Defense Secretary Mattis discusses his favorite books, and why

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Yard Dart, Dec 15, 2017.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    [General James Mattis, you have] accumulated perhaps one of the largest personal libraries of an active-duty military officer ever known in the modern world. What was behind this?
    I’d like to tell you mine was designed with purpose in mind. In fact, it was to read everything interesting in the world and ignore the boring, which was about the only challenge. I learned a lot from it, obviously. I was never perplexed for more than a moment when the enemy did something strategically or operationally or tactically, and I learned a lot about human nature from Sherman’s book and Marcus Aurelius and Mandela’s memoirs and everyone else’s. I don’t have a good storyline for what I did.

    Part of it, of course, was the Marine Corps had a reading list, and every boss I worked for seemed to have one, and they had rather a lack of sense of humor if I decided I didn’t need to read what they thought was important. They were not there to help me through my midlife crisis or find my inner child, so it was rather a blunt organization in terms of taking responsibility for your own development. History was just natural as well as biography, and for me, even fiction must be a part of it.

    Well, I read an article that said you’ve kept track of everything that you’ve read. When your library started to grow, what were the major titles that you had decided on that would be the foundation of your library? I mean, looking at reading in its basics as one of the three legs of the stool of personal development.

    Well, personal development is a broader issue when you deal with violence. If you don’t have an understanding of a letter from a Birmingham jail, and how Sherman put the enemy on the horns of the dilemma, and how Scipio Africanus was able to triumph, if you can’t take those lessons of life and tie them together as a military commander, you’re going to have a hell of a difficult time, especially in a democracy where if you rise to high rank, you’re selected for tactical reasons, and operational, but then you have to deal with strategic reasons, and often you’re bringing war’s grim realities and trying to reconcile those with the political leaders you eventually deal with, their human aspirations, which are for a much better world than the primitive, atavistic one of the battlefield.

    So you develop by broadening your understanding of human nature, of the ascent of man and everything else so that you can reconcile war’s realities, grim as they are, atavistic and primitive, with human aspirations, without becoming a narrow-minded person who at that point, you ought to give good military advice, but you can’t do so without trying to achieve a better peace, and so you need to have that broader reading as you grow and personally develop so you can actually do the job as a military officer, if you’re so fortunate that they keep you around long enough that you get promoted for a while.

    I guess on a tactical level there was a novel by M. M. Kaye called The Far Pavilions, and, of course, Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier. Nate Fick had One Bullet Away, and there’s some others on the tactical level. I think probably Alistair Horne and his Savage War of Peace — that was certainly one. Let me think. E. B. Sledge With the Old Breed was a really good one.

    When you go up to the operational level of war, where you look at operational and strategic, you can’t go wrong when you read Grant’s Memoirs or Viscount Slim’s Defeat into Victory. Oh, gosh, Liddell Hart and his book on Sherman and also his book on Scipio Africanus. I think Colin Gray’s Fighting Talk and The Future of Strategy are just two tremendous ones. Williamson Murray’s Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, up on the strategic level, plus Tony Zinni’s Before the First Shot Is Fired and H.R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty are really first-rate.

    But you have to understand how they walk those paths, too, so you’ve got to read Colin Powell’s My American Journey, and you have to keep your peace up there, so you’d better read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

    And when you read books like Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier, it just reminds you of the penalties that are paid by the private soldiers who have to carry out your orders. Then you read things like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom or Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, and you realize we’re not asked to do anything that’s all that much greater than what others have done before.

    If you look at Bob Gates’ book — I was the executive secretary for two secretaries at Defense, I worked closely with three others — and when you read Gates’ book Duty, you get a real sense of the breadth and the gravity of what faces people at that level. And in some way you look back on Will and Arial Durant’s The Lessons of History or Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton, and you realize, man, you can get an awful lot out of people who have been through this sort of thing and studied the ones who did it before. Then you realize how few things are really new under the sun if you do good reading. Any Marine who has not read Lucas Phillips’ book The Greatest Raid of All should. This is about the raid that shattered the dry dock at Saint-Nazaire, France, so that Bismarck would never have a place to be repaired if they went out to sea. You see how you can apply strategy to operations to the tactical costs and all.

    You look at our reliance on communications today, on cyber and all this stuff, and then you read Andrew Gordon’s book on The Rules of the Game about what went wrong for the Royal Navy between Nelson’s navy at Trafalgar and Admiral Jellicoe’s navy one hundred years later at Jutland, and you get a real reminder of how you can take fundamental errors that just screw you up royally. Certainly you get that too if you look at our nation, where we’re at right now, if you read Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly or The Guns of August, or you read Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers or Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy and World Order, you can see what’s happening to a nation in a broader context, which I think is critical.

    At the same time, you’ve got to study ethics and not confront your ethical dilemmas for the first time on the battlefield, so you read Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars or Malham Wakin’s War, Morality, and the Military Profession. Sometimes you can actually write books about the specific job you’re in. For example, there’s a lady named Gail Shisler, who is related to General O. P. Smith. She wrote a book called For Country and Corps: The Life of General Oliver P. Smith. He was the general who brought the 1st Marine Division on its way out of North Korea when it was surrounded there in that first bad winter in 1950 at the Chosin reservoir.

    So again, you don’t end up flatfooted — if you know what I mean — but there’s a host of these things that help guide you. They don’t tell you what the answers are, of course, they help guide. . . . That sort of approach to how I looked at strategy versus operations, tactics versus ethics, and the spiritual sense shows up repeatedly in many of these.

    When I started getting rid of books it was heartbreaking because I had to get rid of thousands because I was tired of hauling them all around. I knew I wouldn’t read them again. I kept my geology books, some of my military books, a lot of my history, especially of the West, the American West.

    So as you think through how to put together a personal library, remember that it is an intensely personal adventure. You may be entranced with the ability to hold a book in your hands, scribble in the margins, show the volume to friends who are visiting. Or you may want an entirely electronic library that resides remotely in the Cloud, available in a moment over your smart phone, tablet, or home computer.

    Your personal library may be seven books you deeply value or seven thousand, and it may be beautifully organized and alphabetized or simply arranged by the color of the book’s cover. What matters is that it is your library, invested with your intellectual capital, and serves as a garden of the mind to which you can return again and again.
    Book excerpt: Defense Secretary Mattis discusses his favorite books, and why

    What matters is that it is your library.... so what are your reading tools for survival?!
  2. sec_monkey

    sec_monkey SM Security Administrator

    The Wasteland Survival Guide 1-9 by Moira Brown uv cuz ;) ;)

    :D :D
    Brokor, Yard Dart and Asia-Off-Grid like this.
  3. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Oh the irony of it all, we have military leaders, everyone knows that they all are uneducated barbarians who only want personal glory, to spend the peoples money, to take the food out of the mouths of the poor and protect the one percent, to kill all of our youth and to glorify the barbaric nature of man. Men such as Grant, Eisenhower, Powell, etc. We then contrast that with the great wisdom of Warren, Pelosi, Schummer, Hoyer, Lewis, Conyers, Feinstein, etc, and the absolute truth that if we only followed their great plans, such as Obama care, income redistribution, carbon tax, climate change, unlimited refugee entrance, gun control, etc, and enacted the laws that they wish, the future of the United States would be problem free, all poverty and income inequality would end and the whole world would live in peace and harmony. Sarcasm off, and I know that in the present swamp I could easily added a dozen Republican names and political goals to the political list, but many of the things that they are attacked on. by the left, I happen to agree with, and up until at least now, I haven't been reeducated and brain washed by the mass media.

    Thank you for a very interesting and enlightening post. I would have missed it and it is very comforting to find that at least some of our leadership, civilian and military, still are classically educated and have some concepts of good and evil and the nature of man. Every now and then I lose track of that and start to think that our present political system, seemingly based on money, finding the lowest common denominator, getting re elected at all cost, and success being based on exploiting the latest gotcha, etc, is indeed the new normal.

    But who cares about the musings of an 80 year old mechanic at 2 AM waiting for his wood stove to settle down and let him get back to bed. We heat 100 % with wood and it is 6 above with a 30 mph wind tonight so the stove has to be fed once in the middle of the night. We could instead be reading of the wisdom of Warren, BLM, etc, and eagerly waiting the next explosion of wisdom by the snowflakes and those attacking our wealth and white privilege.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2017
  4. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Sorry for the rant, but it strikes at one of the few nerve endings I have left. Read the list this man has read and then see the media and its emphasis on sexual harassment, Russia, and whatever the last gotcha is gets me going. My favorite books are the Bible, especially the book of Job as it illustrates that everything we have, including Christ, is a gift from God, sorry chellovic, the question was my choices, Mein Kamph and Mao's Red Book, Marx, Engels and Lenin's works, if you don't know your enemies, you can't know yourself. Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein and its illustration that most of our lives are an illusion, Alas Babylon as it is what got me started in preps so many years ago, the Foxfire series as an example of the folk knowledge that we have thrown away and that is still well worth knowing, Grey's Anatomy as a slightly older edition of it and the Bible would be one of the few books I would choose if I knew TEOTWAWKI was actually happening. I am a sucker for reference books, grew up prior to the internet and like my facts on paper and close so Handbook of Chemistry, Physics, Agricultural engineering, Civil engineering, some classic Economics and Political Science books, are well up there. If I had a choice I would be as bad or good as Jerry Young and list at least 50 that I would just have to have, but as I get older I find that I read and reread 10 or so time after time. Greek classics, we haven't changed and their questions are still fresh, the Bible and a good commentary, some classic science fiction, and more and more often comments on blogs. Find Fred on everything, Woodpile report, some of Claire Wolfe, etc well worth reading and thinking about. Got a good collection on this blog in the resource section that will keep you occupied for a good long time, especially if you wish to learn some useful skills, electronics, etc
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2017
  5. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Duane, no need to apologise to me, nor to anyone else for that matter, concerning your library choices and preferences. I have several bibles (different versions), a copy of the Q'uran, a copy of The Book of Mormon, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and a swag of Church of Scientology literature. Not because I believe any of it is true, nor because I am searching for some spiritual enlightenment, but simply just as reference books for fact checking purposes. Each will find inspiration and solace in the literature that has meaning to them....That I may not venerate the same sacred books that you and others might, doesn't mean that you and others are bound to mind my opinions ( if I bother to express them) concerning other people's choices.
  6. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    I have a slight problem with the Bhagavad Gita, under the right conditions reading it can lead to an almost trance state with a good translation. It is well written. as is Psalms and Ecclesiastics.
    Zimmy and Ganado like this.
  7. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    @Yard Dart Thanks! An interesting read. I have read most of the books of which he spoke but will search out the rest. Reading is without a doubt my greatest love in life. Having been born into poverty without parents and truly had no one that cared if I lived or died, I constantly tell people all the time that reading saved me and it's the simple truth. I also try to get young people interested in reading, I don't care what they read as long as they continue to do so. Mattis really listed a few gems that I have read more than once and still own copies: Guns of August, Forgotten Soldier, Rise and Fall of Great Powers, With the Old Breed, etc.... Did you notice he didn't list Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' or the Gibbon's 'Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire' but I would bet he read them - numerous times. Shirer's 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' also is a must...

    @duane I do hope you have a few more 2am late nights because we all benefit from your words of wisdom and your wordsmith skills - meaning - thank you, I enjoyed reading what you wrote. BTW I also am a sucker for reference books even though I have a deep love affair with my Kindle. Paper is still the best for reference books, at least for now.

    @sec_monkey What is "The Wasteland Survival Guide 1-9 by Moira Brown"? I looked on Amazon and I don't see it. I see nothing by the author...are you pulling my leg again?
  8. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    He is yanking your leg.
    It is a real thing..... in the made up world of Fallout. Some of us think the world is real at times..... [stoner]
    Ganado, Brokor and sec_monkey like this.
  9. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    AH-HA! Sec_Monkey #1 Bandit #0 But, "I have not yet begun to fight!' LOL!
    Yard Dart, sec_monkey and ghrit like this.
  10. sec_monkey

    sec_monkey SM Security Administrator


    they/she/he/it/.. did ;) ;) n dropped hints

    tis not a fight or a competition :) :)

    [biggrouphug] [biggrouphug]

    thanks fer splainin @Yard Dart :D :D

    there aint no partyin takin place here jus sayin

    we have some really accomplished players here @ the monkey @ditch witch is the best :D :D [respect][respect] [bow] [bow]

    @Yard Dart [ L 50-80? ] @Mindgrinder [ L 60-80? ] @Brokor [ L 60 plus? ] n yours truly [ L 200 plus plus plus plus ] aint too bad either (y) (y)
    ditch witch, Bandit99 and Yard Dart like this.
  11. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    I do actually own a solid, real copy of the Vault Dweller's Survival Guide (collectors edition), brand new for $10 at my local GameStop if this makes it any easier to follow. :)

    @sec_monkey you silly bean.

    I often daydream of how I would build my ideal library if I were a millionaire. We're talking concrete and steel sealed structure, halon system, military grade ballistic glass windows, retinal scan entry, a computer AI librarian -you know, the normal stuff. I believe the books themselves would take me a few hours to list...but it would start with the oldest occult texts on the planet and some very rare volumes thought only to exist within the confines of the Vatican.
    Yard Dart and sec_monkey like this.
  12. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I am Lev. 60 + on survival, after restarting more than a few times...........
    I have beaten the dang thing twice but..... well, I get side tracked. I am in Far Harbor with the Squire, when I had no intention to go there this early.....oh well. But if he keeps chattering, I am going to shoot him in the head....just say'n.
  13. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    Imma write a guide to playing FO4+ all DOC and another one for building in it, lol. Think if you added all my different games together I'd be around level 6000, further proving I have no life.

    All these books, and not even a single issue of Grognak?
    Ganado, chelloveck and sec_monkey like this.
  14. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I will share my Grognak with you!!
    I would read that guide for sure!! I think combined I am about Lev 1000 at this point at best.

    Currently Lev 70 on Survival.
    sec_monkey likes this.
  15. sec_monkey

    sec_monkey SM Security Administrator

    methinks we have collected every single issue plus all the issues of all the other publications
  16. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    You have never restarted the game slacker..... DW and I have started more times than we can recall at this point.
    ditch witch likes this.
  17. sec_monkey

    sec_monkey SM Security Administrator

    somebody we know is Level 68 million 2nd only to DW @ Level 72 million plus
  18. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    Around level 350 I get bored (or have built up every location so much the game is crawling) and start a new game. Think the highest I took one was to around 480, on very hard level. On survival, around 150 before I got fed up with catching a cold every time I slept on a dirty mattress. I have no idea how many games I've finished because the PS4 only lets me hang onto so many saves. I've got 4 separate user accounts setup and each one currently has a character loaded on it, but I've deleted dozens of playthroughs. However, I quit playing a couple of months ago and now if I try to play I have to take a damn Dramamine again or get sick 20 minutes in. FPS games give me motion sickness, lol.
    Ganado, Yard Dart and sec_monkey like this.
  1. ED GEiN
  2. Marvin L. Steinhagen
  3. survivalmonkey
  4. Motomom34
  5. survivalmonkey
  6. 3M-TA3
  7. Witch Doctor 01
  8. duane
  9. Halvist
  10. survivalmonkey
  11. DKR
  12. UncleMorgan
  13. Witch Doctor 01
  14. DKR
  15. Yard Dart
  16. survivalmonkey
  17. RouteClearance
  18. Motomom34
  19. T. Riley
  20. Ganado
survivalmonkey SSL seal warrant canary