lessons in leadership apply to all areas or professions. Hertling stresses empathy as the key trait of leaders. the ability to understand and communicate with those one leads is paramount to success. Further, Hertling emphasizes the ability not just to understand others, but the necessity of self-awareness (using Sun Zsu's axiom "know thy enemy, and know thyself"). 
The leadership Herlting stresses to men and women in the medical profession is focused on individual leadership. Where I would have liked to see more on leadership from the former IMT, 2nd Armored Division, and USAREUR Commander is thoughts on how to lead large organizations, or strategic leadership. While his book certainly offers leadership lessons for anyone to apply, experienced military officers won't see anything new within the book; although given the recent spate of Flag Officer misconduct, perhaps some would. 
Overall I would recommend this book to anyone new to leadership, and to experience leaders looking for a reminder of the fundamentals, or the blocking and tackling techniques we rely on.


Just War Reconsidered; Strategy, Ethics, and Theory

by James Dubik

4 out of 5 Stars

In this book, Dubik re-examines just war theory through the strategic lens. Dubik informs his readers that what occurs at the strategic level of warfare has a direct impact on actions that occur within a conflict. Dubik places the onus on strategic level leaders to properly set war aims, strategies, policies and military campaigns. This, according to Dubik is a Jus in bello responsibility of senior military and political leaders. 

In addition to adding a new layer to the ethics of warfare, Dubik does a wonderful job of explaining decision making at the strategic level. There is a clear role of dialogue between senior military leaders, the executive, and the legislative branch of government. This dialogue impacts decision timelines, an aspect of war that flag officers should consider when developing their respective campaign plans. 

I recommend this book to anyone looking to expand their mind on the ethics of warfare.


The German Generals Talk

by B.H. Liddell Hart

4 out of 5 Stars

B.H.L. Hart interviews the surviving German Generals from World War II and uses these interviews to form a wide ranging narrative from the Inter-war period though the Battle of the Ardennes. This includes the the invasions of Poland, France, the war in Russia, Normandy, and a section on the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944. Hin interviews include German Generals such as Rundstedt, Kleist, Manstein, Thoma, and Manteuffel. 

Throughout the book, Hart delivers useful observations and insights to anyone interested in WWII history, or the interplay of General Officers with their civilian leaders, albeit in Nazi Germany.


Hue 1968

by Mark Bowden

4 out of 5 Stars

A fast paced book detailing the battle of Hue. Hue was the largest battle of the Tet offensive, and as it turns out a major victory for the North Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese completely surprised the American's with a conventional attack and defense of Hue. Few leaders at the GOFO level recognized the extent of the attack, nor what would be required to recapture the city. Indeed, leaders such as Westmoreland were in denial throughout the entire battle. 

Bowden does a fine job in his research, telling the story from multiple perspectives. These include the tactical and strategic vantage points of both the Vietnamese and the Americans.  


Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

5 out of 5 Stars

A must read for anyone interested in decision making. Kahneman describes the brain as operating in two distinct systems. System 1 where we make rapid decisions, and system 2 where we step back and think through our decisions. Kahneman also describes various types of heuristics (rules of thumb) we tend to use, and why they are wrong. For example, Kahneman looks at how we revert to the mean, and that we should not place too much emphasis on when we perform above and below that level. Kahneman pleads with his readers to step back, understand statistics and probabilities before making decisions. Where Kahneman hits is out of the ball park is how he describes what makes people happy. This is his final chapter and perhaps his greatest piece of writing. What makes us happy is being around the ones we love. 


The Game

by Ken Dryden

4 out of 5 Stars

It might seen strange to have a book about hockey on a strategist's reading list. However, Ken Dryden, the famous goalie for the Montreal Canadians authors a magnificent book. Dryden details the 1979 season, a season that saw the beginning of the end of their hockey dynasty. Players who once scored 30 goals a season would score 20. 

The one chapter in this book that really struck me was the chapter that detailed the rise of Soviet Hockey. Here, Dryden explores how the Soviets were able to start their national hockey program from a blank slate. This allowed for new types of thinking on playing and winning at the highest levels. The Soviets introduced the concept of puck control, creating space, and weaving players at various angles. This was in contrast tot he North American systems of skaters staying in their lanes, and playing a strictly vertical game. 

The remarkable insight from Dryden, is he understood as a hockey player how much he could learn from his adversaries. 


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I really enjoyed this book. The author stays at the strategic level of the conflict, and looked more towards the root causes of the conflict. The analysis of the Kosovo precedent was an aspect I had not seen before and helps to set the stage for the conflict. The irony of a nation training to and working with NATO making it less prepared for a major conflict with Russia was a little sad to read, but true.


When thinking about leadership or strategy, I find that is is better to understand failure than success. In Billion Dollar Lessons, Carroll explains multiple ways in which businesses fail at a spectacular level. The mental traps that CEOs and their businesses fall into correlate into how military and government planners fail in strategy. More than just describing the mental traps and anecdotal failures, Carroll provides recommendations on how to mitigate these risks. Paramount in the mitigation proposals is the concept of Red Teaming. A practice which in my opinion is underutilized by the military. I highly recommend this book as both a source for both military planning and military leadership.


 

 

Caffeinated

by Murray Carpenter

3 out of 5 Stars

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Interesting, and a great follow up to "Salt, Sugar, Fat." America is addicted to caffeine, and not just with coffee. The author goes into detail on the history of caffeine in America, behind the scenes of soft drink and energy drink companies and how they target specific segments of the population. The author had a nice piece in the Washington Post on the "5 Myths of Caffeine"


Why We Lost

by Daniel Bolger

1 out of 5 Stars

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I was disappointed in this book. Despite the title, the book parley focuses on the strategic and operational failures in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, Bolger details a number of tactical level engagements, while interesting are largely irrelevant. Major incidents such as Abu Ghraib and the moral failures of servicemen and leaders in Iraq and Kirghistan receive a mere mention. Bolger's constant praise of Nate Sassman goes from bizarre to downright creepy. Sassman had a moral failing in Iraq, wrote a book on why he thought he did everything right, and Bolger seems to have bought into his BS. I do not recommend the purchasing of this book to anyone looking for an explanation of why we lost in read Fiasco by Tom Ricks, or either of Chandrasekaran's books


The Man in the High Castle

Amazon Series 

4 out of 5 Stars

I published my review of The Man in the High Castle here on TheStrategyBridge.  


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Emma Sky does a wonderful job in describing the Iraq War from a non-military perspective, moreover, her observations on military culture are spot on. Sky, over the course of nearly a decade developed a profound understanding of Iraqi politics and culture, there may be no better expert other than Iraqis themselves. However...her expertise on Iraqi politics is tempered on what seems to be a lack of understanding of U.S. and British politics. She found it difficult to comprehend why President Obama was set on withdrawing from Iraq...good or bad, it was a campaign promise that he ran on and was elected to do. Ultimately the military exists as a form of national power to achieve political ends. Sky, in her service to the U.S., Britain, and Iraq seemed to miss this aspect.
I think the most profound statement within the book was her observation that General Odierno commanded nearly 150k troops in Iraq, yet only had 1 POLAD to guide the actions of his forces and staff. Sky was invaluable to U.S. military decision making, the U.S. military would be well advised to find more people like her for future conflicts...every General Officer needs a civilian adviser who can speak truth-to-power when the military staff is unable to.


Strategy for Defeat: the Luftwaffe 1933-1945

by Williamson Murray

4 out of 5 stars

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A deep dive analysis of how the Luftwaffe fought in WWII. More than just the operational strategy, Murray relates the industrial and institutional decisions of Goering and the Third Reich and how they each led to ultimate defeat. The Luftwaffe fought on four fronts (Western Europe, Russia, Balkans and over Germany) simultaneously, with each new front the Germans opened, the Luftwaffe had to spread its forces, ultimately turning into a battle of attrition (aircraft and pilots) which they could never win. Further, decisions to loot factories in occupied territories and store machine parts in Germany ensured that when those factories were needed, they were not available. The Germans were not efficient occupiers. 
The only flaw in the writing, Murray often gets bogged down with statistics and numbers which can be a bit mind numbing, but the prose and analysis in the book was spot on


Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change

by Williamson Murray

3 out of 5 Stars

I enjoyed this book as it relates to how militarys adapt during war. Murray is able to transition from tactical to operational to strategic historical points, but often spends too much time on tactical considerations that can be tedious to get through. I thought Murray could have spent some more time translating historical lessons learned to modern conflicts we find ourselves in


To End a War

by Richard Holbrooke

4 out of 5 Stars

Valuable insights from the man who helped forge the Dayton Accords to end the war in Bosnia. His writings displayed how invaluable American leadership is to European peace and the intersections of domestic politics and foreign affairs. What I found most fascinating was his descriptions of Milosevic, who in another life would fit in perfectly as an American politician.


Consequence: a Memoir

by Eric Fair

3 out of 5 Stars

My review of Consequence can be found here on TheStrategyBridge


Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

By P.W. Singer

3 out of 5 Stars

As much as I enjoyed Singer's previous works of non-fiction, his first attempt at a novel leaves quite a bit to be desired. First the good; his writing style makes for an easy flow of the book. Singer's description of what future warfare may look like at the tactical level of war is fun to read, this includes how forces may use both soft and hard technology. Now the bad...little to zero character development throughout the book. I felt zero empathy for any characters...the only interesting sub-plot was the search for a serial killer, which ad no impact on the bigger picture of the conflict. A further weakness of the book is that Singer fails to communicate why two major powers would go to war in the first place other than people believed war was inevitable...hardly a matter of Fear, Honor, Interest.


Statesmanship, Character, and Leadership in America

By Richard Newell

3 out of 5 Stars

This book was pretty good, it focused on a number of American statesman (and women) from George Washington thru President Ford. Newell does a good job of presenting both sides of each individual case study, the weakness in the book is the singular focus on specific speeches of each statesman to sum up what is often a lifelong pursuit.


The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's 30-year Conflict with Iran

By David Crist

4 out of 5 Stars

Awesome and detailed history of 30 plus years of a low level conflict between the U.S. and Iran...interesting to read about how we essentially have been talking past each other for 30 years, and how internal politics in both Iran and the U.S. prevent constructive relations between the two nations


The Army After Next: The First Post-Industrial Army

By Thomas Adams

4 out of 5 Stars

Fascinating read, funny how we repeat ourselves as we go through the same issues today, from the "ilities" to the need for faster deployment times (that in reality are not necessary). Good accounts of the Stryker debacle and other assumptions that should never be made that we somehow make today...if you work in the institutional Army, you should read this book


Children at War

By P.W. Singer

4 out of 5 Stars

Enjoyed this book as I have for all of Singer's books. (I have read them in reverse order) Children at War explores how mores have been reduced over recent decades as children have become participants in conflicts across the globe. Children at War is not limited to Africa or the Middle East, but occurs in South America, Europe, and Asia. It continues to occur because as Pape would say on suicide bombings...it works. Not only has it worked, but for criminals and warlords who employ children have found them to be highly effective, cheap, and easily replaceable


Lifting the Fog of Peace: How American's Learned to Fight Modern War

By Janine Davidson

4 out of 5 Stars

I enjoyed this book, but was unclear of who the audience should be. It seemed to be written for the general public, but only defense professionals would likely read her book. Davidson does a nice job describing the Army's ability to successfully learn and implement change through doctrine. However, there are cases where learning goes wrong and leads to debacles such as Effects Based Operations...I would have liked to have seen her discuss those failed efforts.


Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry

By P.W. Singer

4 out of 5 Stars

I enjoyed this book, it was largely written prior to all incidents with Blackwater over the past few years, but his predictions seem to come to fruition. This was also a good history of Private Firms in warfare, something not unique to the United States. Indeed, Singer discusses corporations such as The East India company, the use of "contractors" such as Baron Von Steuben, and the Hessions as examples of the ubiquity of corporate warfare. 


The Iran - Iraq War

By Williamson Murray

4 out of 5 Stars

Nice that an author covered a War from the Strategic and Operational level of conflict. Two nations slugged it out over 8 years, Iran thought religious zeal and revolutionary fervor could replace sound tactics and strategy, from alienating the west which limited the ability to import arms and repair parts to refusing to make soldiers shave limiting the effectiveness of gas masks. For his part, Saddam Hussein did everything he could to cost hi nation the war, a great example of another dictator who understood nothing of warfare, and purged his best officers in fear of a strong army while at war. 


Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk

By Bob Scales

3 out of 5 Stars

Interesting topics covered by General Scales. The author makes important points on the need for the U.S. military to invest in our capabilities at the tactical level. He is insistent on the requirement for victory at the small unit level in warfare, specifically the infantry and other combat arms. I found two flaws in his arguments, first, Scales equates small tactical level victories to winning in warfare. He seems to believe that the sum of tactical wins will equal strategic success, this is rarely the case. Second, along the lines of General Smith's "The Utility of Force," Scales makes the assumption that future wars will resemble the wars of today. While this is possible, it may not be the case. The United States should decide what acceptable levels of risk are when determining force structure, and taking risk of losing in major combat operations vis-a-vis counterinsurgency may not be the best option.

A definite positive of the book was Scales description of the four types of General Officers, and his laying out the need for strategic level thinking in the General Officer Corps. 


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

by Rosa Brooks

4 out of 5 Stars

Fascinating take on the state of U.S. foreign policy. Her basic thesis revolves on how the United States has evolved into a nation that looks to the military to solve nearly all its problems. More than just fighting the nations wars, the U.S. military takes on a range of missions from Humanitarian Assistance to Public Diplomacy, often leaving other agencies and elements of national power behind. 


Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

by Mary Roach

3 out of 5 Stars

In this book, Mary Roach examines the various way science assists American men and women in combat. From diarrhea medicine to exo-skeletons, Roach takes an in-depth look from the lab to the field.    


War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict

by Cory Mead

3 out of 5 Stars

decent book, it does give a nice history of models and simulations and how that Army has adopted them over the years. It does detail the success of such games as "America's Army" on recruiting, but does not go into detail on failures of games and why, rather he offers one small footnote.