Home Forums General General Required Reading

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
  • Author
  • #32882
    Lagartija Mike

    For a hobby drawing on history, many wargamers are either grimly parochial in their knowledge or full metal ig’nant. Offer your recommendations here to the more or less benighted mutant masses. Scholarly or otherwise.

    Otto Schmidt

    Dear Mike


    In what field?

    Are you asking for a reading list to acquaint them with all of history, military and otherwise, or simply to supplement an already smattering of military history?

    In either case  you have to restrict your  entries to those that are in print and readily available.


    Since my historical gaming focus has mostly been on the latter half of the 2th century, I’ll cover the most relevant bits of what I have read regarding that. Though I am probably forgetting something as my bookshelf is too far away to look at right now .

    To start with, I’ve found most game stuff for Vietnam to be particularly to incredibly lacking for even basic information on the side of the VC, even the brick of info that is Ambush Valley. To that end my required reading for anyone playing them, to get a better idea of capabilities, tactics, styles of engagements and all that is the following two books:

    Vietnam: A portrait of its people at war by David Chanoff

    This is information about the war from the Vietnamese perspectives, both north and south. Not so military orientated in it’s overview, it’s still a very good source of information and through that, understanding far beyond what can be had from any of the many US-only perspectives on the war.

    Inside the VC and the NVA: The Real Story of North Vietnam’s Armed Forces by Michael Lee Lanning & Dan Cragg

    A more military focused version of the above. Definitely essential to provide understanding of how the communist side of the war was fought at the soldier’s level. Counters so many myths and legends about the VC so effectively that I simply can’t recommend this one enough, if you have any intention of playing Vietnam-based games and have an interest in the history at all, you really must read this.

    Shifting to a bit later in the cold war; books that helped me understand the Soviet and post-soviet Russian military better. Though I really would like to add to this list with some more modern analysis of the soviet military but apparently all the good, modern stuff is in Russian (as you might expect), or just very hardware-focused (because books about tanks sell way better than books about how tanks were used).

    Soviet Airland Battle Tactics by William P. Baxter
    From 1986, so outdated information but still well compiled and analysed dissection of how the soviets intended to do all that tank-rushing. If you want to be trying to mimic actual soviet tactics rather than what the stereotypical person thinks they are, starting here is a good option despite the age of the material.

    The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan & it’s companion The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War.  By  Lester W. Grau, Ali Ahmad Jalali

    These are the essential guides for wargaming the conflict (and ones that can mimic it) because everything is covered in vignettes, complete with maps, of encounters between the two sides illustrating different types of engagement/operations, complete with what happened and analysis of what worked and failed. The former was adapted from a Soviet study and comes with the Frunze Military Academy’s assessment of problems and improvements as well as analysis from the author’s perspective. The latter is the same but with information gathered from surviving mujahideen and records after the war.

    Fangs of the Lone Wolf: Chechen Tactics in the Russian-Chechen Wars 1994-2009 by Dodge Billingsley

    Basically the same as above but for the Chechen wars, from the Chechen’s side of things. Essential reading for any asymmetric conflict in former-soviet nations, goes through a wide variety of different types of encounters and how things worked/went wrong.




    I’m not sure what you are asking for.

    IMHO, at first they should read something generic but well documented (Osprey etc)…

    (…although, the very beginning for all of us was non-seriously-historical novels or films etc)

    And then, if they can and if available, texts written in the historical period.


    Otto Schmidt

    Dear Mike

    I’m going to assume the former so this really is going to be a syllabus of a general history course. I have limited myself to books in print and readily available.

    Van Loon, Hendrik Willem The Story of Mankind, WW Norton &co., New York & London, 2000,  ISBN 978-0-87140-175-5  Updated by John Merrimen.

    Van Loon forms with a constellation of others, including Ernle Bradford, Emil Ludwig, and Charles Lamb a group of tremendously powerful, excellent and entirely readable authors from the first quarter of the last century. Van Loon’s work is especially valuable as he begins from the very beginning and runs It up through the first World War.  After that Merrimen and others have “updated it’ to  modern times. However Merriman was no Van Loon and the later chapters do not have the sparkle and charm of the majority of  the book, which is pure Van loon. The book is enlivened by the pen and ink sketches of the author, done with wit, intelligence and a little pathos now and then. Van Loon gets it right and gives you the story, but doesn’t wander off into the weeds or get bogged down in the details. He is eminently readable and completely rememberable, and often ironic, and sometimes sardonic which will yield now and hen a wry smile or a belly laugh. This gives you the “big story.”  The post world War I era is less entertaining though on the same level, but not with the Van Loon wit.  Van Loon wrote dozens of books, sadly all of them now long out of print, but if you can find them I recommend  “Van Loon’s Geograpy” “The Story of America‘Man the Miracle Maker (a history of science and technology), and topping it all, “Van Loon’s Lives.”  The last, written in omage  of Plutarch brings many famous and some not so famous figures of history to his home in Veere  for a dinner party and to talk about themselves and their lives.  It’s a wonderful work and truly personalizes and epitomizes the subject of the evenings festivities.  At $15.95 it’s a steal.

    One you do Van Loon, you’re ready for Will & Ariel any day.  For GENERAL history, start with Van Loon, and if there’s a period you want to delve deeper into (Up to Post Napoleonic) then find the relevant volume in Durant’s History of Civilization and go there.


    For a bridge from the general story put out by Van Loon to one that focuses on military history, but which also deals extensively with the cultural, social, economic, and societal issues caught in the nexus of events I must recommend “one of our own.”

    Pratt, Fletcher “The Battles that Changed History.”  Doubleday & C0., 1956. Dover Books 2000. ISBN 0–486-41129-X . This book seems to be in every library but would not have made this list were it not for the sterling work by Dover Books, who I cannot praise too highly. They have reprinted many, many old histories and works, along with just recently that of H.G. Wells  Little Wars and Floor Games. If you are not on Dover books mailing list to get their catalogs and the latest and greatest you don’t deserve to style yourself  a person interested in history. Anything you want from literature to history, science and hobbies is there available dirt cheap.

    Anyway, back to Pratt. Fletcher Pratt deals with 16 famous battles (many of which you have not heard of) and shows how they changed history. This does NOT mean they are militarily decisive or what a gamer might call “A Strategic Victory” but rather those , the consequences of which changed society and life in general.  Some of them we recognize like Arbela  Vicksburg, Waterloo, but some we ill not like “Kadisiyah  Leyden, and Las Navas De Tolosa.  In each though Pratt makes his point and we are left with a new understanding of military history, but at the same time so much “culture” and “historical effects” seep in that we get a good map of the non-military aspects as well. But withal, it is Pratt’s style that is engaging and extremely readable and he produced, way back when a powerful “page turner” you won’t be able to put down.  This is writing every bit as wonderful and engaging as that of Van Loon, and Pratt also never wanders into the weeds of dead academic jargon, techno-determinism, or mind numbing theory and detail. At $11.95 it’s a steal at twice the price.

    I’ve already made a plug for Will & Ariel Durant, and it is well known enough and accessible enough.

    The problem with further recommendations is that synoptic and narrative histories are out of fashion these days, and everyone is out to prove a point in the postmodernist-deconstructionist field.  One now breaks down into the various “canons” of period, ancient, medieval, etc., and that gets into a huge venue much of which is readable, much of which is purity dreck.

    I mention one series that is VERY uneven in quality, but worth looking into if you get the right  Thomas Cahill began his series with “How the Irish Saved Civilization” which might or might not be, and his intent was to go through and highlight each period and each culture and show it’s contribution to the development of human history.  A worthwhile and commendable  enterprise. He’s compiled a few now.  His “The Gift of the Jews,” “ The desire of the Everlasting Hills; The World before and After Jesus “, and “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea : Why the Greeks Matter”   are excellent and well worth the price, and I am sure they are still in print.  Some others, most notably “The Secrets of the Middle Ages” and others are execrable and worthless. So it’s a very uneven series and unfortunately Cahill is not immune to a dip now and then in the cesspool of presentism. So I recommend the series with reservations.





    Lagartija Mike

    @Patrice: Anything that adds depth and context to our games, as well a deeper grasp of history. Not nessecarily history, literature or the arts as well: the Heike Monogatari or the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp as well as, say, Ross Hassig’s Aztec Warfare or the annotated Alexiad of Anna Komnena.


    This is a hard one, because I can never remember a day when I did not have a history book lying by my bed.  Even whilst the mediocrities who called themselves history teachers were failing me in their pseudo subject.

    But my approach to any subject has always been to start at my point of interest and expand from there in all directions.  Otto’s list seems to do that.  If I was approaching history from the entry point again, I would use Otto’s list.  For a wargamer I might add:

    On Killing – a superb analysis of why people are not good at killing each other and why it matters;

    JFC Fuller’s Decisive Battles of the Western World, because it opens your eyes to the panapoly of military history;


    When a period grabs my attention, it is usually from something  I have read.  I start with a history of the campaigns, nothing specific, but a good chtronology, which I read with a map, which I annotate.

    Then I go to a more open history of the time to set my campaigns in the politics and social environment.

    Then get a wargamers guide – Osprey or the like to get a wargamer’s overview

    Then start researching battles and personal recollections

    Then decide what I am going to represent on the tabletop

    Then read like hell on that, including coffee table books and travellers guides for the geography

    Then an understanding about weaponry and tactical use;

    Then good OOBs and as much stuff about battles as possible

    Then uniforms and buy an army.


    If I were to go back to square one, I would probably follow a similar line on a grand scale.  There is no point in reading Firepower by Hughes until you have read Swords Around a Throne and the Recollections of Rifleman Harris.

    Otto Schmidt

    Dear Grizzlymac


    Do you have an ISBN , author and some more information  about “On Killing.” I’d like to have a look at that. I too am interested in the “pathology” of war and the role of violence in human history.  I f you’re interested I will give you  half a dozen leads on that. It’s really getting into the philosophy of history , or at least one facet of history.

    In any case thanks for the kind words.  It is by the way extremely difficult to answer Largarita Mike’s inquiry without a statement of range and intent.  Even more difficult once you get into  something less broad than the whole of history. Even in the rather restricted  sphere of the 18th century I find it difficult to provide a reading list that doesn’t immediately jump to specific wars and conflicts. Yet there is a character of an epoch that unless you delve into you can’t really say you know it.

    Let me know if you’re interested in the list.




    Not Connard Sage

    Dear Grizzlymac Do you have an ISBN , author and some more information about “On Killing.”o


    Google’s a wunnerful thang, baby 🙂



    Anyway, it’s on my Amazon wishlist. Along with a lot of other stuff.

    You could probably add Captain Dunn to the list. Specific to the Great War, but people are still people down the millennia

    And Keegan’s Face of Battle, but everyone’s read that. Haven’t they?

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Rod Robertson

    Lagartija Mike:

    This is a pretty good list (albeit Euro-centric) to work from:

    43 Books About War Every Man Should Read

    I would add to the list Homer, Mayan and Aztec Codices, Machiavelli, Sir Charles Oman, JFC Fuller, Guderian, Tukhachevsky, John Keegan, Ken Tout, Steven Zaloga, Leo Murray, Mao Zhedong, Ju Da, Ho Chi Minh and General Zap to the list.

    Cheers and good reading.

    Rod Robertson.


    Lando Calrissian

    Offer your recommendations here to the more or less benighted* mutant masses

    *in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance.

    I don’t care for that description of me.


    Lagartija Mike

    A few general suggestions (I’m going to assume fundamental secondary sources like the various Cambridge Histories or the Routledge “World” line as a given):

    For Japanese warfare before the Sengoku Age I’d suggest:

    Hired Swords by William Wayne Farris

    Heike Monogatari, Yoshitsune and the Taiheiki, all beautifully translated by Hellen McCullough

    Royall  Tyler’s excellent translations of the Jokyuki, and the Hogen and Heiji Monogatari

    The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto by Mary Elizabeth Berry is essential for understanding the context of the Onin War

    The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha by Mikael Adolphson is an important work on the history (and historical mis/perception) of the sohei, the warrior retainers of the great landowning monasteries.

    Guy Farrish

    While you’re wading through ‘On Killing’ (and remembering it’s a starting point and not an end, and has its critics) put a reminder down to have a look at ‘The Human Face of War’ by Jim Storr  ISBN978-1-4411-8750-5 and ‘The Scars of War’ by Hugh McManners ISBN9780586-211298 for other insights into the human interaction with war and how to get human beings to kill in a controlled way (and be okay to return to civil society afterwards?).


    Lagartija Mike

    If you find On Killing valuable, you’ll want to read Walter Burkert’s Homo Necans.

    Thaddeus Blanchette

    Great stuff, guys! Thanks! Pity Homo Necans isn’t available in digital form.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.