Prompted by Citizen Fouche, I have an idea for a reading list. One of the many problems with professional reading lists is that they are unlikely to be read by those within the professional institution they are intended for.
Hence mine is short and tries to be at least somewhat accessible. Friends and relatives who have often asked for me to give them strategy and foreign policy reading lists often have complained that I’m a bit too academic, so here I’m trying to go for the bare bones.
- Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince.
- Edward Bernays. Propaganda.
- Harold Lasswell. Politics: Who Gets What, Where, and How.
- William Lippman. Public Opinion.
- John Keegan. The Face of Battle.
- Williamson Murray and Alan R. Millett. A War To Be Won: Fighting World War II.
- Angelo Codevilla and Paul Seabury. War: Ends and Means.
I think all of these books express some hard truths about the realities of strategy, policy, and influence that must, to some degree, be dealt with before entering into the strategic debate. And all of them do so in a style that is profoundly accessible. if the reader is not overly depressed, infuriated, or bored by these books, he or she should then consult the larger and more in-depth reading lists circulating around the blogosphere.
Some will notice that it’s much more about politics than war. This is intentional. Much writing about strategy and international relations disregards the problem of politics–both domestically, in terms of strategy formulation, and on a more metaphorical level. When we think, for example, about a “political solution” to civil wars or insurgencies we forget that “politics” is a general term for the control and distribution of power and resources. In war, you create “political solutions” through guns, tanks, and bombs–without which negotiation as we understand it cannot properly function.
Machiavelli, Lippman, Laswell, and Bernays’ books describe politics as they are, not as we want them to be, although Bernays (like many Progressive thinkers of the period) is very over-optimistic both about the desirability of his vision and the actual effects of his supposedly newfound methods of mass influence.
I have included Codevilla and Seabury’s book because it is an excellent, accessible, and sometimes polemical “starter” to the world of strategy. John Keegan’s book takes one away from abstract strategizing to the often gruesome consequences of policy for those who must execute it. And Murray and Millett’s book is perhaps the best beginner’s intro to World War II.