Reading List | Reading Marks a Leader

AVM Anil Golani (retd)

There is no denying the fact that people who read, do so because they not only want to satiate their thirst for knowledge, but they also have the proclivity to understand varied viewpoints. An important character trait of any leader is the ability to visualise and understand events and situations as they impact and affect others. And reading as a habit strengthens and builds this character trait of an individual. The other spinoffs of this habit are improved cognitive thinking, prevention of mental decline, reduction in stress and anxiety, increase in creativity and imagination and improvement in the confidence levels of the individual with the knowledge gained. Enhanced knowledge leads to informed decision making. Continuing with the series on essential reading for men and women in uniform, as also others in the realm of national security and strategy, this list covers six books that must be read.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond is described as, ‘A book of big questions, and big answers’ by Yuval Noah Harari. This Pulitzer Prize winning book explains how geography and biogeography, not race, moulded the contrasting fates of Europeans, Asians, Native Americans, sub-Saharan Africans and aboriginal Australians. With the availability of new information from scientific disciplines like genetics, molecular biology and biogeography plus behavioural ecology this book makes an effort to explain how history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environment and not because of biological differences between people themselves. Tracing history since the evolution of human beings, to food production and domestication of animals, to the invention of writing and production of guns and steel, the intermingling of people between Europeans and native Americans and a journey around the contemporary world, this book is a deeply researched project that gives fascinating insights into the broad patterns of history since the last 13,000 years.


Patton by Alan Axelrod is one amongst the ‘Great Generals Series’, which gives an insight into the great General that Patton was. The progenitor of the art of manoeuvre warfare and the use of combined arms including air power, Patton was one of the greatest generals ever. For Patton, leadership was not about making plans and giving orders but transforming oneself into a talisman with which people identified themselves, merging their identities. Patton’s character exerted a magnetic pull on the officer corps because of his consummate professional skills and his proclivity of giving credit to his men, he always said ‘the soldier is the army.’ A soldier, warrior and scholar par excellence, Patton bequeathed to the United States Army, military professionalism that is lionised and studied even today. This brief biography is a must read for the men in uniform, for it gives a balanced appreciation of the man that Patton was and his contributions to modern military doctrine and strategy.


De Gaulle: Lessons in Leadership from the Defiant General by Michael E. Haskew is a well-researched biography of a towering leader and visionary who was instrumental in giving France the richly deserved legacy that sustains even today, sheds new light on the many facets of de Gaulle’s forceful and overbearing personality. Tracing his time as a soldier from the trenches of the first World War to the time when he abandoned the French government during the early stages of the second World War, the book chronicles his fleeing to Britain after refusing to collaborate and electing to resist to maintain the honour of the French people. The study of modern France in many ways reflects the story of de Gaulle—proud, arrogant, patriotic, principled and upright—a visionary who made his mark amongst the global leaders steering his country to where it stands today. A leader with a sense of honour that struck a chord with the people of France in their darkest hour, this book is a must read for people to understand France, Europe and how one man can change the destiny of a nation. Michael Haskew, an acclaimed historian brings to life the story of de Gaulle and that of modern France.


Leadership in the Indian Army: Biographies of Twelve Soldiers by Maj. Gen. V.K. Singh. Regimental histories and citations of decorated officers serve as a great source for recounting the acts of bravery in the face of the enemy or adversity, apart from services rendered beyond the call of duty. There is however more to the persona of a leader that makes him great, as it is widely accepted that there may be many generals, admirals or air marshals, there are however only a few leaders. This book by Maj. Gen. V.K. Singh is an attempt to put together little-known facts and stories that chronicle the human side of 12 exceptional military leaders of the Indian Army. Giving a peek into the strength and character of these great leaders, their contribution to the nation’s history and the rich legacy of the Indian Army has been highlighted. Painstakingly researched over a decade, the book is a lucid account of the lives of these great leaders from the Indian Army.


Wings of Fire: An Autobiography by APJ Abdul Kalam with Arun Tiwari brings to life the story of a common boat owner’s son who rose to become one of India’s most distinguished technocrats and subsequently the President of the country. Beautifully penned by Arun Tiwari who had the honour of serving with him for more than a decade, this inspirational biography has something for everyone—lessons in humility, knowledge, character, motivation, leadership, teamwork, courage, wisdom and above all the fact that nothing can stop you if you have a strong desire and will to do wonders for your country. Arun Tiwari has indeed done yeoman service by bringing out this book which should be read by every Indian, if only to reinforce their faith in the fact that Indians have the innate ability to be the best in the world with dedication, zeal and hard work.


1962: The War That Wasn’t by Shiv Kunal Verma is the story of a conflict that needs to be told and understood in its entirety by the present and future generations, as the country more than seven decades later still suffers from the ignominy of this ‘Himalayan Blunder.’ Shiv Kunal Verma is an avid historian with a ringside view of matters military and the son of an Indian Army officer whose regiment was almost decimated in the conflict. Even though many books have been written on the 1962 Indo-China conflict, the fact remains that the war was an unmitigated disaster brought upon the country largely due to a failure of leadership at the highest levels of the military and the nation. Giving a definitive account of the events as they unfolded, the book chronicles the stories of various battles, the bravery of the men in uniform, ill-equipped and fighting against all odds. This book takes the reader through an uncomfortable journey of one the darkest episodes of independent India. Every Indian must read this book as, George Santayana in his oft repeated quote said, ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’



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