I read all three of these books as they are on the Army Chief of Staff Reading List. That list is a bi-annual list the highest ranking member of the Army publishes for professional development. Sometimes the lists are highly curated and you can see the purpose and direction intended. Sometimes, they are just a huge collection of non-fiction books that people have been told to read for years. The current list has 120+ books and seems to have no defining theme. The books in this review were available from the Army Digital Library and I read them this year. None warrants its own review but also, I’m way behind on reviews.
Dereliction of Duty
This book was written by LTG H.R. McMaster as part of his Ph.D. thesis at UNC. At the time he was a hero of the First Gulf War, specifically the Battle of 73 Easting in which he led a tank company that found the enemy by surprise and though outnumbered “the 9 M1A1 tanks of Eagle Troop destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers, and 30 trucks in 23 minutes with no American losses”. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions. McMaster was always considered an innovative thinker and was widely respected but he developed a reputation for “bucking the system” that slowed his promotions, despite his overwhelming success at all levels of leadership. As a three-star Lieutenant General, he was appointed the Nation Security Advisor in February of 2017, succeeding LTG Michael Flynn. This is where, I assume, most of you become familiar with LTG McMaster. This becomes interesting as his book, Dereliction of Duty, is about how military and civilian leadership failed and the result was the Vietnam War. The book really is an outstanding scholarly achievement. McMaster writes a very cohesive narrative that clearly outlines his thesis and does not deviate. It is that much more interesting that he was on active duty while writing a book this scathing.
His writing of this book led many to question his decision to serve as NSA in the current administration and became an easy point of attack from critics, who called him a hypocrite. He has a new book coming out next year that might shine more light on the matter, but then again, doesn’t everyone?
Army of None
The future of war is autonomous. I’ve seen the Terminators and Battlestar Galactica. I know that robots are coming for us but this book isn’t quite about that. I studied at the Naval Postgraduate School which is doing some cutting edge research on autonomous technology so I thought this would be really interesting and it just wasn’t. Apparently Bill Gates called this book a must read a few years ago, I disagree but then again, I’ve done some studying on the topic. I read this months ago so it isn’t fresh so I’ll use this opportunity to mention that as it stands AI is not a threat. I know that deep learning machines have been trained to play chess, Go, and Jeopardy. That does not mean we are on the cusp of I, Robot, regardless of what Elon Musk fear mongers about. This book was forgettable.
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
So… when this book became available, I saw the length of it and thought that I really didn’t want to get into a huge book but it was a library checkout and has incredible ratings on goodreads. I underestimated what this book was as well. It is basically a textbook. It was not a good audiobook. It covers 1500 until today (roughly 1990) but a third of the way in we were already in 1900 and that disappointed me. I wanted to learn more about the 1500 to the American Revolution which I think receives too little attention. The book covers the major themes but none of the interesting caveats or exceptions which make history interesting. It painted with a very broad brush but I should have anticipated that given it covered 500 years. It didn’t help that I read Rick Atkinson’s newest book immediately beforehand and he is very detailed in a way that I really enjoy. This book probably deserves a spot on my shelf as a reference book but more importantly, to read in more easily digestible pieces.