On Fire: A Personal Account of Life and Death and Choices - Larry Brown

Larry Brown died in 2004. He was a Marine, a fireman, a farmer, and hunter and fisherman. He was also probably America’s greatest chronicler of the Southern, rural, working class. He was unsparing in his descriptions, though sparing in his words. He was genuine because he was of the people about whom he wrote, albeit one with an incredible gift. He wrote relentlessly for his seventeen years as a fireman before quitting to write full time, to great critical acclaim. Every Larry Brown book has something to show us, and for that all of them should be on this list, but On Fire is a reflection on the fire service, life, manhood, and testing yourself against the things that rightly frighten us and thus most widely applicable here. -WP


The Fighters - C. J. Chivers

Chivers is a Pulitzer prize NY Times war correspondent. He is also a Marine with combat experience in Desert Storm. He specializes in tactical level, very personal reportage of the experiences of, and effects on, the participants in the wars since 2001. Here he follows six service members; a fighter pilot, an SF NCO, two infantrymen, a corpsman, a helicopter pilot, combatants all. His deep respect for his subjects coupled with his skepticism about the means in which they’ve been used since 2001 makes this a masterful examination of the implementers of policy and, indirectly, the policies themselves. -WP


Soldiering: Observations from Korea, Vietnam, and Safe Places - Henry R. Gole

This book is hidden gold. Colonel Henry G. Gole fought as an enlisted rifleman in Korea and served two tours as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam. Along the way he got a PhD and taught in military and civilian schools. Gole is a truly contemplative writer with very genuine experience and a gift with prose that makes his story fascinating, even in more prosaic scenes outside of the wars. It can be read as stand alone chapters, though they serve the whole. The writing is accessible to any reader and Gole’s willingness to speak very frankly about his perspective on war and the Army make this both a literary pleasure and an easy read. -WP


Evolution of a Cro-Magnon - John Joseph

If you grew up listening to hardcore or punk rock, it’s unlikely that one of your favorite bands hasn’t been influenced by the Cro-Mags. Some of the scenes painted by the author will make you want to hug your kids and others will make you want to hug the toilet, but for a guy who gained his fame from screaming into a microphone to a bunch of sweaty kids beating on each other in small dark rooms, the actual literary value of his story does not disappoint. This autobiographical account of John Joseph’s life is a must for anyone who is a fan of counter culture, NY history or survival. -KD


What it is like to go to War - Karl Marlantes

With a title as straightforward as it can be Marlantes keeps the reader align with his narrative even with a dispersed timeline. Each chapter follows a theme as he tells war stories during his time in Vietnam as frequently as domestic experiences. He claims each uniquely influence an individual’s response to war. After digesting Marlantes’ words, veterans will be able to describe their personal experiences more thoughtfully; and civilians will have a better understanding of ‘what it is like to go to war.’ -TC


Reflections of a Warrior - Franklin D Miller

I found a first edition copy of this book in an antique store in Maine for $4.25 and it was the highlight of my trip. It initially caught my eye, with an image of a Congressional Medal of Honor and the MACV-SOG emblem on the cover, knowing not many books had been written about the unit or by men who had served within its ranks. Miller’s account of finding his calling (killing) and inevitably losing his purpose (peacetime Army) is reminiscent of such a large percentage of the Post 9/11 generation of veterans, who could find such solace in his words and experiences. -KD


Road to Wigan Pier - George Orwell

In an investigative journalistic type approach Orwell depicts the slums of Northern England pre-World War II. Personally, he proclaims to be a Democratic Socialist; however, during the course of his observations he illustrates the contrasting views within that political dynamic: despising the rich vs. caring for the poor. All the while, he confirms the upper-class’ lack of empathy, breaks down the middle-class’ prejudice and seemingly admires the lower-class’ demonstration of grit. -TC


Blue Rage, Black Redemption - Stanley “Tookie” Williams

One of the most compelling memoirs I have ever read by a founding member of the Crips, executed in 2005. What is even more compelling is the documentation embedded in the back of the book, which includes Tookie’s gang intervention protocol and synopsis’ of his anti-gang children’s books. This book is a testament to a man’s ability to turn his circumstances into something positive and carry it out until his last breath. -KD

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