November Jack Carr Reading List

It is time for the next six books on my reading list!  For those of you who are new to my newsletter, each month I’ll be highlighting six books along with some information on why they were impactful to me along my journey.  Some will be selections from a professional reading list I was asked to put together for the Naval Special Warfare Center before I retired from the SEAL Teams, and others will be literature I enjoyed at various stages of my life. There is nothing I like more than discussing books and reading.  Enjoy!

For additional details on the books, why I think they are important, and the impact they had on my development as a combat leader and writer, keep reading. This blog is for you.

There is nothing I like more than discussing books and reading.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts!

There is nothing I like more than discussing books and reading.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts about them with readers!

The November books are:

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Inspired by his time in on a minesweeper in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Herman Wouk published The Caine Mutiny in 1951.  A work of historical fiction, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a must-read for military leaders and lovers of literature alike.  The author adapted it into a Broadway play titled The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial in 1953 and it hit screens in the 1954 film starring Humphrey Bogart. The Caine Mutiny captivated the American public becoming the most widely read novel of its time.  It wrestles with moral and ethical issues of discipline, leadership, regulations, warfare, and love.  Pick up this timeless novel and settle in for an enthralling read.

As the author writes to prime the narrative, “… the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.”  Interestingly enough, the Navy was not pleased with Wouk’s fictional portrayal of one of their senior officers and insisted on changes before filming.  One of my favorite authors of all time, Herman Wouk died last May, just ten days shy of his 104th birthday.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“Who is John Galt?” With those immortal words, so begins Ayn Rand’s novelization of her philosophy of Objectivism in Atlas Shrugged, a work that continues to influence how I live and write today.  The theme of the novel, according to its author, is “the role of the mind in man’s existence.”  The heroes of the story understand the mind, and the role of logic and reason in high achievement.  She writes in the afterword: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

First published in 1957, it is without question one of the most profound and impactful novels of the 20th century. Every American needs to read this book.  You may even notice some interesting parallels to today’s reality.  Taking it a step further, anyone who reads Atlas Shrugged and takes the time to internalize and conceptualize its themes, will move forward as a stronger, more productive citizen.  I’d also recommend studying Ayn Rand as you start your reading journey.  Where she came from and how she formed the basis of her philosophy is just as important as the plot and storyline.  While I was in BUD/S, I went to see a documentary at a small independent theater in San Diego to see Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. That documentary is an excellent place to begin.  It is valuable to read Atlas Shrugged at different stages of life; high school, college, once in the private sector, and again later on after one has gained wisdom through experience and adversity.  Ayn Rand lived her life to the fullest.  The gift she left all of us is the example and ability to do the same.

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter

Point of Impact is the novel that introduced me, and the world, to Marine Corps Sniper, Bob Lee Swagger.  I discovered it before I joined the military.  I quickly read everything written by Stephen Hunter up to that point and haven’t missed a book or article since.  A novelist and Pulitzer Prize winning film critic, Stephen Hunter also served in the 3rd U.S. Army Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard.  Point of Impact is one of those novels that changed the game. Hunter is a true master who, much like his protagonist, is always in top form.

In the days following 9/11, I rushed to print calling cards right out of the pages of Point of Impact, pirating Steve McQueen’s famous line from The Magnificent Seven: “We deal in lead, friend.”  I had long been fascinated by the sniper, but it was Stephen Hunter’s personification of “Bob the Nailer” that cemented it as my future specialty in the profession of arms.  The idea of the lone man with a rifle appealed to me: alone, outnumbered, behind enemy lines, only wits, and skill with the great equalizer keeping him alive.  The ultimate test. I’ll always be indebted to Stephen Hunter for his inspiration and support. Nobody does it better.

The Successful Novelist by David Morrell

I think one can spend too much time reading and studying the “how-to” without sitting down to actually “do.”  That doesn’t just go for writing, but for any endeavor.  At some point, you’ve got to stop thinking about it and just do it.  That being said, there are a few books on the craft of writing that I found useful.  If you are starting down the scribe’s path, it would be wise to learn from those who have gone before. David Morrell shares his lessons and recommendations from a lifetime of writing in The Successful Novelist. Called the “father of the modern action thriller,” he published First Blood in 1972, introducing readers to a character named John Rambo.  He never looked back. I discovered his work through the movie First Blood but was soon capitated by a different set of characters from a trilogy that begins with The Brotherhood of the Rose.  His second novel, Testament, starts with one of the most powerful first sentences in a thriller to date.  I’m not going to spoil it; you’ll have to read the book. Today I am proud to have a complete collection of signed David Morrell first editions in my library. Of all the guidance, and wisdom in the pages of The Successful Novelist and in the writing section of David’s website, these stand out:

1. “Don’t chase the market.”

2. “Be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of someone else.”

3. “Write books that will make you a fuller, more significant person.”

We would all be wise to heed his advice.

Counterinsurgency Warfare by David Galula

Counterinsurgency Warfare is one of the books on the reading list I created for the Naval Special Warfare Center before I retired in 2016.  I have multiple copies, and they are all filled with notes and highlighting.  For the junior officer or senior enlisted whose troops will live and die at the tactical end of the spectrum, it is imperative to study the history of warfare, particularly insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.  David Galula is required reading for those trusted to lead our young men and women into battle just as it should be for the policymakers who commit them to the fight.  Galula is not only an academic studying theory, his practical experience in both conventional and irregular warfare (which is actually much more “regular” than conventional clashes) made him uniquely suited to speak, write and teach on the type of conflict that would define warfare for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond.

Galula was a French army officer, born in Tunisia and raised in Morocco.  He saw action in World War II in North Africa, Italy, and France.  Following the war, his path took a decidedly unconventional turn with postings in China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria, enabling him to experience a different type of warfare and become one of the undisputed experts in the field. He wrote Counterinsurgency Warfare in 1964 to pass along the hard-earned and extensive knowledge and wisdom he’d gained as the result of his professional journey.  Unfortunately, Galula passed away in 1967 as America became more deeply embroiled in Vietnam.

China, The Malayan Emergency, Vietnam, Algeria, Columbia, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan all offer insights and lessons as we move forward, fighting what amount to expeditionary counterinsurgency campaigns, expecting our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be both the hammer and scalpel of U.S. diplomacy and power abroad.  I would expect that the politicians who send our service members downrange spend time with this book, and others, to help them better understand the nature of the conflicts in which we are engaged.  That is what elected officials owe the soldier standing his post half a world away.  As Galula writes in his 1963 book Pacification in Algeria, “I am not writing this to show what a genius I was, but to point out how difficult it is to convince people, especially the military, to change traditional ways and adapt themselves to new conditions.”  Over fifty years later, this sentiment still holds true.

To Build a Fire by Jack London

I’ve always felt drawn north.  I don’t know where this pull towards mountains and harsh environments originates.  Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a tropical beach as much as the next guy, but I always find myself dreaming of the unpopulated peaks and forests of the high country.  The books and short stories of Jack London certainly did nothing to dissuade me from venturing into the backcountry.

Jack London was a fascinating character in his own right.  Having spent time growing up around some of the same haunts in Northern California as the legendary writer, I was familiar with his background; amateur boxer, war correspondent covering the Russo-Japanese War, oyster pirate, hobo, gold miner in the Klondike Gold Rush, sailor, journalist, and author.

Of all Jack London’s short stories, To Build a Fire is his most well-known.  Inspired by his experience in the Yukon, it explores wisdom, experience, hubris, arrogance, intellect, reason, self-reliance, perseverance, and death against the backdrop of an unforgiving wilderness. I first read the story in middle school, and it has stayed with me.  There are two versions of the classic tale.  One was written in 1902 and the other in 1908, the latter being the story that remains one of the classic short stories of all time.  To this day, when building a fire in the woods, I never fail to remember Jack London’s lessons, and look up to inspect the boughs above.

Jack Carr Reading List

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