Most overrated books about War

There are plenty of professional reading lists out there. These are supposed to give junior personnel the developmental mental stimulation needed to turn into the leaders of tomorrow. Sometimes books show up on these lists that shouldn’t be there. So here are what I consider the most over rated books about war.

“On Killing” by LTC(ret) Dave Grossman. This book will go down in history as a classic example of “garbage in/garbage out.” The data that Grossman used at the time of publication failed to support any of his predictions, especially the UCR data and SLA Marshall’s work. Grossman’s more provocative claims, that violent video games are creating a generation of killers, is absolutely denied by the reality that homicide has steadily fallen since 1992, and violent video games have become massively more available. A more thorough analysis can be found here: and here And speaking of SLA Marshall’s work…

“Men Against Fire” by SLA Marshall. There is no doubt that SLA Marshall was a journalist, a WWI veteran, and achieved high rank. There is a lot of doubt about his abilities as a historian to accurately gather and analyze evidence. This means you should read Marshall for the stories, and not about how to plan for and execute a successful war.

“On War” By Carl Von Clausewitz. This is an excellent book on classical maneuver warfare, but it contributed directly to WWI and WWII.  Simply stating “War is a continuation of politics by other means” isn’t helpful. But if you really want to study what made Napoleon effective against other generals of his era, this is the book to read. I find that warfare has moved beyond classical maneuver warfare, so it is honestly of limited value to most people as there is very little left of Clausewitz that is applicable to third and fourth generation warfare in terms of winning a war. By the time this book is of any use to a military professional, they shouldn’t need it except to learn the vocabulary that will allow them to talk to the stuffed shirts of academia who want to discuss at great length the “nature of war” versus the “character of war.”. But if that Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel actually does need it, I’m sure there will be a copy left over from some Major who just competed ILE.

“Attacks” by Irwin Rommel. This is a “look how awesome I am” memoir and little more. If you want to understand Rommel and his formative experiences in WWI, this is a great book. If you want to understand modern war, this is of limited value. The TL:DR version, German officer randomly maneuvers troops around Europe without much accurate knowledge of other German officers randomly maneuvering troops around Europe.

“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. If “On War” by Clausewitz is the first five books of the Old Testament then “The Art of War” is Proverbs. Figuratively of course. The reason for the popularity of “The Art of War” is that it makes the concepts of war a little more approachable to people who don’t have any business planning or executing a war. As such it actually has very little utility for a military professional. Is it something to have on the shelf? Yes, but only so you can pull a quote now and then to slap around someone suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect who will over rate the expertise found within “The Art of War.” Maybe that is why “The Art of War” shows up so frequently on CEO’s reading lists, and not on military professionals reading lists. The most useful thing you can take away from “The Art of War” is that skilled leaders get what they want without actually going to war.

“Rogue Warrior” by Dick Marcinko. There is no redeeming value in reading this biography in terms of learning how to successfully prosecute war. There is limited value in conducting unconventional operations, but only in areas without modern infrastructure or modern military. You can add “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle to this category as well.

So there you have it, the books off the top of my head that I think you shouldn’t bother reading. Comments are open.


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