Earlier this week, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the outgoing Army chief of staff, released his official reading list, as is the tradition for military service chiefs. Since then, he’s gotten some hazing.
“This is the sort of professional education an officer or NCO can get during long waits at the dentist office or from the remainder bins of airport bookstores,” sniffed Carl Prine, the military blog Line of Departure, in a post titled, “Dempsey’s Reading List Sucks.”
Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger with a doctorate in war studies from the University of London, wrote that, while he had tremendous respect for Dempsey, he was disappointed that the general’s list included “one of the worst novels ever written.” (“Once an Eagle,” in Exum’s opinion.)
The problem, it seems, is that Dempsey’s tastes run toward the middle brow. There are blockbusters, like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and Sebastian Junger’s “War.” There’s “The Starfish and the Spider,” by M.B.A-philosphers Ori and Rom Brafman and the inescapable “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. There are also a couple of titles by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist frequently derided by snooty foreign policy intellectuals.
As a “service to the readership,” Exum crafted a more serious reading list for Dempsey on his blog, Abu Muqawama. He jettisons some of the
general’s more populist suggestions in favor of ponderous works like “The Culture of National Security,” “Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It,” and “Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age.”
All of which counts for great intellectual stimulation, unless those particular reads have soldiers passing out from boredom at their posts.
Dempsey could have dodged the reading list rigmarole entirely. In early September, he will be promoted to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In his new job, unfortunately, Dempsey will be expected to issue yet another reading list.
Good luck with the critics, general.