Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Jerry Hendrix Christmas Book Club

Next in our Christmas Book list is CDR Henry J. Hendrix, USN author of Theodore Roosevelt's Naval Diplomacy: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century. He may also be known to readers as the author of the Proceedings article, Buy Ford not Ferrari.

It is always an interesting evolution to see what other authors think are important books. It gives you some insight on what feeds their brain, and what informs their world view.

This won't let you down.
Thanks to Phib for the invitation to contribute my list of books. My books are my friends. My library at home is my favorite place and there is nothing I like better than to sit in it with my friends about me. Just like a good friend, you do not set aside a good book simply because you have already had one good conversation with it. Rather it is profoundly satisfying to go back to a good book twice, thrice, or maybe on a scheduled rotation, like once a year, to enjoy the conversation again and again. I have found that with really great books it is always amazing how much new information or insights I am able to glean from subsequent readings that I did not pick up the first time through. The following list is not a total of the best books I have ever read, but rather is a list of the most influential books in five (six) distinct categories of books that make up my library.

Fiction – Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
There is perhaps no book I have read and re-read more often than Card’s Ender’s Game. It was loaned to me one day during VP-10’s 1991 deployment to Sigonella and I simply could not put it down. I didn’t go to sleep until two in the morning and then I got up the next day and started reading it again. This fictional account of a young strategic genius’s maturation is full of tactical and strategic insights that have helped me to challenge my own assumptions at every level of my profession. For instance, Ender’s reminder to his crew that “the enemy’s gate is down”, effectively altering their orientation of the battlefield by 90 degrees has served to remind me to consciously alter my perspective regardless of the level of engagement. It is a superb work of science fiction, and a must for any practitioner of the art of modern warfare.

Naval Strategy – Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by Capt A.T. Mahan.
OK, I’ve read this thing through twice, cover to cover. It was painful both times. Mahan’s style is classical, which is to say his narrative is not all that lively or compelling. However, as an afterthought, he provided an introductory preface to his book that I have returned to time and time again in my studies. His distillation of the necessary elements of Sea Power and how they should be applied remain remarkably relevant today. One cannot consider the future of the Pacific today without factoring in geographic position and physical conformation for instance. Additionally, Mahan was an active duty naval officer during his most productive writing years. He faced strong criticism from his superiors, but stood his ground and had his impact upon the world stage. He serves as a constant reminder to me that even a guy in uniform can and should have his say.

Philosophy – The Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke.
You gotta know what you believe in. This is the book that lies behind the Constitution and explains why the grand enlightenment experiment in the New World turned out so differently that what is presently playing out in Europe and elsewhere, and why are political debates here in the United States have become so visceral in their execution. I have found myself going back to Locke’s writings repeatedly in recent years as the assault upon the status of the individual as the sovereign unit in this country has increased to understand what the founders were attempting to establish within the framework of the Constitution. It has become increasingly clear that we, in this country, descended from a differently intellectual branch than did our counterparts in France, and that our revolution was fought for a different purpose. To understand who we are, and what we stand for, and why we are currently engaged in an intellectual civil war, read Locke…often.

Economics – The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek.
Alright, once again it’s all about getting back to first principles and figuring out what you believe and why you believe it. Having some problems with the current trend of increasing government control of large sectors of the economy but can’t explain your hunch, or better yet, give a description of a viable alternative? Well, Nobel Laureate (back in 1974) Fred Hayek is the man to turn to. Written in the midst of World War II England, Hayek argues that democratic government can never be responsive enough to meet changing economic conditions and so the trend is towards a successively larger and more powerful bureaucracy that ultimately tends to employ coercion against those actors in the economy that it sees as being outside of its control. Ultimately tyranny is imposed incrementally until the people, who once were sovereign, wake up to serfdom. It is a powerful warning for our times. This one sits on my nightstand, but it doesn’t help me sleep better.

Biography – The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940 by William Manchester.
I love this biography for three reasons: it’s about Winston Churchill, focused on the critical period of a brilliant life, and it’s written by William Manchester. I don’t think William Manchester ever wrote a bad book in his life, he was a true master of the craft of historical biography. I have read many others, and some have surpassed Manchester with one of their projects, but I cannot think of an author who was so consistently good. Of, course, you would have to be tremendously bad to mess up Winston Churchill (which his son, Randolph did with his two monstrous volumes). He was for me, along side Ronald Reagan, the critical actor of the 20th century and was the heart that beat the cadence of allied victory in Europe during World War II. Lastly, this book provides a critical understanding of the importance of Churchill’s years wandering in the wilderness, crying out warnings against the rise of Hitler (and Stalin). He was ignored by his contemporaries until the onrush of Nazi aggression left him the only credible leader left in England, and with his blood, sweat and tears, he led them out of the darkness of war. If you want a biography of a truly great man that you cannot put down, read this one.

Personal Pick – Theodore Roosevelt's Naval Diplomacy: The U.S. Navy and the Birth of the American Century by Me.
OK, Phib gave me an opportunity, and I wasn’t below the hard deck for more than 10 seconds, so I took the shot. Really, the reason why I started on the whole project that led to my degree and ultimately this book is that when I looked at the tremendous accomplishment that was the 20th century and started rolling back the film, I found consistent outward engagement backed by an ever present United States Navy that was conceived, built and deployed by Theodore Roosevelt. His ideas were so powerful that, even lacking a home like the Woodrow Wilson Center or the John F. Kennedy School of Government, they still thrive and help drive our national debate. I am still fascinated, even after 7 years of research, with how coherent this guy was with his strategic thinking and the application of his ideas. I do not believe that any naval professional can go wrong by studying the life, action, and ideas of Theodore Roosevelt.

Thanks to CDR Salamander again for the opportunity to share my list with you all.

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