5 of the Best Military Non-Fiction Books Everybody Should Read
There’s no entertainment quite like a well-written memoir of adventure, danger, and hardship. It’s the kind of thing that sets your heart pumping and mind racing with excitement. All without ever leaving your nice, comfy couch. It’ll come as no surprise that some of the greatest military non-fiction books come from people who served on the front lines. Go to any bookstore in the world and you’ll see shelves upon shelves filled with great works of this ilk. But, for our money, here are five of the best.
With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge
A mainstay of pretty much every Marine Corps reading list since its publication in 1981, this firsthand account of World War Two is best known to the wider world as one of the main bases for the HBO miniseries The Pacific. And it’s no wonder. You’d be hard pressed to find a more clearly, honestly written account of the grunts at the front lines during some of the most brutal fighting in Pacific. It’s the closest thing to living firsthand through the mud and rain of Okinawa. Besides getting stationed in Okinawa.
Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant
Published by none other than Mark Twain, former President Grant completed his memoirs in the final months of his life. He was motivated by the knowledge that his end was near and desired to put his take on the Civil War to paper. Valued deeply by military historians, literary critics, and just about anybody who reads them, the great leader’s memoirs don’t shy away from the brutal combat he saw or the mistakes some people accused him of making during its bloodiest battles.
We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway
Perhaps not a traditional memoir told from a first person perspective about events from the eyes of a single person, this book is by no means some cold cut of pure historical, academic non-fiction. Hal Moore, who retired from the Army as a lieutenant general, and journalist Joseph Galloway were both party to the bloody Battle of Ia Drang covered in detail by this book. A blend of the co-authors’ personal accounts and those of other survivors gleaned from interviews and diaries, it’s more a memoir told by the entirety of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry Division on those fateful days than any single person.
Dispatches by Micahel Herr
While the previous entry was co-written by Mr. Galloway with General Moore, this is the only book here penned entirely by a civilian. And if you think that robs it of some of the impact it might have to a service member, then you should know three things: 1) Seeing things from an outside perspective is a great way to learn more about yourself. 2) Michael Herr spent most of 1967-1969 as a war correspondent in Vietnam for Esquire. 3) This book served as a partial basis for Stanley Kubrik’s Full Metal Jacket, the script of which Herr co-wrote. So yeah, definitely worth reading.
A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin
Joseph Martin was 15 years old when he joined the Connecticut Militia in 1776 as an eager Patriot ready to fight for the American cause. Over the next six years he fought at the Battles of Brooklyn, White Plains, Monmouth, Yorktown, and more. A survivor of Valley Forge as well, he became one of the American military’s first combat engineers and ended the war as a sergeant. His account of his years in uniform is, needless to say, essential reading to any Revolutionary War enthusiast. Or enthusiasts of any war, really.
Any great military non-fiction book is guaranteed to run an astute reader through an emotional gamut. And these five, with all the tragedy and triumph of war soaking every page, will really put your heartstrings through the ringer. So you may want to have a box of tissues handy when you’re reading them. And also maybe a beer to toast the brave wordsmiths who took what they saw in combat and put it down on the page for us all to learn from.
And if you’re not in a reading move but still looking for a way to pass some time, check out our picks of the 5 Best Military Movies on Netflix.