From my Dad: For those who like military history, books that explore leadership, or intriguing works of fiction, I have listed some of my favorites.
Favorite biography: Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, New York: Back Bay Books, 1974. An engaging biographical history and a must-read for every American. This book tells the story of our first president – a remarkable man of character who was the right leader, at the right time in history, to forge the America we know today.
Other early American history:
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004 (564 pages). A great non-fiction history that describes the events surrounding George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776. This Pulitzer Prize winning book documents what many argue was a critical event that marked an important turning point during America’s Revolution.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, London: Simon & Shuster Pocket Books, 2003 (574 pages). A fascinating historical fiction novel of early American exploration. The author very aptly describes the personalities who made the Lewis and Clarke expedition possible. One really gains an appreciation for the magnitude of the event in the context of the time period and the real courage and conviction required to fulfill President Jefferson’s vision for conquering the American West.
Any Civil War buffs? How about Gettysburg by Stephen Sears, New York: Houghton Mifflen: 2003. A Fletcher Pratt Award winning book (best nonfiction history about the Civil War). This is a more recent history of the Gettysburg campaign that I have found to be an excellent reference for my work at the Army War College. You may also enjoy one of these historical fiction novels: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg and The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara. Another historical novel and sequel to the Killer Angels.
How about from the cold war period: This Kind of War, T.R. Fehrenbach’s classic treatise on the “forgotten war” in Korean.
Interested in reading about the harsh life of early American seafarers? Check out In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, New York: Viking Press, 2000. This is a chilling account of the true story that motivated Melville to write his famous classic tale. “Jaws” author Peter Benchley calls it a wonderfully told “true story of unimaginable horror.”
A note about historical novels. Want a more lively and captivating view of history? Try a historical novel – a work of fiction set in a historically accurate time period. As you can see above, I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction when reading about history. Although the author often takes latitude in using fictional characters or describing the thoughts and motivations of historical figures, one can learn much about the context of the period described. They offer the best of both worlds. Typically a gripping and very interesting fictional story, told from the viewpoint of a fictional or historical character, and set in a historically accurate time period or often describing historic events. A good author captures the human emotion and drama that is often not found in a traditional history book. While interesting to read and no doubt helpful in understanding the history of the period, historical novels should not be used as primary sources for scholarly work.
Two of my favorite historical novels about Greek antiquity are written by Steven Pressfield:
– Gates of Fire. An epic novel of the ancient Spartan Battle of Thermopylae.
– The Afghan Campaign. A riveting tale that exposes the harsh life of an ancient Greek soldier. Located at the crossroads between the far-east and the middle-east, Afghanistan has a long history of dealing with occupying forces. This is a soldier’s vivid account of Alexander the Greats foray into the tribal lands of early Afghanistan.
Robby here: I will sometimes feature guest posts by family members and friends – they offer an alternate perspective, serve as a check to my (admittedly biased) opinions, and help round out the content of this website. My dad, a career Army officer, is an avid reader of biographies and historical novels, particularly focusing on military history.