Editor’s Note: We polled our contributing editors on the best autobiographies or memoirs by warriors. Here are their responses.
President and General Ulysses S. Grant – Personal Memoirs
The United States’ first ever officer to hold the rank of General of the Army also gave us one of the best ever personal histories of war. Rightly so, it comes recommended by three of our contributing editors: Admiral John C. Harvey, Frank Hoffman, and John Collins.
Field Marshal William Joseph “Bill” Slim, 1st Viscount Slim – Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 (Slim also published memoirs on his whole life, Unofficial History)
From one of the lesser known theaters of World War II, Field Marshall Slim offers his reflections on the incredible story of British forces’ retreat from Burma, subsequent rally, and ultimate victory over Japanese forces in both Burma and India. Admiral John C. Harvey, Frank Hoffman, and John Collins also suggest that you give this one a read.
General George S. Patton – War As I Knew It
He was overwhelmingly believed by the German army to be the Allies most effective commander, and is famous for a reported tendency toward slapping soldiers suffering from battle fatigue, but Patton’s story has much more to offer than the anecdotes that have since become central to his legacy. John Collins adds his memoirs to our list.
General Vo Nguyen Giap – How We Won the War
Sun Tzu’s admonition that to guarantee victory requires both knowing yourself and knowing your enemy is oft-quoted, but too rarely put into practice. The need to understand our adversaries is particularly vital in counterinsurgency campaigns like that of the Vietnam War. John Collins points us to the memoirs of the man whose strategy guided North Vietnamese forces against American military might for years during the complex conflict.
In 1982, Argentina’s military forces landed on a cluster of small islands off its coast — British overseas territories. Britain responded immediately, and war was on. This much we all know. But Woodward’s book tells the complete, engaging story of Britain’s naval and air operations during the Falklands War. It comes recommended to us by Lawrence Freedman.
Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke – War Diaries, 1939-1945
John Bew suggests this memoir of World War II from Britain’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff. His position allows the book to bridge the gap between contemporary military and political perspectives, from the uncertain days of the Battle of Britain and the terrors of the Blitz, through planning and execution of the D-Day invasion, to victory and postwar negotiations and settlement.
Cornwallis is seen by most Americans as the commander who failed to suppress the American Revolution and could not even be bothered to attend his own surrender ceremony at Yorktown. But John Bew argues that Americans and indeed the world have a great deal to learn from this warrior who went on to a successful career in British India and Ireland.
Marty McGartland, Fifty Dead Men Walking
John Bew recommends this powerful account of a British agent inside the Irish Republican Army. Risking his life in a brutal conflict where the consequences of detection were torture and execution, McGartland is credited with saving dozens of lives over the course of four years.
Photo credit: Marion Doss