Reading Lists Aim to Promote Personal, Professional Growth
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2011 Legend has it that Alexander the Great slept with a copy of The Iliad, Homer’s epic tale set during the Trojan War, under his pillow.
Almost 2,500 years later, professional reading remains an important part of the military culture. Every service, most professional military schools and an increasing number of geographic and combatant commands offer up reading programs and reading lists as part of their professional development efforts.
In fact, many have multiple reading lists, aimed at different groups within the military at different ranks and stages of their careers.
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, recently took this initiative to a new level with an online video encouraging all of his command to check out the Eucom reading list.
The list is divided into sections with books about different phases of European history, culture and languages, as well as works of literary fiction that provide insight into European culture.
“This reading list is your gateway to really understanding the sea in which you swim when you are part of U.S. European Command,” Stavridis said in his video. “I would say, if you want to help us be stronger together, spend a little time on the U.S. European Command reading list.”
Stavridis, a voracious reader who majored in English at the U.S. Naval Academy, is a trailblazer in using a video to emphasize the importance of off-duty professional reading. And by encouraging all members of his command to participate -- not just senior officers and non-commissioned officers -- he’s part of a growing chorus of military leaders who promote reading as a route to professional and personal growth.
The Army chief of staff’s professional reading list, for example, consists of titles that provoke critical thinking about professional soldiering and the role of land power. It also encourages analysis of the past to provide a better understanding of today’s Army and the future of the profession of arms.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared his own recommended reading list while he served as the Army chief of staff.
Dempsey always has been a soldier-scholar, earning a master’s degree in English at Duke University and teaching English at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
So it’s not surprising that, in addition to volumes on the art of warfare and specific military engagements, he encouraged Army leaders to read books that provide insight into broader issues such as geopolitics and globalization.
Similarly, the chief of naval operations’ reading list includes history, fiction, inspirational and patriotic titles, as well as classics on military strategy and theory. According to the Navy Professional Reading Program website, selected volumes are designed to provide readers a deeper understanding and appreciation for naval heritage, the profession of arms and the complex modern world in which they operate.
The Air Force chief of staff reading list consists of 14 books divided into three categories: leadership, strategic context and military heritage. Titles are selected to inform readers about Air Force history, analyze ongoing conflicts and their relevancy to the future, inspire readers with success stories and provide lessons learned from conflicts.
In the same vein, the Marine Corps commandant’s reading list is developed to enrich readers’ knowledge and understanding of war. As of July 8, every Marine is required to read “First to Fight: An Insider View of the U.S. Marine Corps,” by retired Marine Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak. In addition, by regulation, every Marine is required to read “a minimum of one book per grade per year.”
A new reading list, called the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Library, includes 54 titles selected to capture the Corps’ history, culture and evolution.
The list, developed by Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Michael Barrett in cooperation with the Marine Corps Association, includes almost two dozen books on Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos’ professional reading list. But it also features books about professionalism, sacrifice and camaraderie in the face of challenge throughout history.
Among myriad other reading lists is the Joint Forces Staff College commandant’s list, with recommended books on joint and multinational operations past and present and volumes on leadership and command.
The U.S. Pacific Command commander has a reading list to promote an understanding of and appreciation for key countries and issues in the region. The selections provide historical context and insight into Willard’s five strategic focus areas: allies and partners; transnational threats; and China, North Korea and India.
The military’s appreciation of reading is not new.
Sir William Francis Butler, the 19th-century British lieutenant general, recognized the importance of an enlightened military force. “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards,” he noted.
John Adams shared Butler’s sentiment as he helped found the U.S. Military Academy in 1802. Adams encouraged military officers to tap into “the great source of information” found in an active reading program.
Before assuming his post at Eucom in 2009, Stravridis said his foundation in English and literature has made him a better communicator, analyst and leader.
“Every day I wrote something and communicated to my team; every day I had to analyze problems, most often regarding human personality; and every day I used what I learned as a leader,” he told a U.S. Naval Institute blogger.
Stavridis said his reading gave him insights into the complexities of the world and its people military leaders must understand. “What I discovered reading Hemingway, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Updike, Forester, McCarthy and countless other authors shaped my world view and honed my understanding of the most complex terrain in the world: the human heart.”