With my SAASS duties, a book contract in hand, and a manuscript to write I'm not sure how much of my recent acquisitions I shall be able to read by the end of summer, but I shall at least give it a go! I'm not including books on cyber and space power that I read as part of my day job; rather I am listing books that have sparked my interest and will hopefully provide heuristic inspiration. In no particular order, they are as follows:
1. Charles Hill, Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).
An erudite exploration of the reciprocal relationship between literature and strategy. Hill lays out his stall thus:
So the argument of this book is that the world should recognize high political ideas and actions of statecraft as aspects of the human condition that are fully within the scope of literary genius, and ones that great writers have consistently explored in important ways. They were not simply using political circumstances as a background for their characters' dramas but were instead thinking deeply and significantly about the ideas themselves. The great authors not only reveal themselves aware of statecraft, some are themselves strategists, exploring ideas fundamental to statecraft and international order. p. 7.
2. Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (New York: Harper, 2010).
An argument that life is actually getting better, not because human nature has evolved but because culture has changed to such an extent that ideas are now subject to a Darwinian process of natural selection, ensuring that the best ideas for the continuing prosperity of humanity. Ridley writes:
To argue that human nature has not changed, but human culture has, does not mean rejecting evolution – quite the reverse. Humanity is experiencing an extraordinary burst of evolutionary change, driven by good old-fashioned Darwinian natural selection. But it is selection among ideas, not among genes. The habitat in which these ideas reside consists of human brains. p. 5.
3. Stephen D. King, Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).
An uncomfortable (for this reader) look at the emerging challenges to Western prosperity. King argues:
It is, of course, a comforting thought that the rest of the world is embracing the spirit of industrial innovation established in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in a newly enlightened Europe and a newly independent United States. Technologies now spread more quickly to other parts of the world, a reflection of lower transportation costs and, more recently, much lower information costs. Trade between Western and emerging nations has flourished. There are more democracies now than there used to be. Yet, as I shall argue, economic progress in the developed world did not just depend on improvements in technology or the adoption of democracy. It also depended on access to 'enabling resources' – land, raw materials, migration (and, in the past, slavery) – and the ability to rig markets. The arrival on the world economic stage of the emerging nations has the potential to undermine these sources of Western prosperity, both through the emerging nations' own demands over resources that are ultimately limited and through the heightened level of cross-border competition in a wide range of markets. The West has been economically comfortable for many years: life is now becoming distinctly uncomfortable. pp. xvii-xviii.
4. Sebastian Junger, War (New York: Twelve, 2010).
An unflinching and unsparing insight into the rigors and horrors of modern combat, and what animates the men who fight, by freelance journalist Sebastian Junger who spent over fifteen months following (and embedded with) a platoon of the U.S. Army based in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan.
5. Donald Stoker, The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
Stoker, a Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, provides a comprehensive strategic analysis of the U.S. Civil War. He writes:
… this book will tell the story of the "how" of strategy in the war – its evolution and the attempts at implementation – as well as show why certain strategic decisions were made and their impact. It is not an exercise in inevitability, but it is sometimes one in contingencies. There were countless decision points along the way where different outcomes were possible. By this I do not mean that the South could have won, though this was certainly true. In my view, however, what is underevaluated, and therefore worth stressing, is that the North could and should have won sooner. The main reason behind the Union's victory in the Civil War is that its leaders eventually developed a military strategy capable of delivering the political end they desired. The question is not just how the North won, but why it took so long. pp. 10-11.
6. Keith L. Shimko, The Iraq Wars and America's Military Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Shimko, an associate professor at Purdue University, argues that the U.S. and coalition 'victory' over Iraq in 1991 was due to the emergence of a revolution in military affairs (RMA). Shimko writes:
Although others have dealt extensively with the political and strategic aspects of the Iraq Wars, this book addresses their military significance by focusing on two questions that have been at the center of the current RMA debate: What are the military lessons of the Iraq Wars for the future of American defense policy? Should the Iraq Wars be seen as a fundamental turning point in the history of warfare? p. 25.
7. Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War III: Divided Houses (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
This is the third installment of Sumption's majestic history of the Anglo-French Hundred Years War. The first two volumes can be found here and here, and in Divided Houses Sumption chronicles the period 1369 to 1393. Sumption is a remarkable man – by day he is a barrister in the British law courts (a very demanding profession) and by night has penned three volumes on the Hundred Years War (that in total come in at nearly 3,000 pages) that are widely regarded as the history of that war.
I'm not sure that the Sumption book will get my full attention given my other commitments, but I look forward to dipping into it over the coming months.