A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo (Holt, $17). No human enterprise gives young people such authority and responsibility at an early age as war. Caputo, a young Marine lieutenant, learned the hard way the toll such responsibility can take when Marines under his supervision made the decision to kill two captives in Vietnam.
The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman (Presidio, $8). Tuchman's chronicle of the events that opened World War I reads like a novel, but it is all too true: National leaders with no idea about the harsh results of their actions stumbled their way into a conflict that destroyed millions of lives.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (Ballantine, $8). Gettysburg was not just another battle in history: It forever changed the life of this country. Some 50,000 Americans lost their lives over three days. Shaara's depiction of the battle is fictional, but it bares the human soul, and is incomparable in conveying the atmosphere of the war.
We Were Soldiers Once...and Young by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway (Presidio, $8). This account of the Battle of Ia Drang, told by Lt. Col. Moore, who led the Marines' 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, paints the most explicit picture of the chaos of Vietnam at the small-unit level I've ever read. It is, particularly for those who have lived through close combat, the scariest of books.
Gallipoli by Alan Moorehead (Harper Perennial, $15). If ever there was a campaign from which to learn what not to do, it is Gallipoli. Everyone — the French, Churchill, Sir Ian Hamilton — made a mess of it, and in the process hundreds of thousands of young men were killed and maimed to no useful military end.
Infantry Attacks by Erwin Rommel (Zenith, $20). There are few books that influenced my understanding of combat as much as German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's memoir of being a young leader in World War I. Generations of soldiers read Rommel's book and employed his sober and successful tactics.
— Jack Jacobs is one of 144 Medal of Honor recipients featured in a new book of photographs and profiles assembled to commemorate the medal's 150th anniversary. The book, Medal of Honor, is published by Artisan.
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