Books | Best Companions

Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani (retd)

One of the best companions that a man or woman can ever have is a book. Dogs or other animals as companions do provide unquestioning loyalty and affection to human beings, but if one were to develop reading as a habit or pastime, the opportunities or windows that this hobby opens are unlimited. It is always good to keep abreast of developments in any field that concerns your profession, but for soldiers it is all the more important to not only learn from history, but also understand the vagaries of war, the destruction and suffering that it brings about and do everything that one can to prevent conflict.

Coerced or forced into a situation when conflict is inevitable, a soldier’s duty or ‘Dharma’ is to fight for what is right, even if the fight is against one’s own family, as was taught to Arjuna by Lord Krishna in the epic battle of Mahabharata. The importance of Professional Military Education (PME) continues to grow for soldiers as they graduate from tactics to strategy in their respective services. With the constraints of time and the proliferation of social media, it becomes even more difficult for professional soldiers to devote time to reading, however, the benefits that accrue and the knowledge and wisdom that is gained could prove to be life changing not only for individuals but for nations as well.

While the books that one can read know no bounds, there are some that must be read. A short list of books that are deemed important for not only soldiers but also scholars of military history and national strategy with reasons as to why they must be read is enclosed.


A History of Warfare by John Keegan is a must read for military scholars, this book traces the history of war from the beginning of civilization to the present times. Debunking Clausewitz’s theory of ‘war as the continuation of policy by other means,’ the book chronicles centuries of conflict from the Amazon to the Balkans, unravelling the motives behind humanity’s penchant for mass bloodshed. Lucid in style, the book is a masterpiece, written by one of the finest military historians.


The Mask of Command, again by John Keegan, analyses military leadership from Alexander to Wellington, Ulysses Grant and Hitler. The book delves deep into the military leadership styles and how they changed with technology, times and the personalities. Bringing the battle alive on its pages, the author goes on to give his suggestions for a ‘post-heroic’ leader who would act only after clear, intellectual thought. Leaders, more often than not present a public persona of themselves to their men as the leader their men want and need, through a mask made by themselves. It is this mask that the book seeks to ‘unmask’ brilliantly through great leaders, unveiling hitherto unknown facets of leadership.


India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971 by Arjun Subramaniam is a concerted effort made by chronicling the role of the armed forces in shaping modern Indian history since independence. This book is a brilliant treatise to the valour and bravery of the men in uniform. The author attempts to give a human touch to the battles and wars faced by the country. This has been made possible by his deep and painstaking research of regimental histories, squadron diaries and personal interviews with soldiers, sailors and airmen. Tracing the Indian military ethos from pre-colonial times the book gives a detailed account of the strategic, operational, tactical and humane dimensions of the major wars from the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 to the 1971 Indo-Pak war leading to the liberation of Bangladesh.


Full Spectrum: India’s Wars 1972-2020 by Arjun Subramaniam picks up the threads from the first volume. In this book the author takes the story forward to the next five decades, giving a detailed account of every major operation that the armed forces participated in. Covering insurgencies, terrorism, proxy wars, separatist violence, IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, Operation Cactus in Maldives, Kargil war and Indian forces under the UN flag, the book offers insights on how India could draw the right lessons from its internal conflicts and external aggression. This book should be considered as essential reading for all men and women in uniform apart from the others who wish to understand India’s security challenges.


Fighting To The End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War by C. Christine Fair examines the rationale and logic that drives the Pakistan Army and in turn the nation as it exists today—its insecurities and challenges. Christine Fair’s understanding of Pakistan comes from her detailed research and analysis from primary and secondary sources and her incisive critique of the Pakistan Army’s ideological underpinnings is a must read for soldier scholars who need to understand what drives the country and therefore how one should engage with it. Pakistan Army’s compulsion to view Afghanistan as strategic depth faces challenges today with the withdrawal of the United States and an uneven truce across the Durand Line.


The India Way: Strategies For An Uncertain World by S Jaishankar is a book that comes from a practitioner of foreign policy and a seasoned diplomat who today literally drives India’s foreign policy. This book is an honest endeavour to increase the understanding of India’s position in the changing world order. The transformation of the world order post the Covid pandemic has seen India at the cusp of history, fraught with the dogmas of the past, rising to the challenges in an uncertain world, attempting to claim its rightful place boldly and decisively by keeping national interest foremost. Balancing national interests with international responsibilities, this book could not have come at a more opportune time for people to understand how international relations are forged.

(The write is additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies)



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