THE CANON

These books comprise core knowledge that is fundamental to the naval profession. Understanding the causes of conflict, the dynamics of power, and the intersections of politics, diplomacy, economics, and military power is part of the core knowledge each Sailor should have.

The Canon in the CNO's Professional Reading Program:

MASTERS OF WAR

CLASSICAL STRATEGIC THOUGHT

By Michael I. Handel    [ Link to eBook ]

In Our Robots, Ourselves David Mindell offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the cutting edge of robotics today, debunking commonly held myths and exploring the rapidly changing relationships between humans and machines.

He finds that despite their apparent differences in terms of time, place, cultural background, and level of material/technological development, all had much more in common than previously supposed. In fact, the central conclusion of this book is that the logic of waging war and of strategic thinking is as universal and timeless as human nature itself.

STRATEGY

The Classic Book on Military Strategy

By B.H. Liddell Hart    

This is the classic book on war as we know it. During his long life, Basil H. Liddell Hart was considered one of the world’s foremost military thinkers—a man generally regarded as the “Clausewitz of the 20th century.” Strategy is a seminal work of military history and theory, a perfect companion to Sun-tzu’s The Art of War and Carl von Clausewitz’s On War.

Liddell Hart stressed movement, flexibility, and surprise. He saw that in most military campaigns dislocation of the enemy’s psychological and physical balance is prelude to victory. This dislocation results from a strategic indirect approach. Reflect for a moment on the results of direct confrontation (trench war in WW I) versus indirect dislocation (Blitzkrieg in WW II). He shows how Hitler almost won, and ultimately lost, World War II, and defines practical principles—“Adjust your end to your means,” “Take a line of operation which offers alternate objectives”—that are as fundamental in the worlds of politics and business as they are in warfare.

MILITARY STRATEGY

A General Theory of Power Control

By J. C. Wylie    [ Link to eBook ]

Because of his long experience with the formulation of military strategy in the United States, Admiral Wylie’s analyses and opinions are well worth the attention of military professionals, government leaders, newspaper editors, commentators and scholars. Because he has a freewheeling mind and is unhampered by orthodox military terms and the prevailing dogmas, his book will be of keen interest to laymen concerned about our nation’s welfare and future.

THE LANDMARK THUCYDIDES

A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

By Robert B. Strassler    [ Link to eBook ]

Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta “a possssion for all time,” and indeed it is the first and still most famous work in the Western historical tradition. Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.

However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Robert Strassler's new edition removes these obstacles by providing a new coherence to the narrative overall, and by effectively reconstructing the lost cultural context that Thucydides shared with his original audience. Based on the venerable Richard Crawley translation, updated and revised for modern readers. The Landmark Thucydides includes a vast array of superbly designed and presented maps, brief informative appendices by outstanding classical scholars on subjects of special relevance to the text, explanatory marginal notes on each page, an index of unprecedented subtlety, and numerous other useful features.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

By James Madison    [ Link to Transcript ]

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." —Preamble to the United States Constitution

The Constitution acted like a colossal merger, uniting a group of states with different interests, laws, and cultures. Under America’s first national government, the Articles of Confederation, the states acted together only for specific purposes. The Constitution united its citizens as members of a whole, vesting the power of the union in the people. Without it, the American Experiment might have ended as quickly as it had begun.

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

By Thomas Jefferson    [ Link to Transcript ]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence states the principles on which our government, and our identity as Americans, are based. Unlike the other founding documents, the Declaration of Independence is not legally binding, but it is powerful. Abraham Lincoln called it “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” It continues to inspire people around the world to fight for freedom and equality.

ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION

[ Link to Transcript ]

Atul Gawande shows what the simple idea of the checklist reveals about the complexity of our lives and how we can deal with it. The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail.

Atul Gawande makes a compelling argument that we can do better, using the simplest of methods: the checklist. In riveting stories, he reveals what checklists can do, what they can’t, and how they could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds. And the insights are making a difference. Already, a simple surgical checklist from the World Health Organization designed by following the ideas described here has been adopted in more than twenty countries as a standard for care and has been heralded as “the biggest clinical invention in thirty years.”

THE INFLUENCE OF SEAPOWER ON HISTORY

1660 - 1783

By A.T. Mahan    [ Link to eBook ]

The Influence of Seapower upon History. (1890; 656 pages) This classic text on the history and tactics of naval warfare had a profound effect on the imperial policies of all the major powers. Kaiser Wilhelm is said to have “devoured” this book, and it was avidly read by Presidents (including both Roosevelts), kings, prime ministers, admirals, and chancellors. This book was the work of noted U.S. naval officer and historian Alfred Mahan (1840–1914), who argued that despite great changes and scientific advances in naval weaponry, certain principles of naval strategy remain constant, and nations ignore them at their peril. Credited with stimulating the growth of modern navies in leading countries of the world, the text remains a basic authority on the strategy of naval warfare.

Demonstrating through historical examples that the rise and fall of seapower (and of nations) has always been linked with commercial and military command of the seas, Mahan describes successful naval strategies employed in the past — from Greek and Roman times through the Napoleonic wars. Focusing primarily on England’s rise as a sea power in the 18th century, the book provides not only an overview of naval tactics, but a lucid exposition of geographical, economic, and social factors governing the maintenance of sea power.

The work is carefully written and exceptionally well-documented; moreover, the author’s clear, well-thought-out text avoids technical language, making it accessible to a nonprofessional audience. In addition, four maps and a profusion of plans of naval battles help the reader grasp the strategy and tactics involved in some of the history’s greatest maritime conflicts. In this inexpensive edition, the book represents an indispensable source book for statesmen, diplomats, strategists, and naval commanders as well as students of history and international affairs. Although ships, weapons, and the global balance of power have altered greatly since 1890, these lessons are still applicable today.

MAKERS OF MODERN STRATEGY

From Machiavelli to the Modern Age

Edited by Peter Paret, with Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert

The subjects addressed range from major theorists and political and military leaders to impersonal forces. Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Marx and Engels are discussed, as are Napoleon, Churchill, and Mao. Other essays trace the interaction of theory and experience over generations–the evolution of American strategy, for instance, or the emergence of revolutionary war in the modern world.

Still others analyze the strategy of particular conflicts–the First and Second World Wars–or the relationship between technology, policy, and war in the nuclear age. Whatever its theme, each essay places the specifics of military thought and action in their political, social, and economic environment. Together the contributors have produced a book that reinterprets and illuminates war, one of the most powerful forces in history and one that cannot be controlled in the future without an understanding of its past.

PRINCIPLES OF MODERN STRATEGY

How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

By Julian Corbett

This brilliant exposition established British naval historian Julian Corbett (1854–1922) as one of the great maritime strategists.

Corbett placed naval warfare within the larger framework of human conflict, proposing that the key to maritime dominance lies in effective use of sea lines for communications and in denying that use to the enemy. His concept — which regarded naval strategy not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, with that end defined by national strategy — makes this a work of enduring value.

THE ART OF WAR

By Sun Tzu    [ Link to eBook ]

The Art of War, translated by Samuel B. Griffith, PhD, Brigadier General, USMC. (197 pages) The Art of War is almost certainly the most famous study of strategy ever written and has had an extraordinary influence on the history of warfare. The principles Sun-Tzu expounded were utilized brilliantly by such great Asian war leaders as Mao Tse-tung, Giap, and Yamamoto.

First translated two hundred years ago by a French missionary, Sun-Tzu’s Art of War has been credited with influencing Napoleon, the German General Staff, and even the planning for Desert Storm. Many Japanese companies make this book required reading for their key executives. And increasingly, Western business-people and others are turning to the Art of War for inspiration and advice on how to succeed in competitive situations of all kinds.

ON WAR

By Carl von Claswewitz    [ Link to eBook ]

On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (1989; 732 pages) A staff officer during the Napoleonic Wars, Clausewitz participated in and observed years of war between the major imperial powers of Europe. On War is the most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy. Since the work’s first appearance in 1832, it has been read throughout the world, and has stimulated generations of soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals.