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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (326 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Thomas E. Ricks Narrator: William Hughe Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble comes an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq.

History has been kinder to the American generals of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley—than to the generals of the wars that followed. Is this merely nostalgia? In The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks answers the question definitively: No, it is not—in no small part because of a widening gulf between performance and accountability. During the Second World War, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. Today as one American colonel said bitterly during the Iraq War, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

In The Generals we meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Marshall and Eisenhower cast long shadows over this story, but no single figure is more inspiring than Marine General O. P. Smith, whose fighting retreat from the Chinese onslaught into Korea in the winter of 1950 snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of annihilation. But Smith’s courage and genius in the face of one of the grimmest scenarios the marines have ever faced only cast the shortcomings of the people who put him there in sharper relief.

If Korea showed the first signs of a culture that neither punished mediocrity nor particularly rewarded daring, the Vietnam War saw American military leadership bottom out. The My Lai massacre is held up as the emblematic event of this dark chapter of our history.

In the wake of Vietnam, a battle for the soul of the US Army was waged with impressive success. It became a transformed institution, reinvigorated from the bottom up. But if the body was highly toned, its head still suffered from familiar problems, resulting in leadership that, from the first Iraq War through to the present, was tactically savvy but strategically obtuse—one that would win battles but would end wars badly.

Thomas E. Ricks has made a close study of America’s military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: the transmission of values, strategic thinking, the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails. Military history of the highest quality, The Generals is also essential reading for anyone with an interest in the difference between good leaders and bad ones.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “[A] savvy study of leadership in the US Army…Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Thomas E. Ricks has written a definitive and comprehensive story of American generalship from the battlefields of World War II to the recent war in Iraq. The Generals candidly reveals their triumphs and failures, and offers a prognosis of what can be done to ensure success by our future leaders in the volatile world of the twenty-first century.”

    Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War

  • “This is a brilliant book—deeply researched, very well-written, and outspoken. Ricks pulls no punches in naming names as he cites serious failures of leadership, even as we were winning World War II, and failures that led to serious problems in later wars. And he calls for rethinking the concept of generalship in the Army of the future.”

    William J. Perry, nineteenth US Secretary of Defense

  • The Generals is insightful, well written, and thought provoking. Using General George C. Marshall as the gold standard, it is replete with examples of good and bad generalship in the postwar years. Too often a bureaucratic culture in those years failed to connect performance with consequences. This gave rise to many mediocre and poor senior leaders. Seldom have any of them ever been held accountable for their failures. This book justifiably calls for a return to the strict, demanding, and successful Marshall prescription for generalship. It is a reminder that the lives of soldiers are more important than the careers of officers—and that winning wars is more important than either.”

    Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, USMC (Ret.); author of The Generals’ War

  • The Generals rips up the definition of professionalism in which the US Army has clothed itself. Tom Ricks shows that it has lost the habit of sacking those who cannot meet the challenge of war, leaving it to presidents to do so. His devastating analysis explains much that is wrong in US civil-military relations. America’s allies, who have looked to emulate too slavishly the world’s preeminent military power, should also take heed.”

    Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford

  • “Tom Ricks has written another provocative and superbly researched book that addresses a critical issue: generalship. After each period of conflict in our history, the quality and performance of our senior military leaders comes under serious scrutiny. The Generals will be a definitive and controversial work that will spark the debate, once again, regarding how we make and choose our top military leaders.”

    General Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (Ret.)

  • “Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing—like the author’s 2006 bestseller, Fiasco, this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “A collective biography of American generals from World War II to the present, as well as an organizational history of the US Army…Superbly researched and written.”

    Library Journal

  • “Much of what Ricks mentions can be found elsewhere, but his skill at pulling it all together and his fresh insights give the narrative power.”

    Washington Post

  • “Readers of [Ricks’s] 2006 best seller on the Iraq war, Fiasco, and of his blog, The Best Defense, know that he has strong opinions he does not try to hide. He also has a deep wellspring of knowledge about both military policy and military history. That combination of conviction and erudition allows him to deliver an entertaining and enlightening jeremiad that should—but, alas, most likely won’t—cause a rethinking of existing personnel policies.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, October 2012
  • A 2012 Washington Post Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2012 Kansas City Star Top 100 Book for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Tanya | 2/8/2014

    " I have such respect for Thomas Ricks. Fiasco was intelligent and insightful and really blew the lid off the manipulative and sorry rationale for the Iraq war, and the disastrous way in which it was pursued. This book is an educated and smart work that offers a great deal of wisdom regarding military leadership and personality. Ricks describes generals seriatum from WWII to the present day. His persistent use of Marshall as the gold standard of military leadership somewhat constrains his exegesis, I feel, but my husband, much better read in military history than I, found it compelling. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Steve | 2/7/2014

    " A great and interesting book on the military's generals from World War II to the present. Each general in every war and every theater planned and took risks with tactics. Some were successful and some failed. This book also tells about what true leadership was and still is in the military as well. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Jim Law | 2/6/2014

    " A book to be read by every aspiring officer of any service, an especially for all Congressional and Executive branch folks. Whilst it is compelling reading, the lessons for line officers are vital. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Kate | 2/5/2014

    " Bureaucracy kills? This is a frequently chilling account of military leadership being more afraid of Congress, or hard thinking, than they are of wasting soldiers' lives. I learned more about the Korean War than I expected to (shiver) but less about Afghanistan and Iraq. "

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