Top 10 Books Military Strategy Books Through the Ages

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Military strategy is the science of using the proper techniques to win a battle.  Manpower alone will not win wars. Good use of strategy is very important. These twenty books will provide the reader with a diverse examination of military strategy through the years. The books will inform, entertain, and help people strategize in non-military areas.   

Military Strategy 

History books are a personal favorite of mine.  The C-SPAN channel regularly focuses on the Civil War on weekends.   The Civil War is the source of tons of books.

While we watch and read accounts discussing the many battles of that war, one thing to look for is a discussion of military strategy.  The years-long bloody chess games General Robert Lee of the Confederacy had with multiple Union generals, each with larger armies, is a familiar theme.

This is a matter of military strategy.  Successful generals are those who know how to be good leaders (such as Napoleon and Julius Caesar).  A basic part of good leadership is knowing how to use the resources on hand to obtain the best results.  

We see this in weekend sports and we see this in military battles.  A good strategist is both naturally skilled as well as someone who studied how to be one.  

There are many books to help this along, including if you are not likely to fight any battles, but merely find the subject interesting.  And, good military strategy can inspire good strategy in other areas.  There are many reasons to read up on this topic.  


Read All About It

My purpose here is to provide some of the best books out there about Military Strategy.  I will provide you with a link to where you can buy them, providing basic information to help you decide if they are good for your needs.   

Things to look for: the author’s expertise, the specific subject matter, what others are saying about them, the skillset of the intended audience, and any deficits that might be red flags.


[1] The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries By Sun Tzu, Thomas Cleary

Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher, and writer.  Sun Tzu died over twenty-five hundred years ago, but The Art of War remains the classic work on military strategy. It provides sayings and stories to educate the reader on the nature of war.  And, it has not only inspired military thinking, but also Eastern and Western philosophy.

There are many versions.  This one provides a complete collection of his works with helpful commentary.  Thomas Cleary was an American translator and writer of more than 80 books related to Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Muslim classics.  

Caveats: A useful reference book to have, this book of ancient philosophy is not an easy read for a modern reader.  Some might want a more up-to-date book. 

[2]  The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli 

Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born in Florence. He is famous for The Prince, which provides a realistic approach to political power, arguing a modern prince is obligated to do things that might be deemed immoral.  The book includes matters of military strategy, including the use of the militia, the means to defend a city, and the psychological strategy necessary to win. 

Possible Problems: It’s not exactly a page-turner.  Somewhat dull to read.  There is a reason students often are only given excerpts of these classical works.

[3]  The Art of War in Western World by Archer Jones

This monumental work (768 pages) covers twenty-five hundred years of military history.  The book discusses how the three major operational components of war (tactics, logistics, and strategy) have evolved over time.  Well written and researched with lots of illustrations. 

Archer Jones was a professor of history and former dean at North Dakota State University.  He also wrote Why the South Lost the Civil War and Elements of Confederate Defeat

Possible Problems: The range of materials makes it impossible for any one military moment to receive fully in-depth treatment.  Some complain it is “textbook” dull.  

[4] Modern Strategy by Colin Gray

Colin S. Gray was a British-American writer on geopolitics and professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies.  He wrote various books on military strategy such as The Future of Strategy and Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy.

Modern Strategy is an earlier book.  Truth in advertising.  Gray talks about everything from the principles of nuclear strategy to the basic fundamentals of military strategy, the importance of Clausewitz (Prussian military strategist), and the strategic history of the twentieth century.

Possible Problems: Book was written in 1999.  Not quite “modern” enough.  

[5]  The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War by Fred Kaplan

David Petraeus was the director of the CIA.  Before then, he had almost forty years of military service, including as commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and commander, of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Fred Kaplan provides the inside story of how David Petraeus and others changed the way the Pentagon did business and how the American military fought wars.  They had strong resistance, and the military often resistant to change.  A page-turning account discussing a modern military strategy that was applied to wars that readers have lived through.

Possible Problems: David Petraeus got in some trouble lately.  Taints his brand some.  

[6]  The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

Robert Greene has a degree in classical studies and is the author of several bestselling books, including The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, The Art of Seduction, and Mastery.

Greene uses historical figures like Sun Tzu and Napoleon to provide tips on how to manipulate people and situations.  Learn how to get the upper hand from the best minds in history.  

The book illustrates how military strategy through the centuries provides means for everyday people to defeat opponents, ensnare an unsuspecting victim, or become the greatest in your field.  Helpfully highlighted to keep track of key points with a bunch of quotations from military heroes through the ages.  Learn what “rappers, drug dealers, and corporate executives” all used.

Possible Problem: Some readers were not impressed with the thirty-three strategies, finding them not consistently true and/or overly simplistic.  

[7] Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freeman

Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King’s College London since 1982.

Strategy is a comprehensive history of military strategy.  Truly.  We start with the strategy used by primates.  And, Freedman covers all the rest, from ancient military strategy in the time of Homer to Prussian strategy to corporate strategy in the modern day.  

Possible Problems: The reader can be overwhelmed with all this detail.  A few found the writing boring.  Some did not like the choices made, including arguing there was too much trivia or religious imagery.  If someone wants a more condensed overview, look elsewhere.  

[8]  Praxis Tacticum: The Art, Science and Practice of Military Tactics by Charles Oliviero

Colonel Charles Oliviero is both an army vet and a war studies scholar.

This is a tactical workbook particularly intended for junior officers and NCOs.  The book will help develop junior leaders into tacticians, equipping them with the necessary skills and tools to lead, develop others, and achieve on the battlefield.  Provides drills to help learn these skills.

Possible Problems: Does not cover light infantry tactics.

[9]  U.S. Army Guerrilla Warfare Handbook by the Department of the Army

This official manual is designed to provide guidance in special forces and unconventional warfare operations for commanders and staff at all levels.  

Guerilla teams attack without mercy with precision, instill fear in enemy hearts and viciously deflate morale. This is all done with careful training and tactics.  Read all about it.  

Possible Problems: This is a basic manual, “just the facts” sort of deal. This is great for Joe Friday and many readers.  But, for others, it will be harder to read and learn the material.

[10] Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Howard 

The very short introduction series is a great way to quickly learn about a range of topics.  

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers on war. His study On War (which the author of this book helped to translate and edit) is one of the classics of military strategy. This book will provide a quick introduction to his life and ideas.  

Possible Problems: Too short; might make you want to find a larger biography.


[11]  Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda by John Keegan

John Keegan is a leading military historian.  This book discusses the use of military intelligence in modern-day warfare.  The book is a collection of case studies to answer the question “how useful is intelligence in war?”  Intelligence is an important aspect of military strategy, especially with modern-day tools to collect information.  A good addition to a complete library on strategy.

[12]  The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I by Mark Ethan Grotelueschen

This book provides a comprehensive case study regarding the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) combat doctrine and methods.  It discusses how AEF combat units fought on the West Front during World War I.  Mark Grotelueschen, Ph.D., is a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF, and a Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy.

[13]  The Direction of War by Hew Strachan

Hew Strachan is a British military historian.  He addresses the concerns of 21st Century warfare, including struggles in fighting in places like Afghanistan. Strachan argues that we need to adopt a more historical approach to contemporary strategy in order to identify what is really changing in how we wage war.  A well-written book addressing modern-day problems.  

General David H. Petraeus says: “A very thoughtful, enormously stimulating, and hugely thought-provoking examination of the strategies, concepts, and civil-military relationships that have influenced the character of war in the twenty-first century.” 

[14] Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction by Antulio J. Echevarria II

Antulio J. Echevarria II is the Editor of the US Army War College Quarterly.  He was also the Director of Research at the US Army War College. He wrote two books on Clausewitz.

A concise discussion by someone with experience with examples that provide real-world perspectives.  Your military strategy library can include both comprehensive large tomes and little volumes that summarize.  

[15]  Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction by Elinor C. Sloan 

Elinor Sloan is a Professor of International Relations at Carleton University. 

This is a short introduction as well (under two hundred pages). Prof. Sloan provides a comprehensive introduction to post-Cold War military theory for students of strategic studies.  This compact textbook provides a discussion of all the major battlefields of warfare – sea, land, air, cyber, and space.  An excellent expert introduction to the subject area.  

[16]  Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership by Barry S. Strauss

Barry Strauss is a professor of history and classics at Cornell University.

Strauss in this book compares the way the three greatest generals of the ancient world waged war and draws lessons from their experiences that apply on and off the battlefield.  Each general had to make basic decisions such as whom to fight, when, and why; to know what victory was and when to end the war; to determine how to bring stability to the lands he conquered.  This is an educational as well as an entertaining read. 

[17]  Dragon’s Fire: Chinese Military Strategy and Its Implications for Asia by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopala

Dr. Rajagopalan is an expert on matters of Asian strategy and warfare. She has been a technical advisor to the United Nations among many other roles.  She has written and edited many books.  

This book examines the military strategy of China, and how it impacts India and Asia. China is the most populous country in the world and major world power. 

The growth of China as a major military and economic power along with its superpower aspirations remains a serious concern to regional powers and the United States.  This book will help you understand China’s point of view.  

[18] Nonstate Warfare: The Military Methods of Guerrillas, Warlords, and Militias by By Stephen Biddle

Stephen D. Biddle is an American author, historian, policy analyst, and columnist whose work concentrates on U.S. foreign policy. 

Biddle in this book looks at five campaigns waged by nonstate actors in Croatia, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and Vietnam.  He argues such groups act much the same way a conventional army such as that of the United States might act.  The book provides important insights into the military strategy of those the United States will often be fighting in the 21st Century.  

[19] Airpower in the War Against ISIS by Benjamin Lambeth  

Benjamin Lambeth has used his strategic knowledge at the CIA and for over thirty-five years at the RAND Corporation, the leading global policy think tank. 

ISIS is a militant Islamic group trying to establish an Islamic state in the Middle East. Lambeth critiques the use of United States air power. The book focuses on the planning and conduct of Operation Inherent Resolve by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from August 2014 to mid-2018.  Lambeth argues that the U.S. made various mistakes and provides advice on how future military exercises of this nature should be performed.  An excellent case study of military strategy, including the successes and failures of the enterprise.   

[20]  The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan by Lester W. Grau (Editor)

The Soviets, not listening to the old maxim about avoiding land wars in Asia, had a “Vietnam War” of its own in the 1980s.  This book discusses the combat tactics used by the Soviets in their campaign against insurgents in Afghanistan.  

The book originally was put together by a Russian military academy as a guide for their troops.  Nonetheless, it provides lessons for any nation involved in fighting a civil war, against guerrilla forces and dealing with rough terrain.  This edition also has an introduction by expert Soviet historian David M. Glantz, written in 2007, providing further insights.  


Strategy is “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war.”  These books show just how complex military strategy has been over the years.