Everyone it seems is publishing a list of books one must read, so I thought I would take my shot at it. While there is some military history included, is very broad based, and gets to what I consider essential reading for an educated professional.
1. The Guns of August Barbara Tuchman, 1962, a fascinating account of the events that led to the start of World War I and what happens when nations make strategic miscalculations.
2. James Madison: A Biography Ralph Kecham, An examination of the life of the man I consider to be the most important political philosopher and theorist of our nation. Madison was arguably not a good President, although Gary Wills present an argument in his book that he was better President than he has been given credit for in the past (see Gary Wills, James Madison part of the American President series general editor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)
3. Two Treatises of Government John Locke the father of what we would call today Libertarianism and Liberalism. A major influence on the thinking of the founding fathers.
4. Stillwell and the American Experience in China Barbara Tuchman a biography of General Joseph Stillwell who probably had a better understanding of the Chinese and their culture than any other American. U S Commander of the China Burma India Theater during World War II.
5. The Civil War: A Narrative Shelby Foote Perhaps the most readable account of the American Civil War. While like Tuchman not a trained historian, his narrative account is full of grace and imagery and is anything but dull reading.
6. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) the enduring Protestant worship of the Anglican Church it should be read as much for its theology as it’s beautiful and graceful writing.
7. The Uneasy State The United States from 1915 to 1945 Barry D. Karl major revisionist of the reform movement. He challenges the accepted historical interpretation of this period of history that the US emerged as a managerial state as a result of the two World Wars and the Depression.
8. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 Robert Middlekauff the history of the American Revolution. It’s short title could be how to win a war and by losing a majority of the battles.
9. Henry V William Shakespeare perhaps the two best histories written by the Bard of Avon. Of course one of the plays contains perhaps the most quoted speech in the English language. I have corrected my gross error, ascribing Two Parts to Henry V; my Shakespeare Professor Colonel Herbert Nash Dillard would have said, “Misto Foresman you are a cretin and an ass.!”
10. R. E. Lee Douglas Southhall Freeman the definitive biography of the life and time of Robert E. Lee providing insight into the character of Lee and his ability as a military commander. I actually find Volume 3 and the narrative of his Presidency of Washington College the most interesting and enlightening.