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“Like all Americans, I like big things: big prairies, big forests and mountains, big wheat fields, railroads—and herds of cattle too—big factories and steamboats and everything else. But we must keep steadily in mind that no people were ever yet benefited by riches if their prosperity corrupted their virtue. It is more important that we should show ourselves honest, brave, truthful, and intelligent than that we should own all the railways and grain elevators in the world. We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received and each of us must do his part if we wish to show that this nation is worthy of its good fortune.” ~President Theodore Roosevelt
The study of all history is for but one end: to understand the human condition. In a previous article – “Get Smart – The Necessity of Education in a Free Society”
, we discussed the importance of building a nuanced understanding of our world through self-study. As a news, history and psychology junkie, I peruse a fair share of books, blogs, news, podcasts and documentaries. Below is a selection of what I consider to be fantastic content for understanding of the way we as a human race tend to operate and guidance in developing discipline and virtue.
– Hardcore History: Ghosts of the Ostfront, A Blueprint for Armageddon, Death Throes of the Republic
– Common Sense: All episodes
Dan Carlin loves Alexander Herzen’s quote, “History is the autobiography of a madman.” After listening to his podcasts, you’ll understand why. Dan Carlin has an uncanny ability to paint events and characters from all periods of history in a relevant and personal light. He dives into campaigns, battles and psyches to squeeze out the basis of each player’s actions–to explain the why behind the who, what, when and how. Incredibly, in both his “Common Sense” and “Hardcore History” podcasts, Carlin manages to stay non-partisan, without any obvious agenda or allegiance except to presenting these events in a circumspect and genuine manner. I cannot recommend Dan Carlin highly enough. If I have taken one lesson from his work, it’s that throughout the history of mankind one constant prevails: humanity kills its own with constancy and often great relish. This admittance and understanding is key to constructing an accurate knowledge of the human condition. You can find all of his Common Sense and the newer Hardcore History content free of charge on Apple podcasts. All Hardcore History volumes are available on his website
– On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
– On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace (with Loren W. Christensen)
– A Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation’s Peacekeepers (with Michael J. Asken, Ph.D. and Loren W. Christensen)
Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Dave Grossman is a warrior, scholar, patriot and gentleman. A quote of his, in referencing Colonel (retired) Alex McCall of Soldier of Fortune magazine has burned itself into my memory. To this quote we should all ascribe:
“It is good to know there are still places where an officer is a gentleman, his word is his bond, and that’s all that is required.”
Grossman’s books are required reading in several U.S. Military officer and NCO development courses. They’re fantastically researched and utterly relevant for those in all combat arms and public service professions; truly fundamental. Grossman uses a broad range of sources and quotes, from great thinkers and warriors both historical and contemporary. Good discussion fodder for the team room, water cooler and bar, and good material to apply to create a resilient mentality. You’ll be better for reading these books. For more on Grossman’s latest endeavors, which are also intriguing, check out www.killology.com.
-A History of the American People
The dedication to America from Johnson, a Brit, is a harbinger of what’s inside. This one is a whale–1100 pages. The juice is worth the squeeze though; this book is responsible for filling the many gaps in my knowledge of America’s history. It’s an honest, unbiased, and at points, ugly look at America. Those politicians, military figures, tycoons, campaigns, eras and movements you recall from high school history class but know no details or their significance? This is your fix, covering the exploration of the New World to the 1990s. Paul Johnson’s British perspective shines through at times, making for a compelling read. I digested this beast over an 18 month span. It’s a book you can put down and pick up again when ready. I’d recommend buying this one in digital format for note-taking/highlighting ease; it’s a resource to be referenced frequently. Here, from his text: “This book is dedicated to the people of America—strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.”
William J. Bennett
-The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood
William Bennett has an incredible story himself, which I leave you to research. Though the volume is divided into six sections, the first, Man in War, is worth the purchase alone. Similar to Grossman, Bennett spans cultures and time periods, compiling the best writings and stories on the nature of manliness. It’s applicable content for women as well; virtue knows no gender. This book is one of my library’s most frequently referenced volumes.
-The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to the Nuclear Age
You’ll notice that I label many of these titles in this article as reference material. This is for two reasons: first, this kind of content on which you’ll want to ruminate and return, and secondly, my brain isn’t capable of storing it in adequate detail. This title is no different. It’s difficult to create a comprehensive compendium of anything in history, especially war, but Chaliand gets close. The writings of Sun Tzu, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Nicolo Machiavelli, Carl von Clausewitz, Mao Tse Tseng, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and hundreds more are within. This is one you’ll want to have on your shelf, if only to impress visitors.
This list only scratches the surface. Mental development should be considered as important as physical training, but how many of us accomplish it everyday like we do our workouts? I’m always looking for new content. What books, podcasts, documentaries, etc. have been key in your development? Any thoughts on my recommendations? Post below, for the good of the order.
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Nate Carlson served in the Active Duty Air Force as an Air Liaison Officer (ALO) and JTAC and continues to serve in the Air National Guard. OEF vet. Nate earned his BS in Civil Engineering from Clemson University, and is currently working for an international surgical/healthcare company.