A little while ago I had the opportunity to exchange emails with ADM Stavridis. As someone majoring in a non-technical field yet entering a technical service, I was curious to see what ADM Stavridis had to say on how his undergraduate major (English) served him in the Navy:
I loved my English major and it has helped me immensely throughout my career. Every single day I used the skills I acquired in my major to be a better communicator, analyst, and leader. English majors read with a critical and analytical eye; bound across countless situations and worlds in the books they read; and learn in the process an enormous amount about the journey of life. Reading and studying fiction is really like living many, many additional lives.
Every day I wrote something and communicated to my team; every day I had to analyze problems, most often regarding human personality; and every day I used what I learned as a leader. What I discovered reading Hemingway, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Updike, Forester, McCarthy, and countless other authors shaped my world-view and honed my understanding of the most complex terrain in the world – the human heart.
I then asked him, “If you had to recommend one book for midshipmen to read before commissioning what would you suggest?” His reply:
I’ll give you three, if I may:
“The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway – a sad, haunting story of American ex-patriots living a dissipated life in Europe in the 1920s.
“Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian – the first in a series of 20 novels about a sea captain in the early 19th century during the Napoleonic wars. It is a long study of leadership and life at sea, and simply brilliant in every regard.
“All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy – a coming of age novel set in Texas and Mexico in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Truthfully, I have not read any of those books! Summer is always a great time for me to catch up on personal reading–anymore suggestions from the audience? For professional reading, Embedded: A Marine Corps Advisor Inside the Iraqi Army has caught my eye.