September 2020

September Reading List

This is the eleventh installment from my monthly reading list series. If you are just discovering these lists for the first time and want to explore past selections, scroll to the bottom for additional lists.  For those new to the Team, each month I highlight six books; some are 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 are books 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.

September Reading List:

  • Oni by Marc Olden
  • Rising Sun by Michael Crichton
  • Hell In A Very Small Place by Bernard B. Fall
  • To Dare and To Conquer by Derek Leebaert
  • The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
  • The Transformation of War by Martin van Creveld

There is nothing I like more than discussing books and reading. Happy reading!


Oni by Marc Olden

Oni ranks with those books that inspired me along my path into the SEAL Teams and into publishing. To this day, my original copy has an honored place on my bookshelf.  With incorporated Sun Tzu quotes, a protagonist who was a former Army Special Forces soldier, mercenary, bodyguard, martial arts instructor, and collector of rare first editions who carried a tanto blade and Browning Hi-Power, Oni introduced me to the work of the legendary Marc Olden.  I read it as a sophomore in high school, a phase when I spent much more time reading novels and studying books on warfare than I did on my actual schoolwork, though truth be told I never really grew out of that phase. Oni even had some SEAL “Hush Puppy” action for those who know what that is.  It was also a time I was training heavily in the martial arts and in Marc Olden I knew I had found a kindred spirit.  Without being aware of his background, I recognized from his writing that he was a student of unarmed combat.  Later, I’d find out that he was indeed a lifelong student of the fight; he incorporated that influence into many of his novels.  He wrote forty books over his lifetime, a true master of the craft.  Marc Olden passed away in 2003.  I would have loved to have spent time with him, though in a way I feel I have, in the pages of his novels.

Rising Sun by Michael Crichton

Genius is a word that tends to be thrown around much too frequently.  If you’ve been following my reading lists, social media posts, podcasts, or opinion pieces, you will note I rarely, if ever, use it.  Well, Michael Crichton was a genius.  If you have not read his work or researched his life story, I encourage you to do so.  Trained as a doctor, instead of practicing medicine he followed his passion for writing, giving us some of the most engaging stories, television and movies of our generation. You may want to start with Rising Sun, or perhaps with The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, Congo, The Lost World, or The Great Train Robbery.  Or, maybe you’ll watch an episode of ER, a series he created.  Writing the script twenty years before it was produced, ER became one of the highest rated and longest running dramas in television history. He directed seven movies and had thirteen of his novels made into films. Sadly, Michael Crichton passed away in 2008.  Writer, author, filmmaker, doctor, orator, teacher, visionary, and explorer, Michael Crichton truly lived his calling.  He leaves a legacy of passion and achievement, an inspiration to us all.

“I think people put too much emphasis on the ‘idea’ behind a story, anyway. First of all, there isn’t just one idea in a story, there are lots of ideas. And second, an idea by itself isn’t worth much until you do the work necessary to get it down on paper.” – Michael Crichton

Hell In A Very Small Place by Bernard B. Fall

A veteran of the French resistance movement and later the French Army in World War II, Bernard B. Fall became one of the foremost scholars on Indochina of the 50s and 60s, writing multiple books on the subject.  Hell In A Very Small Place chronicles the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, ending French involvement in Vietnam.  There are lessons in the text that are timeless.  Unfortunately, too few in military and political leadership positions have taken them to heart.  Bernard B. Fall was killed by a landmine on patrol with U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1967.  He was forty years old. The landmine also killed U.S. Marine Corps combat photographer Gunnery Sergeant Byron G. Highland.  Fall’s last words were caught on a tape recorder he was dictating into when he died: “We’ve reached one of our phase lines after the firefight and it smells bad—meaning it’s a little bit suspicious… Could be an amb—”  He left us lessons in his work we would be wise to re-visit today.

To Dare and To Conquer by Derek Leebaert

Mandatory reading for students and practitioners of warfare!  This was one of the books I included on the professional reading list I was asked to put together for the Naval Special Warfare Center before I left the SEAL Teams.  Covering special operations from “the Bible to Baghdad” it is one of the most informative books on the history of warfare written over the past twenty years.  If I had to recommend only one book on special operations to someone starting down the path, To Dare and To Conquer would be it.  Published in 2006, my copy has been with me since I first read it in 2007 and is marked up with highlights and notes.  Upon first reading, I had already been downrange in Afghanistan and Iraq and knew that I was going back.  This book allowed me to juxtapose my experience in combat with the lessons Derek Leebaert highlights “from the Trojan Horse to the present ‘first war of the twenty-first century,’ special operations and the men who implement them have lived, and died, at the bloody intersection of destiny, legend, and high imagination.”

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck

One of my favorite books of all time, I’ll just leave this right here…

“I will lay down the law and you will learn it word by word, and every word must be edged with fire.  This is the law. The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.” – John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

The Transformation of War by Martin van Creveld

As a student of war, there are few works that have had as much impact on me as those of Martin van Creveld.  The Transformation of War is required reading and was one of the books I included in my professional reading list for the SEAL Teams before I left active duty. Creveld is without a doubt one of the foremost authorities on warfare alive today.  His The Transformation of War is an intellectual critique of the often cited On War by Carl von Clausewitz.  My copy is old, worn and coming apart at the binding but it holds a special place in my heart and on my shelf.  Published in 1991, its most pertinent theme still rings true today, that wars since the end of World War II have been irregular in nature and that irregular warfare is anything but “irregular.” Creveld frames what some consider his seminal work with this dedication: “To my children – May they never have to fight.”

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