Ten books I truly enjoyed reading in 2012

As always, here are ten books I found enjoyable, informative, and interesting from my reading list in 2012.

Enjoy good reading in 2013, and please feel free to also check out the EUCOM reading list with nearly 100 books that help us all understand the European region.

"On China," by Henry Kissinger. This is the ultimate single volume for the non-specialist on the world's oldest civilization. As the entire globe focuses on Asia, this history / policy / analysis book walks briskly yet cogently through 4,000 years of history and concludes with a series of good ideas for dealing with an emerging China in the 21st century. A masterpiece.
"The Guns of August," by Barbara Tuchman. On the list of "great books that you should read at least once a decade," I'd put this brilliant piece of history and story-telling about the first 30 days of WWI. In applying the lessons of the stumble into war today, we should be careful but alert to the dangers of mobilization, signaling, ethnic and religious miscommunication, and territorial dispute.


"Bring Up the Bodies," by Hilary Mantel. Winning the Booker prize once is like getting the Oscar for best book in English. To win it twice is amazing. This beautifully realized novel is the story of the Henry VIII and above all of his counselor, Thomas Cromwell, who strives, succeeds, and falls in medieval England -- but with lessons for today about power and glory.

"The Admirals," by Walter Bourneman. Only a handful of Admirals -- four in the 20th century -- have attained 5-star rank, and none since WWII. This multi-dimensional biography narrates the rise of four extraordinary American Admirals whose lives and work intertwined over half-a-century: Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, Bull Halsey, and William Leahy.


"The Last Lion," by William Manchester. The final volume of a majesterial biography of the 20th centuries pivotal figure, this carries Winston Churchill through his crowning achievement in WWII leadership and the political darkness that followed. It covers the years from 1940 to 1965 with anecdote, strategic insight, and above all a sympathetic ear to an amazing leader.


"Ghost Map," by Stephen Johnson. A detective novel set in mid-19th century England as scientists and socialists seek to understand an outbreak of Cholera with relatively primitive tools.


And two novels of war in Iraq and Afghanistan -- both allegorical and flawed in some ways, but powerful in their prose and portrait:

"The Yellow Birds," by Kevin Powers tells the story of two Soldiers in Iraq and the tragedy that befalls them. A National Book Award finalist.

"The Book of Jonas," by Stephen Dau, a thinly disguised vision of special forces in Afghanistan.


Finally, two "oldie but goodies" that offer insights into today's world:

"The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," a post-WWII novel focused on the advertising industry in New York City, but very illuminative of what today we know as PTSD.

"The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," the classic Cold War study of intelligence operations and the dark side of shadow war.



Admiral, USN
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command
"Stronger Together"


Find more blog posts tagged with:

Comments: 8

by Ken on January 11, 2013 :

Admiral, nice capsule book reviews. They make me want to read those books.

by Stuart Howard, LCDR Ret. on January 14, 2013 :

Admiral I'm curious if you or any of your staff has a recommendation for a book to understand the current economic crisis in Europe?

by ADM James Stavridis on January 15, 2013 :

Stuart, good question! The staff at my HQ in Mons is fond of the book "Boomerang" by Michael Lewis. Lewis does have a certain wit to his writing that makes complex subjects very approachable. But, as with anything else, one book never tells the whole story.

by Joey Martinez on January 25, 2013 :

that's a great list! but check out maarten troost http://amzn.to/Y2xsUg - he's just brilliant, better than bill bryson!

by Johnny Woodhouse on January 25, 2013 :

The Guns of August is a classic. Has to be on the must-read list at war colleges.

by Richard Fahy on January 29, 2013 :

Sir, I treasure the time I used to spend reading but find that I just don't have as much time any more. How do you discipline yourself to pick up a book when your inbox is always full and there's always more to read on the internet? Do you set a goal of 1 book a week or is there a part of the day that you block off to read. Thanks for building on your list. "Guns of August" has been high on my list for a decade ... this gives me more motivation to read that one.

by ADM James Stavridis on January 29, 2013 :

Thanks for a very good question. As you point out, there are many competing demands for reading time, but the effort to read a book -- and dive deeply into a subject -- truly builds intellectual capital in a way that power-surfing the internet never will. So yes, I always set aside time for personal reading, and as well I set personal goals for reading certain books -- for example, before visiting various countries I select a novel by and author from there or the region. I try to read for an hour or so before going to sleep at night, and my time on airplanes -- for me a huge amount -- is devoted to reading. Hope that helps, and I think "Guns of August" is a powerful book that tells a profound story about diplomacy's failure in a crisis -- something we should realize can happen again anytime.

by MAJ Brian Smith on February 1, 2013 :

Sir, may I recommend 'Courage in America: Warriors with Character'. A friend of mine blinded by a road-side bomb in Iraq (Steve Baskis) is featured in the book. We mountain climb together and after a climb of Mont Blanc last SEP, I was able to have him meet VADM Martoglio. The meeting was scheduled for just 15 minutes but VADM Martoglio loved his story so much, it lasted over an hour.

Your comment:

Related Topics

Stavridis official photo

Admiral James G. Stavridis


From the Bridge