MMH Research Library

Photo by Andrew Wheeler

Modern Military History is dedicated to educating the public about the nature of conflict. A key part of this mission is making military history accessible. Alongside original content such as articles, podcasts, and videos; MMH is proud to recommend published works that deepen understanding of the past. The MMH Research Library is a collection of works which the creator unequivocally recommends for those looking to learn more about military history. These works are books, films, or podcasts which have inspired the creator.

This list is sorted firstly by subject, with specific historical subjects listed in chronological order. Within the subject group works are listed alphabetically by title with a link provided for free access (when possible), or for purchase of the work. Each work is given a brief abstract for description. The MMH Research Library will be regularly updated.

Ancient History

Terracotta amphora (jar) ca. 530 B.C. (Photo Credit: The Met Museum)

Homer. The Iliad. Ancient Greece, 800 BCE.

Homer’s The Iliad is not a book, but a transcribed poem. The poem tells the tale of the Trojan war of Ancient Greece. Historians rely on Homer as one of the few works which can lend insight into the warfare of the ancient past. Setting aside the mythology of gods and other obvious aggrandized components of Ancient Greek epic literature- the works holds an incredible amount of viable clues which can begin to paint a picture of war during this time. The work is essential at the very least for driving home the understanding that human being conducted complex military actions as far back in time as the 8th century.

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Homer. The Odyssey. Ancient Greece, 800-700 BCE.

The Odyssey takes place after the events of The Iliad by telling the tale of the lead protagonist’s (Odysseus) journey home from the Trojan War. This work is another epic poem and should be approached similarly to The Iliad. While The Odyssey is not solely focused on military action, it is important for the study of military history because it holds many intimations of the reality of the ancient world. The brutality of Odysseus’ journey home bears much relevance to understanding the origins of western civilization. Such fundamental teachings make The Odyssey cannon in literature and a must read for any historian.

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Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. Ancient China, 500-400 BCE.

The Art of War is a text that emerged from ancient China around the 5th century, BCE. Master Sun Tzu was an ancient military tactician who committed his rules for success on the battlefield to writing. The book is relatively easy to read while simultaneously containing complex lessons. The Art of War is widely regarded to be one of the most influential texts ever written partly due to the contents’ universality. The book can be useful for studying many topics such as: business, life, and of course warfare strategy. The book is widely available and has been published repeatedly in Western languages since the 1700’s.

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Herodotus. The History of Herodotus. Ancient Greece, 400-300 BCE.

Herodotus is widly considered to be the first known historian. It can be argued Homer’s work is for entertainment Herodotus clearly is writing for the sole purpose of documentation. He plainly states in his first sentence of his histories: “These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done…’ It is of significance that he mainly wrote about military history. Herodotus should be taken with informed skepticism as many of his “facts” are unverifiable. However his mission to document history should be recognized and therefore studied. An excellent book for learning about the ancient past.

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Josephus. The Jewish War. Ancient Rome, 78 CE.

Written by Josephus, The Jewish War, is an account of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 CE. The work is one of the definitive texts for understanding Imperial Roman warfare. Josephus himself was very close to Emperor Titus, who at the time of the Jewish War was in command of the expedition to quell the Jewish revolt. This access to Titus is a double-edged sword when considering Josephus. Firstly, the author had excellent access to resources when writing therefore potentially resulting in a highly accurate account. Secondly, Josephus is clearly biased when writing about Titus’ deeds. It was his imperative to flatter his emperor. Therefore, take Josephus with a grain of salt but enjoy an invaluable insight into the military history of ancient Rome.

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The 1800’s

American dead on the Antietam Battlefield, 1862. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Morris, Donald R. The Rise and Fall of The Zulu Nation. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1965.

A pinnacle work on the infamous Zulu wars, The Washing of The Spears, is an impeccably researched. The author, Donald Morris, was a CIA counter espionage expert for 17 years and his attention to detail shows. This book goes much further than Isandhlwana and Roarke’s Drift. What sets this work apart from others is the incredible effort he put into exploring the perspective of indigenous South Africans. This book explores incredible history, from the journey of King Shaka to unify the Bantu tribes; to the English Zulu War in the 1870’s. Morris was ahead of his time with his work’s equality of perspective on native history alongside the colonial experience. This is a must read to understand the Zulu War and arguably colonialism as a whole.

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The First World War

A British solders suffering from “shell shock” at a dressing station, 1916. (Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum)

Sheldon, Jack. The German Army in Vimy Ridge, 1914-1917. Pen and Sword, South Yorkshire, 2008.

This work by Jack Sheldon is a detailed examination of the German Army in a single sector. The First World War is generally unbalanced in documentation in-favor of the Allies. Sheldon’s work provides a relief as he provides an academic exploration of how the German Army operated. The work focuses on one sector of the Western Front: the infamous Vimy Ridge. The amount of detail Sheldon enjoys is made possible by the limited scope of his work. Much of this work is direct quotes and excerpts from primary sources. A great read to learn about the German Army in WWI.

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Prior, Robin and Wilson, Trevor. Passchendaele, The Untold Story. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996.

The Third Battle of Ypres has come to be known colloquially as Passchendaele and can represent the experience of the First World War in many ways. Prior and Wilson do a good job providing a scholarly account of the battle. The author’s argument is to analyze the battle through the lens of hindsight revealing the fog of war in 1917. The authors argue that the tragedy of Passchendaele was avoidable. By making this argument the authors carefully examine the tools of war developed by 1917 therein providing an excellent knowledge base for study of WWI as a whole. A great book for beginning to learn about The Third Ypres.

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Van Emden, Richard. The Road to Passchendaele, The Heroic Year in Soldiers’ own Words and Photographs. Pen and Sword, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2017.

This book is an excellent collection of diary entries written by men who participated in Passchendaele in 1917. Accompanying the words of the soldiers are period photographs which themselves are both engaging and invaluable. This is a valuable read for understanding the people who experienced WWI. Books like The Road to Passchendaele, bring the focus upon the men who were there.

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ed. Liddle, Peter H. Passchendaele In Perspective, The Third Battle of Ypres. Leo Cooper, London, 1997.

This book is a magnificent deep-dive into the battle of Passchendaele. It is a collection of 30 skilled academic articles written by various authors all focusing upon separate aspects of the Third Ypres. Each article was independently researched and makes it’s own complete argument. Therefore each chapter of this book is a standalone work. The book covers topics from the British and German High command, to the weapons and equipment of the soldiers who fought there. This collaborative work therein gives a breadth of expertise from many world-class WWI scholars.

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The Second World War

One of Robert Capa’s “Magnificent Eleven” photographs taken in combat during the D-Day Landings, June 6th 1944. (Photo Credit: Life Magazine)

Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking. Basic Books, New York, 1997.

This book is a must read for anyone who seeks to gain a foundation of knowledge about the Second World War. Iris Chang’s work documents the genocide committed by Japan in Nanking, China. Prepare to be horrified by Chang’s writing. Understanding events like these are crucial to understanding war and sometimes to understand war necessitates being horrified. The author, Iris Chang, committed suicide in 2004 in the midst of researching another work on Japanese war crimes in WWII. It has been speculated that the research she conducted contributed to her state of mind. Her work has changed how the world understands atrocity and WWII as a whole, may she rest in peace.

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Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Verlag Frz. Eher Nacf, G.M.B.H. 1927

This book is crucial to understanding WWII. There is no avoiding the fact that Mein Kampf is one of the most influential books of all time and has a place in studying the events it’s author heralded. The book serves to illustrate how rational and sophisticated people can be sold eugenics and racism wrapped within religious nationalism. Hitler primarily writes in empirical observations presented as natural law. He intertwines personal oratory, nature, and religion into the prototype of what would become National Socialism. Understanding how Hitler reasoned his thinking is invaluable to deciphering how WWII began.

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Browing, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and The Final Solution in Poland. HarperCollins, New Your, 1992.

This book is one of the best pieces of original research pertaining to WWII. Browning utilized a myriad of primary sources to create one of the most incredible investigations into the Holocaust ever accomplished. Ordinary Men is a historical examination of a single German unit that participated in the Holocaust. The book humanizes the Germans and makes the reader understand how ordinary people can be made to commit atrocities. This book is one of the best pieces of history I have ever read. The lessons this book has to share are universally applicable across the history of war. That makes it a powerful source not just to understand the Holocaust but military history as a whole.

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