August 2021

August 2021 Reading List

The August 2021 reading list selections include works from a Pulitzer Prize winner, two colonels in China’s People’s Liberation Army, one of the most brilliant writers and thinkers of our time, a legend in the thriller genre, a timely book on Afghanistan even though it is twenty years old, and a book about an author writing another New York Times bestseller. Be sure to check out my stand-alone book specific Instagram page @JackCarrBookClub for a book club type experience in a place you can explore all my reading list selections in one location. If you are just discovering these lists for the first time and want to check out past selections, they are all posted to the blog section of my website.  For those new to the Team, each month I highlight six books, some from the professional reading list I was asked to put together for the Naval Special Warfare Center before I retired from the SEAL Teams and others that I have enjoyed at various stages of my life not directly associated with my time in the military. Interested in the “how” and “why” behind the books that influenced me?  You might find one that resonates.  Happy reading!

August 2021 Reading List Selections:

  • Unrestricted Warfare by Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui
  • The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • When the Lion Feeds by Wilber Smith
  • Taliban by Ahmed Rashid
  • Reacher Said Nothing by Andy Martin


Unrestricted Warfare by Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui

In 1999 two colonels serving in China’s People’s Liberation Army published a booked titled Chao Xian Zhan.  The title translates as Unrestricted Warfare or War Beyond Rules.  Following September 11, 2001, the book was published in the Unites States with the title Unrestricted Warfare.  Publishers added a subtitle, China’s Master Plan To Destroy America.  They also published it with a photo of the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center no doubt to spur sales to an American audience.  The added subtitle and cover imagery are somewhat misleading.  Yes, terrorism by proxy is a component of the text and Osama bin Laden is mentioned by name as is “a major explosion at the World Trade Center” but the book is much more than a treatise on terrorism. It is an exploration of the expansive nature of war at the turn of the century.  In one highly prophetic passage, penned three years before 9/11, the authors write: “The advent of bin Laden-style terrorism has deepened the impression that a national force, no matter how powerful, will find it difficult to gain the upper hand in a game that has no rules.”  The important part of that sentence is “a game that has no rules.”  I read the book back in 2002 and it helped inform my strategic level thinking in terms of vulnerabilities and how our enemies would exploit them.  Unrestricted Warfare is about adaptation.  Sun Tzu’s long shadow is evident throughout the text as Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui expand the traditional definition of war into all aspects of modern society with the terms “military, trans-military, and non-military.”  A wise leader, politician, soldier, strategist, or journalist might go back and read Unrestricted Warfare and plot out what parts of the dissertation China has put into play over the past two decades as did David Kilcullen in Chapter Five of his latest book The Dragons and the Snakes, a book that informed my fourth novel, The Devils Hand.  David was also a recent guest on Episode 15 my podcast, Danger Close: Beyond the Books with Jack Carr. Should you take a closer look at Unrestricted Warfare as an informed citizen of the United States?  What do you think?

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

On August 20, 1910, the Great Fire of 1910, the Big Burn, destroyed three million acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana, an area the size of Connecticut, and killed 87 people, 78 of whom were firefighters.  It is a story of heroism and sacrifice, of Ed Pulaski and Joe Halm, and of a new government agency championed by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, what is now the United States Forest Service.  For those who venture into the mountains of the west and for those who use and enjoy America’s public lands, The Big Burn should move to the top of your list.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

If you have been following along with my monthly reading list selections, you will know what an admirer I am of Malcolm Gladwell.  When I put together the professional reading list for the Naval Special Warfare Center before leaving the SEAL Teams, all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books were on that list.  His 2019 bestseller Talking to Strangers would most certainly have been on that professional reading list as well had it been published back then.  What, you may ask, does a Galdwellian intellectual journey have to do with special operations?  In short: everything.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath, Talking to Strangers, and The Bomber Mafia. He is the host of Revisionist History, a podcast now in its sixth season.  I have not missed an episode since it debuted in 2016.  If you are not listening to it, subscribe today.

Talking to Strangers is a book I first read as a physical copy and then listened to in its audiobook format.  The audiobook is not an audiobook as you may now be accustomed.  It is more of a combination audiobook and podcast, much like Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, The Bomber Mafia, which I found makes for a richer, fuller listening experience.

Talking to Strangers was first published in September 2019.  Less than a year later the country would be hit with COVID-19, civil unrest, and the most contentious election cycle in recent history, all of which we are still dealing with today.  We would be a more polite, respectful, and thoughtful country if we all took a breath, put down our devices and spent time with Malcolm Gladwell in the pages of Talking to Strangers.

When the Lion Feeds by Wilber Smith

When the Lion Feeds was Wilber Smith’s first novel. It was published in 1964.  Born in what was then Northern Rhodesia, he wrote what he knew and did it so well that forty books later with over 120 million copies in print, he is still going strong! This first novel begins the Courtney saga, which now account for nineteen of Wilber Smith’s books.  Sean and Garrick Courtney, the Zulu War of 1879, the Defense of Rorke’s Drift, hunting, mining, betrayal and revenge all feature prominently.  Warning: reading this book may inspire you to stop whatever you are doing and jump on the next flight to Africa.

Taliban by Ahmed Rashid

I first read Taliban by Ahmed Rashid in 2002 coming off my first post-9/11 deployment and preparing for another deployment to Central Asia.  It was clear that Ahmed Rashid was one of the most knowledgeable and insightful journalists writing about Afghanistan. Additional books would follow, all of which I read upon publication.  All of Rashid’s books published up to that time are on the professional reading list I was asked to put together for the Naval Special Warfare Center.  One of the primary responsibilities of a combat leader is to understand the nature of the conflict in which you are engaged.  This is also the responsibility of our elected officials who send young men and women into harm’s way.  As we depart the graveyard of empires in 2021, it would be prudent to study the past so we can apply the lessons going forward in the form of wisdom.  Great Britain, the Soviet Union and now the United States have made grave miscalculations when committing forces to Afghanistan. It is a land of contradictions and one that shows no mercy to the imperial hubris of empires.

Reacher Said Nothing by Andy Martin

Reacher Said Nothing is a wonderful read for writers and authors, aspiring or otherwise, and students of the creative process.  Andy Martin shadows Lee Child throughout the process of writing the twentieth thriller in the Jack Reacher series, Make Me.  For fans of Lee Child, Jack Reacher, and the thriller genre at large, it is a valuable look behind the curtain into the creator of one of the most successful series of all time.  I love this copy from the cover jacket: “On 1 September 1994, Lee Child went out to buy the paper to start writing his first novel, in pencil.  The result was Killing Floor, which introduced his hero Jack Reacher.  Twenty years later, on 1 September 2014, he began writing Make Me, the twentieth novel in his number-one-bestselling Reacher series.  Same day, same writer, same hero.  The difference, this time, was that he had someone looking over his shoulder.”

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