Top 20 book recommendations for those who serve those who have served

(In alphabetical order with summaries pulled from Amazon descriptions) 

Click on titles for Amazon purchasing links

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior

Called “everything a twentieth century war memoir could possibly be” by The New York Times, this national bestseller by Colonel David H. Hackworth presents a vivid and powerful portrait of a life of patriotism. From age fifteen to forty David Hackworth devoted himself to the US Army and fast became a living legend. In 1971, however, he appeared on television to decry the doomed war effort in Vietnam. With About Face, he has written what many Vietnam veterans have called the most important book of their generation. From Korea to Berlin, from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam, Hackworth’s story is that of an exemplary patriot, played out against the backdrop of the changing fortunes of America and the American military. It is also a stunning indictment of the Pentagon’s fundamental misunderstanding of the Vietnam conflict and of the bureaucracy of self-interest that fueled the war.

 Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Jonathan Shay)

An original and groundbreaking book that examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In this strikingly original and groundbreaking book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.

Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and Family (Aphrodite Matsakis)

To write about the combat veteran is to write about fortitude, dedication and selflessness, and about experiences unfathomable to those who have never known the indescribable horrors of war. To write about you the veteran s spouse or partner is to write about another kind of loyalty and perseverance and yet another kind of pain and sadness. The trauma of war can affect not only the warriors, but their partners and children as well. Often it is you, the veteran s partner, who helps sustain the veteran during his or her depressions, anxiety attacks, and post-traumatic reactions. It may also be you, and perhaps you alone, who has sustained your veteran s will to live during his or her most anguished moments. Unfortunately, some veterans vent their anger (at themselves or at others whom they felt betrayed them) on the people they love and who love them the most their partners and children. The purpose of this book is to help you (and your veteran) better understand combat trauma and its possible effects on intimate relationships and family life and to guide you to resources that can help strengthen every member of your family.

Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning From Iraq and Afghanistan and their Families

(Keith Armstrong, Suzanne Best and Paula Domenici)

The bravery displayed by our soldiers at war is commonly recognized. However, often forgotten is the courage required by veterans when they return home and suddenly face reintegration into their families, workplaces, and communities. Authored by three mental health professionals with many years of experience counseling veterans, Courage After Fire provides strategies and techniques for this challenging journey home. Courage After Fire offers soldiers and their families a comprehensive guide to dealing with the all-too-common repercussions of combat duty, including posttraumatic stress symptoms, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. It details state-of-the-art treatments for these difficulties and outlines specific ways to improve couple and family relationships. It also offers tips on areas such as rejoining the workforce and reconnecting with children.

Down Range: to Iraq and Back (Bridget C. Cantrell and Chuck Dean)

Trauma changes people: It changes values, priorities, worldviews, and most of all …it changes how we relate to others. Painful, life-threatening experiences take people beyond the normal day-to-day life, leaving them stuck behind defensive walls that keep them from re-entering the world they have always known as "“home”." So how does it happen? How do we lose the loving closeness with those around us? And better yet, how do we re-gain what pain has robbed us of? "Down Range"” is not only a book explaining war trauma, it is required reading for anyone seriously interested about how to make healthy transitions from war to peace. Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D. and Vietnam veteran, Chuck Dean have joined forces to present this vital information and resource manual for both returning troops and their loved ones. Here you will find answers, explanations, and insights as to why so many combat veterans suffer from flashbacks, depression, fits of rage, nightmares, anxiety, emotional numbing, and other troubling aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae (Steven Pressfield)

At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army. Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history--one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale....

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Karl Marlantes)

An incredible publishing story—written over the course of thirty years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, a New York Times best seller for sixteen weeks, a National Indie Next and a USA Today best seller—Matterhorn has been hailed as a “brilliant account of war” (New York Times Book Review). Now out in paperback, Matterhorn is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line. It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat. The experience will change them forever. Matterhorn is a visceral and spellbinding novel about what it is like to be a young man at war. It is an unforgettable novel that transforms the tragedy of Vietnam into a powerful and universal story of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice: a parable not only of the war in Vietnam but of all war, and a testament to the redemptive power of literature.

Moving a Nation to Care: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops (Ilona Meagher)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our returning combat troops is one of the most catastrophic issues confronting our nation. Yet, despite the fact that nearly 20 percent of the over half million troops that have left the military since 2003 have been diagnosed with PTSD, and that many who suffer symptoms are unlikely to seek help because of the stigma of this terrible disease, our government and media have remained silent. Moving A Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops is a grassroots call to action designed to break the shameful silence and put the issue of PTSD in our returning troops front and center before the American public. In addition to presenting interviews with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering with PTSD, such as Blake Miller, the famous “Marlboro Man,” this book will be the most comprehensive resource to date for concerned citizens who want to understand the complex political, social, and health-related issues of PTSD, with an eye toward “moving our nation to care” to do what is necessary to help our fighting men and women who suffer from PTSD.

Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (Jonathan Shay)

In this ambitious follow-up to Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay uses the Odyssey, the story of a soldier's homecoming, to illuminate the pitfalls that trap many veterans on the road back to civilian life. Seamlessly combining important psychological work and brilliant literary interpretation with an impassioned plea to renovate American military institutions, Shay deepens our understanding of both the combat veteran's experience and one of the world's greatest classics.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Lt. Col. Dave Grossman)

The good news is that most soldiers are loath to kill. But armies have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. And contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques, and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young. Upon its initial publication, On Killling was hailed as a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects soldiers, and of the societal implications of escalating violence. Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent trends in crime, suicide bombings, school shootings, and more. The result is a work certain to be relevant and important for decades to come.

Taming the Fire Within: Life After War (Dr. Anna Freund)

This book explains in a down to earth fashion why most combat veterans feel and act the way they do. Dr. Freund discusses everything from anger to emotional detachment to nightmares to hypervigilance. She also uses the photographs to demonstrate the universal and natural reactions most people who have been through war experience. This book explains why combat veterans usually avoid crowds or lines, why they get so angry while driving in traffic, why their family members often describe them as emotionally distant, the purpose of nightmares, flashbacks, anniversary reactions, grief, and much more.

Tears of a Warrior: A Family’s Story of Combat and Living with PTSD (Janet Seahorn and Anthony Seahorn)

Tears of a Warrior is a patriotic book written about soldiers who are called to duty to serve their country. This is a story of courage, valor, and life-long sacrifice. After the cries of battle have ended, warriors return home to face their physical and mental challenges. Some who made the supreme sacrifice return home in a box draped in the American flag. Those more fortunate, often scarred for life, try to establish a new beginning for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, for many veterans and their families, life will never be the same. Society, overall, is simply too far removed from the realities of combat and a world filed with atrocities to truly comprehend or appreciate the experiences of returning veterans. If we send them, then we must mend them.

The Odyssey (Homer)

Robert Fagles, winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, presents us with Homer's best-loved and most accessible poem in a stunning modern-verse translation. "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy." So begins Robert Fagles' magnificent translation of the Odyssey, which Jasper Griffin in the New York Times Book Review hails as "a distinguished achievement."

The Theatre of War: What Ancient Tragedies can Teach us Today (Bryan Doerries)

This is the personal and deeply passionate story of a life devoted to reclaiming the timeless power of an ancient artistic tradition to comfort the afflicted. For years, theater director Bryan Doerries has led an innovative public health project that produces ancient tragedies for current and returned soldiers, addicts, tornado and hurricane survivors, and a wide range of other at-risk people in society. The originality and generosity of Doerries’s work is startling, and The Theater of War—wholly unsentimental, but intensely felt and emotionally engaging—is a humane, knowledgeable, and accessible book that will both inspire and enlighten. Tracing a path that links the personal to the artistic to the social and back again, Doerries shows us how suffering and healing are part of a timeless process in which dialogue and empathy are inextricably linked.

 They Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. 

The Warrior Ethos (Steven Pressfield)

WARS CHANGE, WARRIORS DON'T We are all warriors. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is the Warrior Ethos? Where did it come from? What form does it take today? How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and external lives? The Warrior Ethos is intended not only for men and women in uniform, but artists, entrepreneurs and other warriors in other walks of life. The book examines the evolution of the warrior code of honor and "mental toughness." It goes back to the ancient Spartans and Athenians, to Caesar's Romans, Alexander's Macedonians and the Persians of Cyrus the Great (not excluding the Garden of Eden and the primitive hunting band). Sources include Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Xenophon, Vegetius, Arrian and Curtius--and on down to Gen. George Patton, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Sebastian Junger)

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. TRIBE explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.

What it is Like to Go to War (Karl Marlantes)

One of the most important and highly-praised books of 2011, Karl Marlantes’s What It Is Like to Go to War is set to become just as much of a classic as his epic novel Matterhorn.

In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at the experience and ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our young soldiers for war. War is as old as humankind, but in the past, warriors were prepared for battle by ritual, religion, and literature—which also helped bring them home. In a compelling narrative, Marlantes weaves riveting accounts of his combat experiences with thoughtful analysis, self-examination, and his readings—from Homer to the Mahabharata to Jung. He makes it clear just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors—mainly men but increasingly women—are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of their journey.

What was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers who Fought It (Trish Wood)

The Iraq war officially began on March 20, 2003, and since then more than one million young Americans have rotated through the country's insurgent-infested hot spots. But although stories of dramatic ambushes and attacks dominate the front pages of newspapers, most of us do not truly know what the war is like for the Americans who fight it. What Was Asked of Us helps us bridge that gap. The in-depth and intensely probing interviews this book brings together document the soldiers' experiences and darkest secrets, offering a multitude of authentic, unfiltered voices - at times raw and emotional, at other times eloquent and lyrical. These voices walk us through the war, from the successful push to Baghdad, through the erroneous "Mission Accomplished" moment, and into the dangerous, murky present.

Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military (Kori Schake and Jim Mattis)

A diverse group of contributors offer different perspectives on whether or not the different experiences of our military and the broader society amounts to a “gap”—and if the American public is losing connection to its military. They analyze extensive polling information to identify those gaps between civilian and military attitudes on issues central to the military profession and the professionalism of our military, determine which if any of these gaps are problematic for sustaining the traditionally strong bonds between the American military and its broader public, analyze whether any problematic gaps are amenable to remediation by policy means, and assess potential solutions. The contributors also explore public disengagement and the effect of high levels of public support for the military combined with very low levels of trust in elected political leaders—both recurring themes in their research. And they reflect on whether American society is becoming so divorced from the requirements for success on the battlefield that not only will we fail to comprehend our military, but we also will be unwilling to endure a military so constituted to protect us.