Classics of Military History

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Autobiography & Memoir

The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant (1994 [orig. published 1885-1886])

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mark Twain once described Grant’s memoirs as the finest piece of literature written in the English literature in the nineteenth century. It was an apt description. In the last years of his life in an extraordinary piece of courage, because he was dying of throat cancer at the time, Grant wrote his memoirs.

Military Fiction

The Iliad, by Homer (various translations and editions)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The first great literary work in the Western literary canon, the Illiad, has gradually declined in its use in American university and college courses, undoubtedly because it is about the murderous sharp end of war and makes no bones about the fact that it regards its heroes as representing the height in human achievement. 

Period Military History

Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Professor Anderson’s study of the Seven Years’ War (known to Americans as the French and Indian Wars) examines the great war that determined the fate of North America and eventually led to the creation of the United States. 

Biography

Marlborough: His Life and Times [six vols.], by Winston S. Churchill (1933-38)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

During his wilderness years in the early and mid-thirties, Churchill wrote his masterful history of Britain’s greatest general, his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough. It is probably Churchill’s finest piece of historical writing, which is saying a great deal. 

Autobiography & Memoir

Tiger in the Barbed Wire: An American in Vietnam, 1952-1991, by Howard R. Simpson (1994)

by Max Bootvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Howard R. Simpson is one of the best memoirists you probably have never heard of—unless you happen to be a historian of the Vietnam War. He was a Foreign Service officer who worked for the U.S. Information Agency and, after retirement, became a novelist. 

Military Fiction

Sword of Honour trilogy, by Evelyn Waugh (1952, 1955, 1961)

by Max Bootvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy—comprising Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and The End of the Battle [originally published in England as Unconditional Surrender]—was published between 1952 and 1961. 

Autobiography & Memoir

The Centurions, by Jean Lartéguy (1961 [1962])

by Max Bootvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

This is a classic novel that became a cult favorite among American soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally published in French in 1960, it was for years hard to find in its English edition (translated by the World War II British commando Xan Fielding); a used copy would go for $800 on Amazon. 

Autobiography & Memoir

Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma, by George MacDonald Fraser (1992)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

George MacDonald Fraser fought in the 17th (Black Cat) Indian Division of the 14th Army during the siege of Meiktila and the battle of Pyawbwe in Burma during World War II. He is most famous for his superb “Flashman” series of novels set in the Victorian Empire, but his wartime autobiography, Quartered Safe Out Here—the title taken from a telegram he sent his parents—is his masterpiece. 

Biography

Wellington: The Years of the Sword, by Elizabeth Longford (1969-72)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Although Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword has now finally been superseded as a factual account of the Duke of Wellington’s military career by Rory Muir’s two-volume work published in 2014-15, her book is still unsurpassed as an insight into Wellington the man. 

Military Fiction

Life and Fate: A Novel, by Vassily Grossman (1988)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

If War and Peace was the greatest novel to arise from the War of 1812, Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate is its equivalent for the Russo-German struggle that started with Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and was only to end with his suicide in April 1945.

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The Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict strives to reaffirm the Hoover Institution's dedication to historical research in light of contemporary challenges, and in particular, reinvigorating the national study of military history as an asset to foster and enhance our national security. Read more.

Over time, a popular and scholarly consensus has been reached that a few singular military histories and philosophies of war offer unparalleled wisdom. Yet these landmark studies span 2,500 years of history, appear in a myriad of languages, and reference thousands of conflicts, and thus require brief, analytical introductions by contemporary military historians to guide the reader of how best to approach such a vast but often underappreciated literature.

The banner image is Gabriel Salmon's Hercules Fighting the Giants. Additional information available from the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.