There are many reading lists available to the military professional and an increasing focus on Professional Military Education within Army. These reading lists are a treasure trove of suggestions from more senior leaders who have had time to gradually read widely over their career. A junior officer may well feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material though, and the feeling that they could never read enough – the Chief of Army’s Reading List is over 100 pages and contains countless works, albeit divided into categories. The Commanding Officer 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment’s Reading List is one of few that is broken into recommendations for various rank bands and explains why each book is present.
You will be busy as a Platoon Commander, especially a new one. There will also be days where you do not feel like coming home and reading about your job. Here then, are just six books that I have found both helpful and entertaining to read. Getting through them over the first couple of years as an officer will not feel like hard work. Reading them in the order below is suggested and all can be found on Kindle.
1. Infantry Attacks by Erwin Rommel. Before he was the Desert Fox, Rommel was leading infantry platoons and companies in the First World War. His work is a cracking read full of tales of cunning, perseverance and the challenges faced by junior officers. Regardless of your corps, Rommel’s methods of defeating larger forces will emphasise the importance of inflicting the psychological state of defeat upon the enemy commander. This book is best read early, perhaps even during I Class at Royal Military College – Duntroon.
2. The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars by Patrick Hennessey. Moving forward nearly a century from the First World War, Hennessy, a Grenadier Guards officer, describes life in training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and on campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan. You will notice parallels between the challenges faced by Rommel and those faced by Hennessy in a different theatre and era.
3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Rank and orders will only get you so far. Carnegie based this book off a wildly popular course he taught in 1930s America. It is broken down into short chapters on each of his principles, and in reading them you will recall recent instances where you would have done well to apply those principles.
4. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. You would not think it from watching the 1990s film adaptation, but Heinlein’s 1950s book is a thoughtful and controversial reflection on citizenship, military training and why we go to war. It also touches on futuristic themes such as the use of battlesuits in combat. Would you like to know more?
5. A History of Warfare by John Keegan. A renowned British historian, Keegan traces the development of warfare from tribesmen throwing javelins at each other to the Second World War. He draws a common thread between the earliest warriors and the modern soldier. Keegan has been criticised for romanticising the soldier and his motivations. However, when I interviewed my soldiers and asked them why they joined the Army I heard many of those idealistic motivations stated with sincerity.
6. The Human Face of War by Jim Storr. A highly readable companion to doctrine, the book explains not just what you should do, but why. Through ruthless application of logic and mathematics, Storr tends to put a number to something rather than simply saying that surprise, for example, is “good”. This book is deliberately last on this list. It will be best read after experiencing a major exercise, where you have seen “big Army” at work. In reading it, I was struck by how many of its themes and challenges were central to the discussions in a brigade headquarters on Exercise Hamel a few months earlier. You can find further details in my book review.
About the author
Chris Hall is an Australian Infantry Officer. His interests are military history, the psychology of battle and methods of overwhelming enemy decision cycles. He is studying a Bachelor of Business Administration through Southern Cross University.