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Civil Affairs Reading List

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The CA professional is truly a  ‘Warrior Diplomat’ who must traverse complex terrain in all parts of the world. From the far-flung jungles of the Philippines to the hardpan desert of the Sahel, civil affairs forces operate in the most dangerous and complex places to advance US interests and objectives.  The intellect and mental agility required for such a profession is demanding and requires rigorous study.


This reading list was a joint effort by the editorial board of the Eunomia Journal and the leadership of the Civil Affairs Association. Each member submitted nominations and descriptions of each book’s value to the CA community. The members then voted on the nominations to whittle the list down into a distilled, user-friendly reading list.


The list is divided into three sections: Civil Affairs Foundations, COCOM-specific books, and finally, Curios. Civil Affairs Foundations is comprised of ten books that we believe serves as the baseline for understanding the role of CA in a changing world. The COCOM section is three to four books that provide a baseline of regional knowledge. The Curios section is five books that fall outside of the usual purview of military reading lists, but offer new perspectives or modes of thinking for CA professionals.


Eunomia Journal Team

May 2020


“Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.” 

—  Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis

CA Foundations

Civil Affairs Foundations

  1. The Dragons and Snakes by David Kilcullen

    In 1993, the CIA director warned that Western powers might have 'slain a large dragon' with the fall of the USSR, but now faced a 'bewildering variety of poisonous snakes'. Since then, both dragons (state enemies like Russia and China) and snakes (terrorist and guerrilla organizations) have watched the US struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mastered new methods in response: hybrid and urban warfare, political manipulation, and harnessing digital technology. This book is a great primer of twenty-first century threats our nation and CA forces will face: cutting-edge tactics and adaptive adversaries. 

  2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Translated by Thomas Cleary

    A book familiar to most but seemingly more relevant in current times than in the past, perhaps. Sun Tzu's strategies focus on shaping battlefields using relevant economic, political, psychological factors (information operations) as a means to fight his enemies. 

  3. The Dictator's Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith 
    This book provides a simple version of selectorate theory to analyze the structure and behavior of leadership within a spectrum of regimes from democracy to pure autocracy. This could be key to CA in understanding not only whom they should engage with but also the structures of the various societies they are working by, with, and through to potentially influence.

  4. Lawrence of Arabia On War by Rob Johnson
    In this book, Dr. Rob Johnson, Director of the University of Oxford Changing Character of War Centre,  provides an innovative study of T.E. Lawrence and his thinking on war. He discovers through deep examination that Lawrence was conducting a mix of information warfare, hybrid warfare, and irregular warfare by building human networks with great effect. There is a gold mine of stratagems in this book and great reflections on the ‘hard study and brain-work’ required to understand war and ground context.

  5. Military Strategy in the 21st Century by Charles T. Cleveland et al
    The authors argue in modern war that people and networks of influence are key terrain, as much or more so, than prized pivot points in traditional geopolitics. There is a chapter highlighting contemporary civil affairs operations and how teams mapped the human geography and developed human networks of influence. [Special Deal for CAA Members]

  6. The Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot
    America's "small wars," "imperial war," or, as the Pentagon now terms them, "low-intensity conflicts," have played an essential but little-appreciated role in its growth as a world power. Beginning with Jefferson's expedition against the Barbary pirates, Max Boot tells the exciting stories of our sometimes minor but often bloody landings in Samoa, the Philippines, China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere. Along the way he sketches colorful portraits of little-known military heroes such as Stephen Decatur, "Fighting Fred" Funston, and Smedly Butler.

  7.  The New Rules of War by Sean McFate
    McFate defines the present global condition as one of “durable disorder,” the principal feature of which is persistent and perpetual armed conflict. Entities like China, Iran, terrorist organizations, and drug cartels, all of whom have less money and firepower than the U.S., are more effective in the new forms of warfare, such as strategic subversion and information campaigns, covert proxy or “shadow” wars that may include private mercenaries, economic warfare, terrorist attacks, and strategic manipulation of laws to further their agendas. 

  8.  In the Midst of Wars by Edward G. Lansdale
    The prototypical Civil Affairs officer, Ed Lansdale fought the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines by pushing good governance, responsive military forces, and innovative tactics that prioritized capturing insurgents rather than killing them. He tried to follow the same agenda in South Vietnam without the necessary support from the American chain of command.

  9.  The Generals by Thomas E. Ricks
    History has been kinder to the American generals of World War II, with much reverence for Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley, more so, than to the generals of the wars that followed. Notwithstanding, during World War II, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. In The Generals we meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Rick’s book is a damning statement of the guild mentality in the general officer ranks where loyalty to the guild is paramount to competence, adaptability, vision, and strategy. 

  10.  War and the Art of Governance by Nadia Schadlow
    Success in war ultimately depends upon the consolidation of political order. Consolidating the new political order is not separate from war, rather Nadia Schadlow argues that governance operations are an essential component of victory. Despite learning this the hard way in past conflicts from the Mexican War through Iraq and Afghanistan, US policymakers and the military have failed to institutionalize lessons about post-conflict governance and political order for future conflicts. This book provides an excellent historical treatment of US Civil Affairs and describes the difficulty of military governance in contemporary operations. A useful book for those writing papers on Civil Affairs or governance operations. 


  1. Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire
    When Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire received the call to serve as force commander of the UN mission to Rwanda, he thought he was heading off to Africa to help two warring parties achieve a peace both sides wanted. Instead, he and members of his small international force were caught up in a vortex of civil war and genocide. Dallaire left Rwanda a broken man; disillusioned, suicidal, and determined to tell his story. This book highlights to human cost of civil war not only on the warring factions but also on those trying to forge peace in an impossible situation. A sobering read on the reality of civil war.

  2.  A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne
    A sharp portrayal of a brutal conflict that tore two nations apart. The Algerian War (1954-1962) was a savage colonial war, killing an estimated one million Muslim Algerians and expelling the same number of European settlers from their homes. It was to cause the fall of six French prime ministers and the collapse of the Fourth Republic. It came close to bringing down de Gaulle and - twice - to plunging France into civil war. The story told here poses issues of enduring relevance beyond the confines of either geography. Truly a war in the hearts of the people this story has lessons for
    civilian-military relations and reminds us that you can win every battle but lose the war.


  3.  Africa: A Biography of a Continent by John Reader
    This book spans from geologic time (to explain why Africa has such rich mineral deposits) through pre-history (including mankind's eons-long struggle against the only other animal capable of shaping the landscape:  the elephant) to contemporary issues.  Each chapter is a bite-sized nugget of wonderful good stuff, like a box of chocolates, often with a "Freakonomics" twist that makes you question assumptions and form new mental connections.


  1. Unwinnable: Britain's War in Afghanistan
    A reminder of how not to prosecute a war in a far-off place that has confounded the best efforts of many foreign powers over the centuries. Theo Farrell’s, Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001-2014, presents a compelling view of the interface between strategy and tactics and how one without the other will inevitably lead to failure. For America, 2001 onwards was her First open war in Afghanistan, but for Britain her involvement builds on three previous wars. For a country like Afghanistan, the 1842 retreat from Kabul and the retaliatory destruction of Kabul’s ancient market hall by General Pollock, 6 months later, was a recent memory. Britain, therefore, entered the War in Afghanistan with a degree of hubris but also trepidation and with a surprising lack of insight into the challenges it would face. A cautionary tale that reinforces the need to understand not only the current operating context but your own history as well.

  2. Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan by Rodric Braithwaite
    As a former ambassador to Moscow, Rodric Braithwaite brings unique insights to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The story has been distorted not only by Cold War propaganda but also by the myths of the nineteenth-century Great Game and the subsequent post 9/11 war. It moves from the high politics of the Kremlin to the lonely Russian conscripts in isolated mountain outposts. The Soviet Union campaign in Afghanistan has been characterized as simple brutality and whilst there was certainly excess there were also sophisticated capacity building and development projects running in parallel. Despite this, the endeavor ended in failure. The parallels with Afghanistan today speak for themselves.

  3.  The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk
    This book details the exploits of what could be argued the first Civil Affairs officers, long before that name and terminology was ever thought of within the American military lexicon.  The Great Game period (1830-1895) was a prolonged competition between Imperial Russia and Victorian Britain for influence and power throughout Central Asia. A series of military officers played the great game by using a mixture of economic, political, military, and diplomatic tools to expand influence into local populations while concurrently driving out the influence of their rival all at levels below conflict.  This is an important piece to read for Civil Affairs as it describes a period of time when competition below levels of large scale conflict was played out in periphery states as part of great power competition.  

  4. The Thistle and the Drone by Akbar S. Ahmed
    This book explains our #1 shortfall in the last two decades of war on terror: The US and West’s failure to understand the local socio-political context in the places where we found ourselves fighting. The excessive use of drones and remote warfare are creating more enemies than they eliminate. This book provides a granular understanding of the tribal dynamics in the turbulent tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan from someone who served as a political agent on the ground. CA forces will continue to operate in complex human terrain at the local level and this book has many insights from which one can learn. A must read with loads of applicability to CA. 


  1. The Russian Anxiety by Mark B. Smith
    An accessible and truly exciting plunge into Russian history that prompts the reader to challenge their assumptions about the past (and present) of Russia in relation to Europe and the narratives that have been promulgated by statesmen, media, politicians, historians, and ordinary men and women of the past about it. Many will come to this book with their minds already made up and - consciously or not - misconstrue some of the points made. This book is highly recommend as an excellent and timely book to any reader in CA- but come to it with an open and reflective mind. A brilliant read on Russia and its context.

  2. The Foundations of Geopolitics by Aleksandr Dugin
    The book has had a large influence within the Russian military, police, and foreign policy elites and it has been used as a textbook in the Academy of the General Staff of the Russian military. Its publication in 1997 was well-received in Russia and powerful Russian political figures subsequently took an interest in Dugin who has developed a close relationship with Russia's Academy of the General Staff.

  3. The Russian Understanding of War by Oscar Johnson
    This book analyzes the evolution of Russian military thought and how Russia's current thinking about war is reflected in recent crises. While other books describe current Russian practice, Oscar Jonsson provides the long view to show how Russian military strategic thinking has developed from the Bolshevik Revolution to the present. He closely examines Russian primary sources including security doctrines and the writings and statements of Russian military theorists and political elites. What Jonsson reveals is that Russia's conception of the very nature of war is now changing, as Russian elites see information warfare and political subversion as the most important ways to conduct contemporary war.


  1. Destined for War by Graham Allison 
    Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’ Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century. Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today. This book is referenced often by GEN Mark A. Milley and is on his reading list as well.

  2. Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall
    Journalist and scholar Bernard Fall vividly captured the sights, sounds, and smells of the brutal— and politically complicated—conflict between the French and the Communist-led Vietnamese nationalists in Indochina. The French fought to the bitter end, but even with the lethal advantages of a modern military, they could not stave off the Viet Minh insurgency of hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, booby traps, and nighttime raids. The final French defeat came at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, setting the stage for American involvement and a far bloodier chapter in Vietnam‘s history. Fall combined graphic reporting with deep scholarly knowledge of Vietnam and its colonial history in a book memorable in its descriptions of jungle fighting and insightful in its arguments. After more than a half a century, Street without Joy remains required reading.

  3. How Communists Negotiate by C. Turner Joy
    Admiral Joy had the difficult task of leading United Nations Command negotiations during the Armistice of the Korean War.  This book is worth reading today to identify both continuity and change in the North Korean and Chinese approaches to negotiation. The art of mediation and negotiation are core components of CA tradecraft and their understanding other cultures and perspectives is essential. 

  4. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl
    John A. Nagl—a veteran of both Operation Desert Storm and the conflict in Iraq—considers the now-crucial question of how armies adapt to changing circumstances during the course of conflicts for which they are initially unprepared. Through the use of archival sources and interviews with participants in both engagements, Nagl compares the development of counterinsurgency doctrine and practice in the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 with what developed in the Vietnam War from 1950 to 1975.

  5. The Ugly American by William Julius Lederer and Eugene Burdick
    This is a fictional story with high veracity. The authors thread a variety of narratives to show failures in American policy in Southeast Asia. The publicity that surrounded the book with an attempt to censor it abroad made it even more popular. This book remains influential and reminds of humility when dealing with other foreign cultures and nations. The big problem this book highlights from the Cold War is the US lack of socio-political dynamics on the ground. In 2012, The Joint Staff found a similar finding with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a year later, RAND did a study and they, too, found this to be the #1 failure of the recent interventions. While this may be in the INDOPACOM area, it is a must read for all CA professionals going to any region. 


  1. Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana
    It is astonishing that Simón Bolívar, the great Liberator of South America, is not better known in the United States. He freed six countries from Spanish rule, traveled more than 75,000 miles on horseback to do so, and became the greatest figure in Latin American history.

  2. Narconomics by Tom Wainwright
    By analyzing the cartels as companies, law enforcers might better understand how they work—and stop throwing away $100 billion a year in a futile effort to win the “war” against this global, highly organized business.More than just an investigation of how drug cartels do business, Narconomics is also a blueprint for how to defeat them.

  3. A Great Perhaps? by Dickie Davis, et. al
    Based on field-work in Colombia's regions, the study provides a history to the conflict, compares it to other historical and contemporary case-studies, examines the war from the perspective of the government and the guerrilla, delves into the development of special Colombian capabilities notably in intelligence and the use of airpower and special forces, and explains the economic dimension in terms both of historical exclusion and ongoing attempts at growth and inclusion. Finally, it concludes with an assessment on the country's prospects.


  1. Narrative War by Ajit Mann
    Contemporary wars are largely wars of influence and they will not necessarily be won by those with the most information or the most accurate data. They will be won by those who effectively interpret the meaning of the information and what difference it makes for the audience. This short book is a further reminder of the growing importance of narrative in this hyperconnected world.

  2.  Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    More than just an escape from reality, the best science fiction novels resemble the most sophisticated war game exercises, opening up new ways of testing and analyzing our assumptions about war, peace, and the gray area in between.  For a Civil Affairs audience, Card’s classic novel epitomizes the importance of analyzing the human terrain, building teams out of diverse coalitions, mastering the fundamentals of battlefield geometry, and navigating the uneasy balance between empathy and lethality.  An allegory for great power competition, Ender’s Game centers around a group of gifted children drafted into military service for the express purpose of exploiting their youth and creativity against a powerful but predictable foe. Ender and his teammates must overcome the odds to find and strike the alien enemy’s center of gravity, or else risk humanity’s extinction.  This raises complex questions about the morality of war and the meaning of sacrifice.

  3. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
    Probably the quintessential example of military-themed science fiction, Starship Troopers follows Juan "Johnny" Rico through his military service in the Mobile Infantry during an interstellar war between humans and an alien species.  Interspersed with the primary plot are philosophical and moral questions that continue to plague our society.  If you’ve ever been troubled by the yawning gap between the few who choose military service and the indifference of our civilian culture in contemporary America, the meaning of patriotism and citizenship, and the tradeoffs between personal sacrifice and the glory of serving the greater good… Heinlein’s novel is for you.

  4.  Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    This is an incredible book that explains the importance of stories and how they have driven people since the beginning of our species. Harari integrates history and science to explain narratives over time and their importance. It explains the mainsprings of human action in the past and what it might mean for the future.

  5. Like War by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking
    Through the weaponization of social media, the Internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the Internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, “Twitter wars” produce real world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. The result is that war, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battlespace that plays out on our smartphones.

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