6 mins / 24HEP18
At the end of every newsletter I send out, I sign off with “your faithful commander”, a title I gave to myself, which I admit is rather lame. I remember finishing my first post, wondering how to sign off into the void, unsure if anyone would even read it. I sat for a moment or two, before it just came to me, like the most natural thing in the world. I’ve stuck with it, lame as it may be.
There’s something cool about the idea of leaders like this. Famous military or political commanders. I’ve long admired the titles taken on by Roman emperors in antiquity, ever expanding as the reign of the imperials dragged on. They would change names upon being admitted to the throne, appending titles like “Princeps” meaning “First Citizen” or “Imperator” meaning “Commander”. Even the name of Julius Caesar, who was deified after his death, became a title, transmuting into the title “Tsar” we know today.
You probably know I love learning. As of late, the topic has been on the forefront of my mind. Learning, self-improvement, and continually expanding my horizons are one of — if not my greatest — passions. In a way, I tie a lot of my other interests into learning as well.
To write is to teach, or perhaps to attempt to condense your thoughts and ideas into a was understandable and relatable to someone else. Writing is teaching. And teaching of course is learning. It’s often said that trying to teach someone else something is one of the best means for solidifying your own knowledge, and this has certainly been my experience.
For me, learning and reading go hand in hand, and are often part of the same process. I have fond memories as a kid of walking up to the library a few blocks from my house, searching the catalog for the subject I was interested in that week, going to the section with all the relevant books, and then walking back home with a bag of 10 books I would try and get through before the due date.
I love reading lists. I love hearing the reasoning behind why someone recommends a book, the progression and overlap in what they cover, the idea that each book can build and shape your knowledge in a quantifiable way.
Sort of in-line with my recent fascination with classical strategy games like Chess and Go, I became interested in actual strategic education as well. I’ve been listening to this ‘Age of Napoleon’ podcast on my runs, and it’s fascinating to hear the sort of upbringing and circumstances who made him who he was.
Of course, all of these biographical works and analysis buy into the “great man” theory somewhat. They posit that one person was of outsized significance, and had a big effect on the course of history. This is not a position I necessarily agree with, though I do find there to be value in looking at the works and upbringing of historical figures.
One of my biggest goals in life, one of those “if-I-could-do-anything” aims, would be to make a university. Something like I imagine a military academy to be, part physical education, part academic, attempting to create the most well-rounded citizens. In Napoleon’s case, he crammed to go off to artillery training, then seen as the most intellectual, and rushed to graduate to start making money for his family back home on Corsica.
We hear of these great generals, the Napoleons and the Hadrians and the Grants of the world. What sort of training made these people so successful on the battlefield? How much did their education and upbringing play into it? How much did luck?
I wondered, what sorts of education was offered to the generals and commanders of our era. Was there an academy out there reading Sun Tzu and playing chess? What do they read to prepare themselves for the battlefield, for tactics, for strategy?
Luckily for me, in the US Armed Forces, most of the reading lists are publicly available. I combed through all of them, trying to clean them up and remove duplicates. Listen, I don’t know if any of this will make you into the next Napoleon, or even better at chess. However, this is what they’re reading.
Here's the list. (These are affiliate links, so if that bugs you out, please search on your own)
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Phew! It's a huge list, I know. I'm not sure why the Army list is so long comparatively, but it is a good starting point for this sort of study. The books that most interest me are the ones on practical warfighting and tactics, even though a lot of the list tends towards history, biography, and pop-psychology.
If you'd like to see any of the sources, please contact me and I'll send you the raw links.
Until next time.
Your faithful commander,