Over a storied lifetime of service, former US Secretary of Defence James Mattis built a reputation for delivering strategic, clear-eyed command under pressure. His 2019 autobiography Call Sign Chaos details a life devoted to learning – applying lessons from nonstop study and action to develop a powerful, thoughtful leadership philosophy.

A voracious reader who credits his success to a prodigious personal library, Mattis named nearly 30 books he believes every wartime leader should study in James Stavridis’ The Leader’s BookshelfOf his picks, he notes, “They don’t tell you what the answers are, of course, they help guide… That sort of approach to how I looked at strategy versus operations, tactics versus ethics, and the spiritual sense shows up repeatedly in many of these.”

Find General James Mattis’ favorite books on leadership below.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

“Reminds you of the penalties that are paid by the private soldiers who have to carry out your orders.” -JM

One Bullet Away by Nate Fick

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge

Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant

“When you go up to the operational level of war, where you look at operational and strategic, you can’t go wrong when you read Grant’s Memoirs.” -JM

Defeat into Victory by Viscount Slim

Fighting Talk and The Future of Strategy by Colin Gray

Military Innovation in the Interwar Period by Williamson Murray

Before the First Shots Are Fired by Tony Zinni

Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster

My American Journey by Colin Powell

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (also rec’d by Richard Branson)

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Duty by Robert Gates

“If you look at Bob Gates’ book — I was the executive secretary for two secretaries at Defense, I worked closely with three others — and when you read Gates’ book Duty, you get a real sense of the breadth and the gravity of what faces people at that level.” -JM

The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant

The Greatest Raid of All by Lucas Phillips

“Any Marine who has not read Lucas Phillips’ book The Greatest Raid of All should. This is about the raid that shattered the dry dock at Saint-Nazaire, France, so that Bismarck would never have a place to be repaired if they went out to sea. You see how you can apply strategy to operations to the tactical costs and all.” -JM

The Rules of the Game by Andrew Gordon

“You look at our reliance on communications today, on cyber and all this stuff, and then you read Andrew Gordon’s book on The Rules of the Game about what went wrong for the Royal Navy between Nelson’s navy at Trafalgar and Admiral Jellicoe’s navy one hundred years later at Jutland, and you get a real reminder of how you can take fundamental errors that just screw you up royally.” -JM

March of Folly and The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy

Diplomacy and World Order by Henry Kissinger

Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer

War, Morality, and the Military Profession by Malham Wakin

For Country and Corps: The Life of General Oliver P. Smith by Gail Shisler

(via Foreign Policy)

Categories: Writers

Leave a comment