The 8 Best Books About Basic Training of 2020

Tips, knowledge, and strategies about military service

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If you are thinking about joining the military, you know that basic training is in your future. But how do you prepare yourself for such an experience, beyond performing infinite sets of pushups? And how do you excel once you are there?

You will be challenged in more ways than one once basic training begins. To truly understand the military, you need to think about the psychological aspects of warfare as well as the physical ones. It is a good idea to read up on basic training before you go. However, most of these are great for reading while you are there, too.

Best Boot Camp Survival Guide: The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook

The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook
Courtesy of Amazon

Even if you are as tough as nails, basic training will be a whole new adventure that promises to ravish your body, mind and even spirit. After the September 11 attacks on NYC, author Michael Volkin decided to enlist and discovered this truth for himself. In addition to the new grueling workouts, he was facing a daunting number of rules and military jargon. Thankfully, Volkin did not suffer in vain: he kept a detailed record of everything that he was learning to help future recruits get a leg up on the challenge they face. Combined with hundreds of interviews with other soldiers, this Ultimate Guidebook is a resource you won’t want to live without, and even includes effective workouts to help you prepare your mind and body for boot camp. If you have a lot of questions and concerns about enlisting, this is the go-to book to get your questions answered.

Best History Of Basic Training: Basic: Surviving Boot Camp and Basic Training

This book will not help you pass your physical tests, but it will tell you the entire crazy history of America’s military training in a gripping manner. Authored by two veterans, this book combines stories about every part of basic training, from drill instructors to triumphant moments every recruit will get to experience during the eight intense weeks of boot camp. It touches on the mind games that are played during training. It will help you understand why the drill sergeants do what they do. Having a deeper understanding of what to expect can make your time training a little less stressful. As the U.S. Army’s Former Deputy Commander for Initial Military Training Mark Hertling put it, the authors “have captured the ‘war stories' of basic training in a uniquely hilarious and moving way. Well done, gentlemen and patriots!” 

Best Classic Novel: The Red Badge Of Courage

This book is a classic novel about the Civil War and follows the story of a young man who enlists to fight in the Civil War and then abandons his post. It is on the Marines official reading list because its battle scenes are super realistic, even though the author never saw any real battles himself — perhaps because the author is thought to have conducted several interviews with veterans of the Civil War. But despite this fact, the book shows a gripping psychological struggle between the feeling of duty towards one’s country and the fear that all recruits face. The book was originally serialized in newspapers in the late 1800s before becoming the novel we know and love today.

Best Eastern Classic: The Art Of War

This book has been a classic for literally thousands of years — and once you have read it, you will understand why. It is simple and disarming, and it provides insights for anyone who needs to start thinking like a military strategist. The philosophies of speed, covert action and in-depth knowledge of your enemy align nicely with the skills you will be taught in your military career today, and this book will help you genuinely understand military tactics. The author was purportedly the high-ranking Chinese military general Sun Tzu, and it’s eerie how apt so many of his 13 Chapters are today. Each chapter includes lessons on a different aspect of battle strategy, making it a near-definitive read.

Best for Psychological Preparation: On Killing

You can see with your eyes how basic training prepares you physically to be a soldier, but it is harder to tell if you are mentally fit for war. The most unsavory fact about military life is that one day or another, you might be put into a situation where you have to end the life of someone else. This is, for everyone but sociopaths, an extremely difficult task. In this book, retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman explores just how hard it is on your brain to face this decision, and adds research from a leading Army historian to bolster his case. Killing damages the soldier’s psyche in substantial ways, and it’s essential for those who might one day face that situation to come prepared.

Best American Military History: First To Fight

It is easy to see why this book is a favorite of the Marine Corps — and not necessarily other U.S. military groups. The book tells the exciting, thrilling and heartwarming tale of how the Marine Corps became a fighting legend instead of the meager expedition laborers they were originally intended to become. The book follows the tale of the 1918 offensive the U.S., Great Britain, and French conducted against the Germans, including all of the ground and air operations that led the Marines to victory throughout WWI. Author Victor Krulak’s book used to be required reading for every recruit and attempts to answer the fundamental question of why the Corps remains relevant today.

Best From A Naysayer: Counterinsurgency

You might be surprised to find this book on the U.S. Army’s official reading list, but you should not be: If you want to be the best soldier you can be, you have to know what you are up against. In contrast to the previous book on this list, Douglas Porch’s book examines every American, British and French battle since the 1800s and spells out why the key strategy of “winning hearts and minds” seldom if ever works. Porch argues that brute force is more important than nation-building, which flies in the face of modern military thinking. Whether you agree with this thinking or not, it is essential to understand where this camp is coming from — and reading Porch’s book is a great place to start.

Best First-Person Account Of Basic Training: One Bullet Away

While the title of this book makes it sound like a mother’s nightmare, it provides one of the best firsthand perspectives on what becoming a Marine is really like. Author Nathaniel Fick transformed from a nerdy Ivy Leaguer to a battle-hardened leader who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq — and lived to tell (and write) the tale. It is not always a pretty read, but it gives you a firsthand picture of combat, training, military mindsets and the way officers and soldiers act when the pressure is high. While not every soldier is deployed, it is a real possibility. The details provided of the day to day life of what it is like to be in the middle of an intense combat situation is very eye-opening for someone looking to be a part of it.