US Military Officer’s Reading List Circa 1941

On February 15, 2016, a friendly twitter gnome  posted a set of recommended reading for military officers at various stages of their career. This list comes from the 4th edition of “The Officer’s Guide: A Ready Reference of Customs and Correct Procedures Followed Within the Army Which Pertain to Commissioned Officers”, published in 1941.  I didn’t want this great list and opportunity to pass by with the forgetfulness that normally accompanies tweets, so I made this post. This is a great opportunity for those of us who like to read old books, as it is nicely curated by people who can generally be trusted to steer the student in the correct direction.

Reading old books is an important thing to do as it enables us to strip away the conceits and influences on modern culture and look at how people from a different era viewed the world, including their own history. This helps to form a better understanding of not just of their era, but our shared past and culture.

I looked into finding the text itself, but I have been unable to find a copy of this particular edition or ones close to it available publicly online. Google Books has editions from throughout and after the war digitized that allows for the searching of phrases to find similar book lists to this one. However, this reading list seems the most complete and the only one readily available to me.

Given that the reading list was compiled before Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War Two it represents the works deemed most useful to officers who were about to embark on the monumental task of winning a two front war against world powers. Considering the time it is from, it looks to provide a list of books which cover American history, world history and military history without the negative influence of modern historical scholarship. The works appear to be of the highest detail, scholarship and relevance. This extensive list is designed to be read over two decades over the officer’s career.

In addition to simply typing up the pictures posted on Twitter, I am going to provide some links to the material. This is a time consuming process, so the amount of works I’m going to track down is going to correspond to the interest this list gets, so be sure to leave a comment or share on Twitter of Gab if you are interested. My first preference will be to free collections that include Kindle, PDF and plaintext editions like Project Gutenberg and Barring that I will link to Google Books. If none of these are available, I will link to Amazon. Many of these works are available from Amazon in various formats, even if I don’t provide a link.

For those who are wondering, while I may consider reading from this list in the future, I currently have several long series of books I intend to finish before I start reading any from here.

The introduction provided by “The Officer’s Guide”:

Several years ago the War Department published a list of books of historical, political, economic and military subjects for the benefit of officers who seek to enlarge their field of information on subjects closely allied to their professional work. This bibliography was selected by the Army War College and it entirely advisory in character

[CQW Notes: The first period focuses on American colonial and civil war history, particularly from the Confederate side. Winston Churchill’s The River War, is a notable exception, but considering he was the contemporary Prime Minister of Great Britain, it seems like a good person to be familiar with. Several works devoted to World War 1 are also included. As far as I can tell, the authors are all American, English or French, which shouldn’t be surprising. HG Wells is a notable inclusion as well.]

First Period (Average Four Years), Completion of Troop School to Company Officers’ Course

[CQW Notes: The second period maintains the same focus as before, but going more in-depth. Biographies are introduced, including figures from Ancient History (plus Gustavus Aldophus). More Napoleon and and French history are added to the mix. The only author that stands out to me here is Pershing]

Second Period (Average Five Years), Interval Between Company Officers’ School and Advanced Course

[CQW Notes: This period continues with more specific texts on the themes of the prior periods, but includes several new topics. The Crimean and Franco-Prussian Wars are included as well as current events in the Pacific. Broader views of history from more nations are included. Some texts on American strategic thinking (Mahan, Monroe Doctrine) are included as well.]

Third Period (Average Four Years), Interval Between Advanced Course and General Staff School

  • Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-65 (Lyman’s Letters), by George R. Agassiz
  • Life of Lord Kitchener, by Sir George C. A. Arthur
  • The Rise of American Civilization, by Charles A. and Mary E. Beard
  • The Holy Roman Empire, by James Bryce
  • The Dardanelles, by Sir Charles E. Callwell
  • The Story of Philosophy, by William J. Durant
  • Principles of War, by Ferdinand Foch, translated by Hillaire Belloc
  • Personal Memoirs of U.S Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant
  • The Russian Army and Its Campaigns in Turkey, 1877-1878, by Francis V. Greene
  • The War in Crimea,  by Sir Edward B. Hamley
  • The Monroe Doctrine, by Albert Bushnell Hart
  • Tannenberg, by Sir Edmund Ironside
  • America’s Foreign Relations, by Willis F. Johnson
  • The March on Paris and the Battle of the Marne, by Alexander von Kluck
  • The Influence of Sea Power on History, by Alfred T. Mahan
  • An Aide De Camp of Lee, by Sir Frederick B. Maurice
  • Statesmen and Soldiers of the Civil War, by Sir Frederick B. Maurice
  • The Franco-German War of 1870-71, by Helmuth von Moltke
  • Life of Voltaire, by James Parton
  • The Mexican Nation, by Harbert I. Priestly
  • The War in the Far East, by the Military Correspondent of the Times, by Charles a Court Repington
  • History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, by James F. Rhodes
  • Air Warfare, William C. Sherman
  • Lincoln, An Account of His Personal Life, by Nathaniel W. Stephenson
  • My Campaign in Mesopotamia, by Sir Charles V.F. Townshend
  • Nan Shan and Port Arthur, 1911, by N.A. Tretyakov
  • History of Charles XII, King of Sweden, by Francois M. D. De Voltaire
  • The Life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, Garnet J. Wolsely

[CQW Notes: The fourth period introduces serious strategic texts including Clausewitz and Mahan. It includes texts covering the situation with Japan and includes texts by Ludendorff. It sets a clear tonal difference versus the first four periods.]

Fourth Period (Average Four Years), Interval Between Command and General Staff School and the Army War College

  • The War of the Future in Light of Lessons of the World War, by Friedrich A. J. Von Bernhardi
  • On War, by Carl von Clausewitz
  • The Naval History of the World War, by Thomas G. Frothingham
  • The Conduct of War, by Colmar F. von der Goltz
  • The Nation in Arms, by Colmar F. von der Goltz
  • Wellington, by Phillip Guedalla
  • Out of My Life, by Paul con Hindenburg
  • Political and Social History of the United States, 1492-1828, by Homer C. Hockett
  • Life of Napoleon, by Baron Anthoine H. Jomini
  • Japan’s Pacific Policy, by Kiyoshi K. Kawakai
  • What Japan Thinks, by Kiyoshi K. Kawakai
  • Five Years in Turkey, by Otto V. K. Liman von Sanders
  • Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914-November 1918, by Eric von Ludendorff, Volume 1Volume 2
  • The General Staff and Its Problems, by Eric von Ludendorff, Volume 1, Volume 2
  • The Crowd- A Study of the Popular Mind, by Gustave Le Bon
  • Sea Power and Its Relation to the War of 1812, by Alfred T. Mahan, Volume 1 Volume 2
  • The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, by Alfred T. Mahan, Volume 1, Volume 2
  • History of War in the Peninsula and in the South of France from the Year 1807 to the Year 1814, by Sir William F. P. Napier
  • The Rise of Rail Power in War and Conquest, by Edwin A. Pratt
  • Soldiers and Statesmen1914-1918, Sir William R. Robertson

[CQW Notes: The fifth period is very mixed and largely covers more history and current affairs than anything else. There are several texts on Latin America, which stood out to me.]

Fifth Period (Average Seven Years), After Army War College Course

  • History of the United States, 1801-1817, by Henry Adams
  • The Study of War for Statesmen and Citizens, by Sir George G. Aston
  • Life of John Marshall, by Albert J. Beveridge
  • The American Commonwealth, by James Bryce
  • Modern Democracies, by James Bryce
  • History of Civilization in England, by James Bryce
  • The World Crisis, by Winston Churchill
  • History of Modern Europe, by Sidney B. Fay
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon
  • What’s Wrong with China, by Rodney Y. Gilbert
  • The Age of Big Business, by Burton J. Hendrick
  • Roosevelt and the Caribbean, by Howard C. Hill
  • The Republics of Latin America, by Herman C. James and Percy A. Martin
  • The History of American Foreign Policy, by John Latane
  • The Federalist, by Madison, Jay & Hamilton
  • The History of England, by Thomas B. Macaulay
  • The French Revolution, by Louis Madelin
  • Grover Cleveland, the Man and the Statesman, by Robert McElroy
  • The Masters of Captial, by John Moody
  • The Railroad Builders, by John Moody
  • Imperialism and World Politics, by Parker Thomas Moon
  • The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, by Hosea B. Morse
  • The Rise of the Dutch Republic, by John Motley
  • The Middle Ages, by Dana C. Munro
  • The Armies of Labor, by Samuel P. Orth
  • The Boss and the Machine, by Samuel P. Orth
  • Cavour, by George Maurice Paleologue, translated by Ian F. C. Morrow and Muriel M. Morrow
  • A History of Russia, by Sir Bernard Pares
  • Japan, the Rise of a Modern Power, by Robert Porter
  • The United States and Mexico, by James F Rippy
  • Latin America and World Politics, by James F. Rippy
  • Bismarck, by C. Grant Robertson
  • The Hispanic Nations of the New World, by William R. Shepard
  • America Comes of Age, by Andre Siegfried
  • The Canadian Dominion, by Oscar D. Skelton
  • The Strategy and Tactics of Air Fighting, by Oliver Stewart
  • The Age of Invention, by Holland Thompson
  • The New South, by Holland Thompson
  • The Mexican Mind, by Wallace Thompson
  • The Destiny of a Continent, by Manuel Ugarte

My overall thoughts on the list, is that it is probably something to be perused more than to be read straight through, especially as we are not WW2 era officers. Some texts will be interesting to you for different reasons, some will just be the content, but others will include the specific perspective of the time.

The historical context of the list itself is interesting as well. In the early periods,  I sensed that a focus on learning about France was purposefully weaved in. I was struck by how interwar politics was entirely absent.

I hope you manage to find a few interesting books to read off of this list.


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