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A Warrior’s Bookshelf: Navy SEAL Rorke Denver Recommends Five Great Military Reads

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A Warrior’s Bookshelf: Navy SEAL Rorke Denver Recommends Five Great Military Reads

We are thrilled to share with you this wonderful essay written exclusively for by Rorke Denver, a Navy SEAL officer whose memoir, DAMN FEW: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior (co-written with Ellis Henican), released in February.

This Father’s Day, America’s military recruiters and America’s booksellers ought to form some kind of alliance. I’ll bet they have more in common than either realizes. I know this from personal experience: It was the heart-pounding hero stories my father read to me and my little brother --- “Hannibal and the Elephants,” “Jason and the Argonauts” --- that first ignited in me a craving for far-away adventure. Then when I was away at college, my dad sent me a copy of MY EARLY LIFE by Winston Churchill. That book is what convinced me to devote my own life to military service and become an officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs. For me, books and being a warrior have been thoroughly intertwined.

Everyone cites --- and so do I --- THE ART OF WAR by Sun Tzu and THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR by Thucydides, two great classics of military strategy. But I’ve learned at least as much from B.H. Liddell Hart’s SCIPIO AFRICANUS: Greater than Napoleon and Steven Pressfield’s riveting GATES OF FIRE. And I never would have become the battlefield commander that I did without THE PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF ULYSSES S. GRANT, ONCE AN EAGLE by Anton Myrer and ON COMBAT by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, who has thought more about the physiology and psychology of deadly-force encounters than anyone else who has come within a hundred yards of a firefight.

All my life, I keep being reminded that bullets and bombs aren’t the only tools of war. Nouns and verbs and the occasional well-placed adjective are immensely powerful, too.

Here are five books that, this Father Day, all hold prominent spots on my warrior’s bookshelf. They continue the journey that began before lights-out in the Denver household, and I don’t expect will ever come to an end.

THE OUTPOST: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper: With outstanding reporting and writing, Jake Tapper highlights the personal lives of soldiers in a way that vividly illuminates one of the single toughest issues of war: how decisions from higher command can tragically impact the operators on the ground. All too often, “the plan” supersedes the reality on the ground. And there is only so much training we can give our warriors to deal with the political, cultural and societal extremes in a place like Afghanistan. COP Keating is only one of many outposts that dealt with similar issues. And the warriors who fought and died in all these places did so in as violent and confusing a region that exists in this world. If you want to understand the challenge and shortcomings of the US strategy in AFG, this is the book.

FEARLESS: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm: All great war stories are really about the same thing…love. FEARLESS is a great love story at heart. Love of life, of family, of a unique and special brotherhood. It also shows what most people refuse to believe --- that the men in SEAL teams are not superhuman. They are as human as anyone else. They just strive to achieve in a rare and uncommon discipline. It demonstrates how much a SEAL needs to separate from his family and loved ones to do the job and how that very family is all he is actually fighting for. SEAL teams are not made up of choir boys. But the man who develops in that brotherhood is forever transformed and changed. Backgrounds be dammed. Once a SEAL, the slate is wiped clean. You have to earn the trident every day.

WAR by Sebastian Junger: WAR is a riveting and personal account of an Army unit in one of the most isolated and rugged valleys in Afghanistan. Sebastian Junger gained a phenomenal understanding of men at war and the relationships that build in that crucible. The highlights of how men related to one another in this environment is fascinating. It’s very rare for a journalist to be so close and accepted by a fighting unit as this. WAR is an exciting and wild tale.

GENERATION KILL: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War by Evan Wright: Here is a funny, scary and unvarnished look at young men at war. From a journalist embedded with a combat team, the insights are raw, entertaining and a little unsettling. Evan Wright pulls out details and realities of the young men of First Reconnaissance Battalion that strike at the core of who this generation is. This one is a combo of Mad Magazine and WAR.

ONE BULLET AWAY: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick: This one pairs perfectly with GENERATION KILL. Fick was one of the officers in charge of the same unit described in GK, and this is his account. It is fascinating and enlightening to see the same unit through two sets of eyes. One is a journalist removed from the unit and disconnected to the tribe. The other is a team member and officer. Both perspectives are valuable. This is a warrior’s book.