17 Books Every Service Member Should Read, According to Troops and Veterans

We asked Military.com readers for their favorite book suggestions, and here are some of their top picks.
We asked Military.com readers for their favorite book suggestions, and here are some of their top picks. (Collage of book covers created by Military.com)

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The military community is awash in book suggestions -- from branch-specific reading lists to those focused on personal and professional development. So we set out to create an essential reading list by surveying the folks who have experienced the impact and importance of a really good book on their service: our Military.com readers.

Hundreds of U.S. service members and veterans responded to our informal survey with their (sometimes very strong) opinions. Their choices emphatically highlighted the books that not only shaped them as service members, but that they believe other troops should read as well. We pored over the responses, categorized them and found the breakout books that readers believe will make a difference to those currently serving in the ranks.

From fiction to military strategy to psychology, there's something for everyone on this list -- and there's the chance that at least one of these titles will be brand-new to you. Make sure you add these top looks to your reading list:


While it may seem counterintuitive that novels were often suggested in our survey, many of our readers stated that they frequently applied lessons learned from fictional stories to their military service. Here's what readers had to say about these beloved books:

"The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War" by Michael Shaara: "Though it covers a past conflict, it discusses the American civil-military relationship like no other book. Its insight on tactical preparation for combat is also without equal."

"Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein: "The book showcases the importance of loyalty, moral courage, recognizing humanity even in adversaries, and the sense of duty that comes from love of country and what it represents.These timeless soldierly values ring true regardless of branch, era or [the] true sci-fi nature of the story."

"Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae" by Steven Pressfield: "It is the quintessential book on leadership, service and sacrifice for the greater good. There are more lessons and good quotes in this book than any other I have ever read."

"Matterhorn" by Karl Marlantes: "Military service with all its warts and wrinkles, the triumph of a small unit activity, the folly of a larger conflict, and the effect of hubris on a generation, my generation, that should inform this and future generations."

TOP PICK: "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller: Since its publication in the early 1960s, "Catch-22" has been a top pick for both military and civilian reading lists, and our survey was no different. This satirical novel borrows heavily from the author's experiences in World War II, but generations of service members have found humor and truth within its pages. As one reader succinctly shared: "Heller's masterpiece is a graphic depiction of how the military actually functions. The characters and situations are only slight exaggerations of the real world."


Most service members are secret (or not-so-secret) history buffs, so we weren't surprised to see nonfiction picks from our readers. From Korea to Iraq and everywhere in-between, these books offer context and perspectives that can enhance service members' understanding of conflicts, political jockeying, and leadership mistakes and triumphs throughout the ages.

"Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death" by Jim Frederick: "[It h]its home with a lot of truth."

"This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History" by T.R. Fehrenbach: "The book covers the levels of war, from international strategy to tactical fighting in foxholes. It demonstrates how unpreparedness, egos, and underestimating opponents lead to disaster."

"About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior" by Retired Col. David H. Hackworth: "This book stands up to the test of time as a classic with insights into historical conflicts and the impact of decisions made by the Pentagon and the U.S. government."

"War is a Racket" by Gen. Smedley D. Butler: "It exposes the ties between taxpayer funded defense and private business interests going back more than 100 years, by an author whose reputation is distinguished and unassailable. You hear about him in boot camp but don't know what he was really about until you start looking."

TOP PICK: "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" by Retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway: "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" was our reader's standout choice when it came to nonfiction titles. Perhaps known best for its popular 2002 film adaptation, "We Were Soldiers," readers applauded the book's authenticity in depicting the Vietnam War and military service as well as its emotional depth. "I read this 25 years ago and still feel the impact this story had on me. The men in this story made me want to do my best every day to honor their sacrifice," one reader shared.

Military Strategy and Psychology

Looking for an in-depth examination of a particular military subject? These book suggestions offer a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details of military life that can make a huge difference in your service and leadership. Here's a short list of strategy and psychology books, straight from our readers:

"The Boys in the Barracks: Observations on American Military Life" by Larry H. Ingraham: "Anyone who hopes to better understand the modern day soldier should dive into this book."

"Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin: "This book highlights the necessity for leaders to take charge and 'own' their actions. No blaming, no passing the buck."

"On War" by Carl von Clausewitz: "It is one of the most important treatises on political-military analysis and strategy ever written, and remains both controversial and influential on strategic thinking."

"On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman: "Not everyone in the military go[es] into combat, but everyone should understand what it takes to kill for those who [have] been in combat or will be going to combat."

"A Message to Garcia" by Elbert Hubbard: "It promotes attention to detail, following orders, taking initiative, and determination."

TOP PICK: "Art of War" by Sun Tzu: Many readers chose "Art of War" by Sun Tzu as their No. 1 reader for service members. Written in the fifth century BCE, this Chinese military treatise carefully details skills and their application to military strategy. Since its translation into English in the 20th century, its wisdom and strategy has also been used for personal and professional improvement, both on and off the battlefield. As one reader explained, reading "Art of War" will help you "... weaponize your intellect."

OVERALL PICK: "Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer

Overwhelmingly, "Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer was suggested as the book U.S. service members should read. Over and over, readers cited the novel's accurate depiction of leadership and service across ranks as the reason it rose to the top of their lists. "I've read it cover to cover several times and listened to it as a book on tape as well," one reader shared. "Its examination of moral choices is timeless," another wrote.

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