Recommend me some thoughtful military books
September 3, 2012 3:49 AM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: Recommend me thoughtful military memoirs / journalism

I've been reading the Nathaniel Fick's autobiography One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer recently, which I picked up after reading Evan Wright's Generation Kill.

I'm not really interested in macho, gung-ho military stuff (which, rightly or wrongly is my impression of Bravo Two Zero and the like - but let me know if I'm wrong). If it has loving descriptions of guns, then it's probably not what I'm looking for. I'm interested in reading more like them, both on the journalistic and autobiographical side, or maybe similarly thoughtful accounts from civillians caught up in conflicts. I guess one of the key features I'm looking for is an awareness of (though probably not a direct focus on) the political context. I'm much more interested in accounts from recent conflicts, but anything post-WW2 would be acceptable.

Bonus points if it's available on the UK Kindle store or otherwise as an ebook in the UK. Thanks!
posted by xchmp to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I also just noticed this recent thread which overlaps with some of what I'm looking for.
posted by xchmp at 3:51 AM on September 3, 2012

James Neugass' diaries of being an American ambulance driver in the Spanish Civil War is really good, powerful stuff at times.
posted by parmanparman at 4:04 AM on September 3, 2012

I've got a few for you. These skew British Army.

With the Jocks - is a fantastic personal diary of the Western European campaign with the King's Own Scottish Borderers. I was serving in a TA unit with a Scottish regiment at the time and it was eerie how many similarities there were with modern Army culture, even at a distance of 65 years.

Shake Hands With the Devil - harrowing book from the commander of UN forces in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. Very hard read but also very worthwhile to get a feel for the dilemmas peacekeeping troops find themselves in.

Broken Lives - similarly, a memoir of the Bosnian war by a British commander. Again, a hard read but very good.

I've not read it, but I've been told by some serving friends of mine that The Junior Officers' Reading Club is a pretty good memoir of one young officer's time in Afghanistan.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:38 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just read In My Father's Country about an Afghan-American interpreter who worked both as a civilian and with the military in Afghanistan. It's not the best-written book ever, but it's pretty fascinating. She has great perspectives as an Afghan woman, as someone working with the military (and developing the associated PTSD), and an interpeter/cultural ambassador.
posted by olinerd at 4:39 AM on September 3, 2012

Happy Dave: " I was serving in a TA unit with a Scottish regiment at the time"

At the time I read the book, I hasten to add. I was several decades away from being born at the time the book is set.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:42 AM on September 3, 2012

If you liked Generation Kill then you will probably enjoy Jarhead.

And I know you're asking for post-WW2, but, as you've probably already seen from the (pre-WW2) recommendations you're getting, you're missing out on the best this genre has to offer if you draw the line at 1945. Paul Fussell, who knew what he was talking about, recommends Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa as " one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war".
posted by caek at 5:28 AM on September 3, 2012

Seconding The Junior Officers' Reading Club, which is a thoughtful, politically informed and well-written memoir even if the promise of intertwining military commentary with literary criticism fades a bit after the opening chapters. A more honest title would have been The Junior Officers' DVD Club as it's films and TV box sets (Zoolander, Grey's Anatomy, etc) that seem to sit most prominently alongside patrols and firefights.

The Diary of a Desert Rat is about the WW2 North Africa campaigns and is the most reflective memoir from that period I've read.
posted by greycap at 5:38 AM on September 3, 2012

Naples 44 Norman Lewis's interesting, insightful and moving account of life in Naples after the front line has moved on. Not technically post WW2 but an outstanding book nonetheless.
posted by Dr.Pill at 5:38 AM on September 3, 2012

If you liked Nathaniel Fick you might try some similar recent memoirs by young American officers, especially Kaboom by Matt Gallagher, This Man's Army by Andrew Exum, and (probably the
least thoughtful of the bunch, but still interesting) The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:44 AM on September 3, 2012

General Sir Mike Jackson: Soldier: The Autobiography.
Tony McNally: Watching Men Burn: The Falklands War, and What Came Next a Soldier's Story
posted by adamvasco at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2012

Chickenhawk by Robert Mason is one of my all-time favorite military books. Mason joins the army during the Vietnam War because he wants to fly helicopters, knowing only that Vietnam "was a great place to buy stereo equipment."

The 13th Valley by Del Vecchio is a historical fiction novel of the Vietnam War that follows a FNG from his arrival through a period of time. Don't let the fiction part bother you.

Finally Nam by Mark Baker. This is book is comprised of interviews of different people's accounts of the war. Rarely do I find myself emotional while reading but several parts of this book made me want to cry.

I can't say enough about these three books.
posted by Silvertree at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2012

A classic of the genre: Robert Graves' Good-Bye to All That.

Also, while it stretches "thoughful" to breaking point, Spike Milligan's Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall and its sequels shows you war through the comic-yet-tragic eye of one of England's most famous, but bipolar, comics.
posted by zadcat at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2012

Oh, a couple more:

The Things They Carried - short story collection by Tim O' Brien. 'Fiction', although I'd hazard a guess most of the things in it actually happened.

A Life in a Year - a collection of interviews of soldiers and Marines (many draftees) in Vietnam.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2012

Here are two of the best "thoughtful" ones for you, being written by genuine literary authors. They are not however, modern:

George MacDonald Fraser, noted author of the riotously hilarious Flashman novels, wrote what is to me one of the best memoirs of wartime life, Quartered Safe Out Here. Take it from someone who has been there, this story of his service as an enlisted man in the Border Regiment, fighting in Burma and India with the mixed British/Indian 14th Army, is the real thing.

Secondly, there is T.E. Lawrence (you know-- Lawrence of Arabia), a very interesting and complicated person. Actually, now that I think about it, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his classic opus about WWI in the desert and the Arab revolt, does qualify as a memoir as well. But I am thinking of something else Lawrence wrote: The Mint. Uneasy with the fame and celebrity that his wartime service had brought, in the mid 1920s, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force under an assumed name. (Truth is stranger than fiction, they always say.) His account of the little pleasures and petty brutalities that are universal to any military organization, delivered with a slightly more spare prose style than his previously dense and poetic writing, makes this one of my favorite T.E. Lawrence books. There is nothing else out there like it.
posted by seasparrow at 8:36 AM on September 3, 2012

Eric Greitens's "The Heart and the Fist" is great. You can hear him give an hour-long talk and Q&Q here:

I started "Junior Officers' Reading Club " but I don't think I finished it. I really liked "One Bullet Away."
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on September 3, 2012

Kaboom by Matt Gallagher, The War I Always Wanted by Brandon Friedman, and Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell are the three best post-9/11 military memoirs I've read.

You also might be interested in War by Sebastian Junger.
posted by lullaby at 8:50 AM on September 3, 2012

-Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top Ranked Marine Sniper. (Also, author Jack Coughlin interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR)

-Fire by Sebastian Junger. There's a very good section on the guerrillas of northern Afghanistan, as well as other very good journalism.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:51 AM on September 3, 2012

The Dying Place by David A. Mauer
posted by mibo at 3:22 PM on September 3, 2012

Combat Medic: Vietnam by Craig Roberts has accounts of ten largely thoughtful men who were (no surprise) combat medics in Vietnam.
posted by Jahaza at 7:07 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions everyon. I'm looking forward to picking some of these up.
posted by xchmp at 11:13 PM on September 3, 2012

Orwell's _Homage to Catalonia_
posted by bardic at 2:55 AM on September 4, 2012

Dispatches is embedded journalism from Vietnam. It starts slow and gets fantastic. (Amazon).
posted by postcommunism at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2012

Reporting America at War a PBS series, might be useful to you.
And seconding Dispatches which was the first book ever of it's kind. From the 'blurb' "He seems to have brought to this book the ear of a musician and the eye of a painter . . . the premier war correspondence of Vietnam."--Washington Post. "The best book I have ever read on men and war in our time."--John le Carre." . . . Dispatches puts the rest of us in the shade."--Hunter S. Thompson.
posted by adamvasco at 12:59 AM on September 6, 2012

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