An Army general takes some grief for his books


“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.


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.

Greg Jaffe covers the White House for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009.
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