Top Ten Books on Leadership in Time of War

The editors of HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 14 distinguished scholars and public policy leaders to serve as judges in developing a list of Ten Books on Leadership in Time of War.

Each judge nominated a number of titles, which were then compiled on a ballot that included the nominations of all judges. The judges then marked their Top Ten selections on this ballot. A book was awarded ten points for receiving a No. 1 rating, nine points for receiving a No. 2 rating, and so on. The ten books with the highest aggregate rating made the list.

1. The Second World War

  • Score: 55
  • Author: Winston S. Churchill
  • Written: Six volumes published 1948-1954
  • About this book: Churchill’s six-volume memoir of the causes and conduct of World War II is a masterpiece both for its literary style and historical insight. The first volume, The Gathering Storm, explains how the errors made by the allies in forging the peace at the end of World War I (inspired by the utopian, liberal Democratic U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who wanted to “make the world safe for democracy”) set the stage for the rise of German Nazism, making World War II a foregone conclusion. The final volume, The Triumph and Tragedy, brings the sad story full circle, describing how Stalin’s Soviet Union swallowed up the whole of Eastern Europe and set the stage for the Cold War. Because of the enduring power of this book, people will see World War II through the eyes and political vision of Winston Churchill for centuries.

    2. Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command

  • Score: 41
  • Author: Douglas Southall Freeman
  • Written: 1942-1944
  • About this book: Famed Civil War historian Douglas Southall Freeman filled this book with meticulous scholarship. It examines the personalities and military campaigns of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s subordinates in the Army of Northern Virginia. This is the army that for the better part of a four-year war managed to hold the armies of the North out of Richmond, Va.–which sits just 90 miles south of Washington, D.C.–despite the North’s overwhelming advantages in men and materiel. Stonewall Jackson–hero of Manassas, the Shenandoah Valley campaign, and Chancellorsville–occupies a prominent place in Lee’s Lieutenants. Freeman, the son of a Confederate soldier, dedicated his life to researching and writing about great Virginians, including Lee himself and George Washington.

    3. On War

  • Score: 41 points
  • Author: Carl Von Clausewitz
  • Written: 1832
  • About this book: Clauswitz’s wife first published this unfinished collection of essays the year after he died. Ever since, it has been a standard text on armed conflict. Clausewitz famously observed that war is politics by other means, an effort to achieve a political end through the use of force. “If for a start we inquire into the object of any particular war, which must guide military action if the political purpose is to be properly served,” wrote Clausewitz, “we find that the object of any war can vary just as much as its political purpose and its actual circumstances.” Clausewitz also first expressed the concept of the fog of war (if not the precise phrase). “Lastly, the great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently–like the effect of a fog or moonshine–gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural appearance,” he wrote. “What this feeble light leaves indistinct to the sight, talent must discover, or must be left to chance. It is therefore again talent, or the favor of fortune, on which reliance must be placed, for want of objective knowledge.” CIA Director George Tenet take heed.

    4. The History of the Peloponnesian War

  • Score: 39
  • Author: Thucydides
  • Written: 5th Century, B.C.
  • About this book: “It is not the miserable that would most justly be unsparing of their lives; these have nothing to hope for: it is rather they to whom continued life may bring reverses as yet unknown, and to whom a fall, if it came, would be most tremendous in its consequences.” Thus spoke Pericles in his funeral oration, probably the most famous passage in Thucydides’ history. The words apply equally today to one-time NFL star Pat Tillman and other courageous Americans who have sacrificed their young and promising lives serving their country in Afghanistan or Iraq. Thucydides wrote this history of the war between Athens and Sparta–which spanned the period of 431 to 404 B.C.–while it was still in progress, and he apparently died before it was over. It is unique among early war chronicles because it put accuracy above dramatic effect. Nonetheless, Thucydides offers a vivid depiction of the war’s military engagements and political backdrop.

    5. The Art of War

  • Score: 36
  • Author: Sun Tzu
  • Written: Probably 5th Century, B.C.
  • About this book: This ancient Chinese treatise continues to be read by military officers the world over. Sun Tzu provides pithy advice about combat that applies equally well to political, entrepreneurial or military belligerencies. His aphorisms include: “All warfare is based on deception.” “Rapidity is the essence of war.” “That general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.” “Though effective, appear to be ineffective.” Despite tremendous advances in technology, Sun Tzu’s basic principles remain relevant today.

    6. Lincoln and His Generals

  • Score: 28 points
  • Author: T. Harry Williams
  • Written: 1952
  • About this book: Beginning with the ever-hesitant George B. McClellan and ending with bold and belligerent Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln worked his way through a series of inadequate generals who were unwilling, or failed, to carry out his strategy of destroying the Confederate army as the means of destroying the Confederacy itself. Williams paints a picture of Lincoln as a commander in chief who was deeply absorbed in both the overall strategy and the detailed military conduct of the war for which he was responsible.

    7. The Prince

  • Score: 27 points
  • Author: Niccolo Machiavelli
  • Written: 1513
  • About this book: Niccolo Machiavelli served for 14 years in the late 15th and early 16th centuries as a top bureaucrat and diplomat for the city of Florence. Then he found himself briefly jailed for his service. In his retirement, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, in which he advocates a realistic, rather than moralistic, approach to affairs of state. His argument is based on the assumption that fallen man, with an imperfect nature, inevitably pursues self-interest. “Men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are a sorry lot, is broken on every occasion in which their own self-interest is concerned,” he wrote, “but fear is held together by a dread of punishment which will never abandon you.”

    8. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

  • Score: 24
  • Author: William Manchester
  • Written: 1978
  • About this book: Douglas MacArthur is one of the most remarkable men America has produced. Raised by a father, Arthur MacArthur, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in the Civil War, MacArthur went on to win his own Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. He finished first in his class at West Point; was decorated 13 times and promoted to brigadier in World War I; and, in 1930, became the Army’s youngest chief of staff. In World War II, MacArthur commanded U.S. forces in the South Pacific, conceiving and leading the island-hopping campaign that led to the defeat of Japan. He then commanded the occupation of that country and directed its transformation to representative government. MacArthur was an ardent anti-Communist, but he also understood the limits of military power. After serving brilliantly in the Korean conflict–an undeclared war with shifting objectives–MacArthur was fired by President Harry Truman, who feared the general might become the Republican presidential candidate. Instead, we got Eisenhower. But MacArthur lives on in Manchester’s book, and in his own memorable rhetoric.

    9. Eisenhower: Soldier and President

  • Score: 22
  • Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
  • Written: 1990
  • About this book: Stephen Ambrose originally published a two-volume biography of Eisenhower in the early 1980s that he then revised and condensed into this single-volume biography. Eisenhower: Soldier and President describes Eisenhower’s masterful management of the massive and complex allied force that was assembled to re-conquer Western Europe from the Nazis in World War II. It also paints a positive portrait of Eisenhower as a prudent President, who led the United States in the 1950s through a time of peace and prosperity in the face of a growing Soviet menace.

    10. Histories

  • Score: 22
  • Author: Herodotus
  • Written: 5th Century, B.C.
  • About this book: Herodotus, widely known as the first historian, gives a detailed account of the Persian Wars, which preceded the Peloponnesian War by about 40 years. He leaves off just about where Thucydides picks up, with the rise of the Athenian Empire. Herodotus’ work is lively and at times humorous. Yet, he provides a history that is remarkably unbiased. His narrative is our best roughly contemporary account of the great victory over the Persians at Marathon, the Spartans’ brave stand at Thermopylae, and the Athenian naval victory in the Straits of Salamis, to name just a few.
    Honorable Mention

  • Civil War: A Narrative (3 Vol.)
    by Shelby Foote–21 points

  • Meditations
    by Marcus Aurelius–20 points

  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
    by James M. McPherson–19 points

  • Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage and Vision
    by H.W. Crocker III–19 points

  • Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Winston Churchill??¢â???¬â???¢s Famous Speeches
    by Winston Churchill–18 points

  • Life of Pericles
    by Plutarch–18 points

  • On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace
    by Donald Kagen–17 points

  • Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola
    by St. Ignatius–16 points

  • God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life
    by Paul Kengor–15 points

  • Rommel, the Desert Fox
    by Desmond Young–14 points

  • The Gulag Archipelago
    by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn–13 points

  • A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822
    by Henry Kissinger–12 points

  • Washington: The Indispensable Man
    by James Thomas Flexner–11 points

  • About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior
    by David Hackworth–10 points

  • Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam
    by H.R. McMaster–10 points

  • Five Days in London: May 1940
    by John Lukacs–10 points

  • War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
    by Chris Hedges–10 points

  • At the Abyss: An Insider??¢â???¬â???¢s History of the Cold War
    by Thomas Reed–9 points

  • Brave Men
    by Ernie Pyle–9 points

  • Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan
    by Edmund Morris–9 points

  • Here is Your War: Story of G.I. Joe
    by Ernie Pyle–9 points

  • Lincoln??¢â???¬â???¢s War: The Untold Story of America??¢â???¬â???¢s Greatest President as Commander in Chief
    by Geoffrey Perret–9 points

  • The Best and the Brightest
    by David Halberstam–9 points

  • Reagan??¢â???¬â???¢s War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism
    by Peter Schweizer–8 points

  • Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier
    by Philip Van Stern–8 points

  • Andrew Jackson: The Border Captain
    by Marquis James–7 points

  • We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: la Drang??¢â???¬ ¦quot;The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam
    by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway–7 points

  • Bismarck
    by Edward Crankshaw–6 points

  • Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory
    by Byron Farwell–6 points

  • Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant
    by Ulysses S. Grant–6 points

  • Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints??¢â???¬â???¢ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
    by Thomas F.X. Noble–6 points

  • Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny
    by Victor Davis Hanson–6 points

  • Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime
    by Eliot Cohen–6 points

  • Winston Churchill??¢â???¬â???¢s War Leadership
    by Martin Gilbert–6 points

  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler??¢â???¬â???¢s Eagle Nest
    by Stephen Ambrose–5 points

  • Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants and Their War
    by Eric Larrabee–4 points

  • Endgame
    by Tom McInerney and Paul Vallely–4 points

  • John Adams
    by David McCullough–4 points

  • The World Crisis (4 Vols.)
    by Winston Churchill–4 points

  • Truman
    by David McCullough–4 points

  • Churchill: A Life
    by Martin Gilbert–3 points

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom
    by Conrad Black–3 points

  • Homage to Catalonia
    by George Orwell–3 points

  • Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties
    by Paul Johnson–3 points

  • The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone 1932-1940
    by William Manchester–3 points