Some summer reading recommendations (especially for those interested in national security!)

Have you settled on your summer reading list?  If not, today’s post may be helpful.  Lawfire® readers may recall the previous reading lists: in 2018 we had Summer reading (and listening!) and two years later there was Your 2020 summer reading and listening list! (And it’s curated for those who may be new to the national security enterprise!)I think both still have good suggestions (especially for those new to this area).  I borrow from those posts, so consider the ideas below as supplements to the earlier ones.

Anyway, here are some recommendations from recent publications (for several of these I hope to have full-blown reviews for you in the coming weeks):

Amy B. Zegart, Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence,(2022).  I found this to be an extremely well-written book that covers a lot of ground regarding the U.S. intelligence community.  Everybody can learn from it.  

Nicholas Mulder, The Economic Weapons: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War, (2022).  Sanctions seem to have become the “weapon” of choice for American diplomacy, so it’s important to understand their history and their often mixed record of success.  Notably, the author wrote this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last April: “Don’t Expect Sanctions to Win the Ukraine War.” 

Larry O. Spencer,  Dark Horse: General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horsehoe to the Pentagon, (2021).  General Spencer served over forty years in the Air Force, and rose to become the first Black officer to be named the service’s Vice Chief of Staff.  His story of perserverance, honor and sheer hard work is a model for everyone.  He spoke about his book at our 27th Annual National Security Law conference, and a podcast of his fascinating remarks can be found here.

Bruce Jones, To Rule the Waves: How Control of the World’s Oceans Shapes the Fate of the Superpowers, (2021).  This book is a great survey of a number of key topics related to the seafaring world: the history of maritime commerce, details about ships both civilian and military, the impact of climate change, the challenge of China in the Pacific, and much more.  Lots of ‘bang for the buck’ in this one.

Mitt Regan, Drone Strike–Analyzing the Impacts of Targeted Killing, (2022).  This book by my friend Mitt Regan, a professor Georgetown Law, is a bit more academic than some readers might like, but there is plenty of substance here worth pondering.  Mitt examines a wide range of studies, and comes to conclusions that, as he puts it, “may both please and displease critics and supporters of targeted strikes” (which, in my book, means he is probably on to something!). 

Jacqueline L Hazelton, Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare, (2021).  A really fascinating and provocative read.  Through the study of several counterinsurgency efforts, Dr. Hazelton’s research challenges the conventional wisdom that says prevailing in counterinsurgency wars requires winning the “hearts and minds” of the population.  I found her conclusions compelling – see what you think!

James Stavridis, To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision (2022).  I am a huge fan of Admiral Stavridis’ books (and, incidentally, we were classmates at War College!).  His latest volume does not disappoint: in it he reviews several historical cases of decision-making under extreme stress, draws lessons-learned, and adds instructive insights from his own experience.  Plenty to learn here (even as I disagree with his analysis of one of the case studies).

Here’s four recommendations from previous posts:

James Mattis and Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead  (Discussed here).

Dana J.H. Pittard and Wes J. Bryant, Hunting the Caliphate: America’s War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell.  (Reviewed here).

Dr. Audrey Kurth Cronin, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovations is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists.  (Discussed here).

Tom Ricks, First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country (Reviewed here).

A few (mostly recent) novels that I think (hope?) will speak in some way to those interested in national security!

Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battles of Thermopylae. (Discussed here). 

James Patterson, Ist Case  (Discussed here).

John Lanchester, The Wall  (Discussed here).

P.W. Singer and August Cole,  Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution. (Reviewed here).

James Stavridis and Elliott Ackerman,  2034: A Novel of the Next World War . (Reviewed here).

My own summer reading ambitions:

I’m reading two memoirs:  Mark T. Esper’s, A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times, (2022); and William P. Barr’s, One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General (2022). 

I also want to finish Michel Paradis’ Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice, (2020);  Ben Lambeth’s, Airpower in the War Against ISIS, (2021); and Stanley McChrystal’s, Risk: A User’s Guide, (2021). 

Finally, I am going to look through the brand-new edition (March 2022) of The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations  (NWP 1-14M).  A joint publication of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (designed for non-lawyers!), it’s a quick summary of the latest American views on a variety of increasingly important maritime law issues including. e.g., freedom of navigation operations, rules for suppression of piracy and the drug trade, blockades and much more.   

In addition, it contains a concise summary of the law of war including, e.g., targeting, weapons legality, deception operations, and treatment of detained persons.  It’s not only a great intro for those new to naval law issues and/or the law of war, but it’s also a wonderful refresher for others.

(If you are looking for something about the Ukraine crisis, consider taking a look at this post: “What to read about the Ukraine crisis? 30 articles for your consideration”)

Happy reading and stay safe!






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