When then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly was tapped to serve as the new White House Chief of Staff, much was made of Kelly’s favorite novel, The General, by C.S. Forester. Kelly himself noted that he read the book each time he was promoted during his career in the Marines. Written in 1936, The General tells the story of General Sir Howard Curzon, a competent and ordinary British cavalry officer. Curzon rises through the ranks as the story progresses, owing his successes to sheer opportunism, bureaucratic know-how, attrition from combat, and dumb luck rather than any kind of professional or personal development. What worked for him as an inexperienced subaltern during the Boer War is all he brings to his eventual Corps command in World War One.
What the Gettysburg Address is to American political history, Major General William Sherman’s 1864 letter to the City Council of Atlanta is to American military history. It should be required reading for civilians and military professionals alike. Sherman’s gritty prose bridges the wild spirit of the frontier warfare of America’s past with its industrialized, idealistic future. Defining an “American way of war” has taken on a new urgency. As we consider our nation’s wars, present and future, Sherman’s letter is an underrated masterpiece.