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The Warrior Ethos

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We are all warriors. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is the Warrior Ethos? Where did it come from? What form does it take today? How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and external lives?

The Warrior Ethos is intended not only for men and women in uniform, but artists, entrepreneurs and other warriors in other walks of life. The book examines the evolution of the warrior code of honor and "mental toughness." It goes back to the ancient Spartans and Athenians, to Caesar's Romans, Alexander's Macedonians and the Persians of Cyrus the Great (not excluding the Garden of Eden and the primitive hunting band). Sources include Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Xenophon, Vegetius, Arrian and Curtius--and on down to Gen. George Patton, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan.

112 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 11, 2011

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About the author

Steven Pressfield

80 books4,995 followers
I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943 to a Navy father and mother.

I graduated from Duke University in 1965.

In January of 1966, when I was on the bus leaving Parris Island as a freshly-minted Marine, I looked back and thought there was at least one good thing about this departure. "No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, no one can ever send me back to this freakin' place again."

Forty years later, to my surprise and gratification, I am far more closely bound to the young men of the Marine Corps and to all other dirt-eating, ground-pounding outfits than I could ever have imagined.

GATES OF FIRE is one reason. Dog-eared paperbacks of this tale of the ancient Spartans have circulated throughout platoons of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the first days of the invasions. E-mails come in by hundreds. GATES OF FIRE is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico. TIDES OF WAR is on the curriculum of the Naval War College.

From 2nd Battalion/6th Marines, which calls itself "the Spartans," to ODA 316 of the Special Forces, whose forearms are tattooed with the lambda of Lakedaemon, today's young warriors find a bond to their ancient precursors in the historical narratives of these novels.

My struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in my 2002 book, THE WAR OF ART.

I have worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout and attendant in a mental hospital. I have picked fruit in Washington state and written screenplays in Tinseltown.

With the publication of THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE in 1995, I became a writer of books once and for all.

My writing philosophy is, not surprisingly, a kind of warrior code — internal rather than external — in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I have labeled "Resistance" with a capital R (in THE WAR OF ART) and the technique for combatting these foes can be described as "turning pro."

I believe in previous lives.

I believe in the Muse.

I believe that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists. My conception of the artist's role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of "where it all comes from" and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.

There's a recurring character in my books named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like my conception of art and the artist:

"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."

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Profile Image for Ian.
619 reviews26 followers
September 11, 2020
My review of this book will differ markedly from most. To start, I am not a fan of the Spartans, in fact, I find it inconceivable that an ethical individual count find a single redeeming feature in their society. Sparta was a militarily oriented state bereft of art, science, culture, and, for that matter, commerce. Their society survived only by a reliance on a fascist form of government that ruthlessly exploited and terrorised a subject population and its own citizens.

The most indicative example of the inherent evil of Spartan society was the annual declaration of war, made by the Spartan ephors (senior magistrates), against the helots, the serfs/slaves/labourers of ancient Sparta. Essentially, the Spartan ruling class declared war on their own people every year. This declaration gave the Spartan government, its military, and secret police, a pseudo-legal justification to torture and murder malcontents—an act that was carried out on a regular basis.

As for the virtues of the Spartan military machine look to the "Finest Hour" of the ancient Greeks—the defeat of the Persian invasion of 480-79 BCE. This was a victory gained under the leadership of democratic Athens, and the democratically elected Athenian statesman, Themistocles. It was the Athenians who withstood two Persian invasions, who saw the destruction and occupation of their homeland and endured the forced evacuation of their city. In comparison the Spartans were terrified of the prospect of the Persians even approaching the Peloponnese—their rigid, hierarchical society was prone to collapse if confronted. Sparta was also tardy (to give the best interpretation), in resisting the Persians, and showed every inclination that it was willing to come to an arrangement with the Persian King.

A half-century later, the Spartans dealt away the hard-won independence of the Greek city-states of Asia in return for Persian assistance in their war against Athens. Then, following their victory over Athens, the Spartans established a short-lived hegemony in Greece. One noted for its oppression, murder, sheer lack of imagination, and corruption—corruption by the noble Spartans.

The history of ancient Sparta consisted of several centuries of brutal warfare, largely for self-aggrandisement, and then collapse into an amusement park for Roman tourists. Sparta contributed nothing to human civilisation or social progress.

To answer a question Pressfield poses, Leonidas most likely had waterboarded (and other things) innumerable uppity helots, and if questioned about the practice, would express amazement at being so questioned—and then maybe waterboard the questioner.

This dream about Spartan "honour" is in reality a nightmare. With all its many imperfections look to Athens, the birthplace of western civilisation, for an example of what was best in the ancient world. I suggest reading the Funeral Oration of the Athenian statesman Pericles for an illuminating self-portrait of Athens. You can also of course read the Spartan thoughts on these subjects—no wait, you cannot—the Spartans did not write.

So, the Spartans were great because they "exposed" (some would call it murder), newborn infants who had minor, unimportant birth defects, they despised those who had physical disabilities (Stephen Hawking, for example), they beat children who could not steal food well enough, and had families ripped apart as children were compelled to live in military dormitories. Family values?

There is no direct evidence of this, but what about child rape in ancient Sparta? How many Spartan boys, who, when they were seven years old and torn away from their families for the good of the Spartan state, were sexually molested? And then, due to Spartan "honour", never complained or protested. How much brutal bullying and violence took place? There was nothing in Sparta but authoritarianism. The ideal "virtue" of every fascist state.

On the subject of sex, in every modern laudation of ancient Sparta, I look in vain for the praise of Spartan bisexuality. In ancient Sparta, soldiers were encouraged to have a fellow, warrior lover, due to the belief that this would encourage bravery in battle. This attribute of the ancient Spartans is evidently an attribute not part of the modern "warrior ethos".

Pressfield's book begins with quotes from Spartan mothers, chock full of military virtue, urging their sons onwards into combat and war, however, how about someone in all of this gaggle of gung-hoism asking one simple question, "Just what is it we are fighting for?" Were the Spartans suppressing a helot revolt, or invading a neighbouring Greek state to capture more helots? Was it one more example of the "great game", where armies march and men die—usually civilians—so that pieces can be moved around on the chessboard of statecraft, and the wealthy amass more wealth?

"The Warrior Ethos" speaks of courage, but how much courage is involved in being indoctrinated, brutalised into obedience, threatened with death for disobedience, and then marching into battle to kill complete strangers for "honour" and "military glory"? How many British soldiers marched into German machine-gun fire in World War One, obediently? How many German machine gunners killed British men they may have grown to know and even befriend in a different reality? A truer example of courage was Albert Einstein, a life long pacifist, who penned a statement deploring German involvement in WW1.

In reality, military power is largely exercised against the citizens of their "own" country. The upper echelons of the military come from the upper echelons of society, and the true purpose of the military is to protect the status quo and the ruling class. For example, the French troops defeated by Prussia in 1871 were rapidly rearmed by their conquerors and turned around to attack the true enemy, the citizens and workers of Paris who had formed the Paris Commune. Bismarck had no desire to destroy the French ruling class, rather the opposite, his goal was to cut a better deal for the Prussian ruling class. The true threat came from uppity workers. In 1932 Douglas McArthur used military force to dispel and kill the "Bonus Marchers". Right now in the Middle East, it is the military who are attacking and killing civilian protesters who are fighting for social justice. On a more mundane level the military are regularly used as strikebreakers.

True courage consists of doing what is right, even when it runs against the interests of the ruling class of society. I respect far more the courage of the universally deplored "peace nicks" who protested against the western invasion and destruction of Vietnam, than I do the soldiers who invaded a country most had never heard of before they were conscripted.

Soldiers tend to join the military for a job, because of conscription, because of debt, because of petty crime—troubles. Army recruiters target low-income populations, with promises of jobs, education, and whatever it takes. The notion that "warriors" join the military for noble service is a fiction. For most, it is a route out of poverty, sometimes. And of course, the chance to make a great deal of money by becoming a "mercenary", working for Blackwater, or whatever name is current.

Pressfield mentions the Japanese and Bushido. I suggest a closer examination of the reality of the situation in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Japan was being screwed economically by the USA. Its ruling class was feeling the heat. They could either modernise, which would mean a change in the ruling class or fight. Guess which the generals chose? The background to this noble war effort was squabbling for power and influence, assassination, corruption—the usual story, but of course, the common soldiers were told (indoctrinated) to be noble warriors. Keep your mouth shut and do what you are told.

To put this ethos into perspective, it is all too easy to place "our" warriors into this noble "warrior ethos" category, but what about the other guy? In WW2 did the German troops who invaded France and the Soviet Union possess the "warrior ethos"? The Nazi troops who rounded up Jews and homosexuals, did they possess the "warrior ethos"? Would the German troops on the eastern front have a copy of "West of Honour" or "The Warrior Ethos" in their pockets? Did the Soviet troops who invaded Afghanistan (such a dangerous country Afghanistan, it is so dangerous that it has been invaded by just about every major power at one time or another), possess the "warrior ethos".

An example of true bravery, of help and assistance to those in need, comes from the work of NGOs. People who volunteer to aid those in the 3rd world, by teaching, training, by building, and not destroying—useful projects, not bombs or napalm.

To be fair Pressfield does attempt to distinguish between "noble" warriors and tribalism, but it is a non-existent distinction when military force is actually applied. Pressfield says that respect for civilians is an essential part of the warrior ethos, but when is this applied in practice? Civilian targets are invariably considered military targets when necessity or even perceived necessity warrants. In the Vietnam War, how many Vietnamese villages (as well as Cambodian and Laos) were destroyed? Estimates of Vietnamese civilian casualties range between two and three million, which is correct I do not know nor care. Dresden, Coventry, Alesia, the list of destroyed cities and their civilian populations goes on, and on, and always for good, sound military reasons.

Pressfield mentions Alexander the Great in his book, and also writes about the Macedonian conqueror in his historical fiction novels, always in a praiseworthy fashion. So, let's ask the $64,000 question, why did Alexander have to invade Persia—ok, his father had started the war—but why did he need to continue? Is there a good reason? At the end of the day did anything really change? Ok, the Hellenistic Era, but the Greeks (and Macedonians), could have continued to expand westwards and most likely had made a longer-lasting and more substantial impact on future society in the Med, than they were to do in the Middle East. How about Alexander staying home and improving the Macedonian irrigation system, building a few schools, a road or three, construct a park or some gardens—you get my idea.

Last, Pressfield mentions Thermopylae. Just what is it about Thermopylae? It was a monumental screwup. The plan was to tarry a few days at a defensible spot, give the Persians a bloody nose, in order to put some backbone into the oligarchic northern Greek states, who were ready to go over to the Persians at the first opportunity. The key feature: get out, retreat, tactically advance to the rear—do not suffer a defeat. Leonidas screwed up, turning a minor victory into a disaster. A disaster so disastrous that it had to be "spun" into a noble act of courage, bravery, honour yada yada.

I will leave anyone who has read this far with two quotes.

"Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Hermann Goering, quoted in the Nuremberg Diary.

"We have learned, a little late no doubt, that for states as for individuals real wealth consists not in acquiring or invading the domains of others, but in developing one's own. We have learned that all extensions of territory, all usurpations, by force or by fraud, which have long been connected by prejudice with the idea of 'rank,' of 'hegemony,' of 'political stability,' of 'superiority' in the order of the Powers, are only the cruel jests of political lunacy, false estimates of power, and that their real effect is to increase the difficulty of administration and to diminish the happiness and security of the governed for the passing interest or for the vanity of those who govern..."
Talleyrand, at the congress of Vienna.

(and there were not two million men at Thermopylae, maybe 100k soldiers. I mean really, that number is entirely impossible.)
Profile Image for Annabelle Dorion.
10 reviews13 followers
March 9, 2013
I only picked up this book a year ago, because my coworker, a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps and an instructor for NROTC, told me that this book has a lot of practical insight not just on the archetype of a warrior, but on life in general. I figured "why not", and the fact that it was less than a 100 pages was attractive. This is my second time reading this book as I'm going through some major decisions in my life right now.

Not only does this book look into the mindset and drive of a warrior, but it also talks about how the warrior and his ethos fit into society. It's a thoughtful treatise that was definitely written for the men and women in uniform, but his insights can be applied to the non-military individual (like me). We all fight our personal wars and struggles, constantly searching for a purpose on this earth. We all are just trying to survive, but it's how we survive is what defines the individual.

It's literally a quick read that is straight-to-point. Often times, Pressfield only briefly describes examples from history, and for me, I probably would have liked a little more detail, but overall he makes his point. I particularly enjoyed the "Women First" chapter. It explains, however briefly, that the society the warrior defends in war is only as strong as the women (and I would include families) they leave behind to keep it running. What's the point of the warrior going to war if he comes back to a place weaker than when he left it? It's a shout out to the families who deal with this every day. They may not have trained to be physically strong to go to war, but this kind of situation leaves them to find inner strength, sometimes on their own.

"Courage is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguable be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness." (33)

"What separates Marines, instead, is their capacity to endure adversity." (40)

"Sacrifice, particularly shared sacrifice, is considered an opportunity for honor in a warrior culture. A civilian politician doesn't dare utter the word. (53)

"The hard thing in the world is to be ourselves" (67)

7 reviews1 follower
January 18, 2020
Background: My USMC Sergeant recommended this book since I was due to be promoted soon. He said this book would put me into the proper mindset and that it was an easy read - I agree with the latter, it's almost more of a pamphlet than a book.

I would assume most Marines who go through MCMAP would be familiar with the question, "what is the warrior ethos?" This question usually trips people up because it really is sort of a vague notion and hard to define - I guess that is this book's greatest strength, as it seems almost like it was designed to help Marines formulate an answer to that very question.

Unfortunately, I disagree with much of this book's sentiment. He points out a difference between tribalism and the vague "warrior ethos," a questionable differentiation about how one is hostile to all outsiders and will do anything to win and how, conversely, a warrior culture imposes certain moral limitations. Yet he still cites the Spartans as a great warrior culture to be respected, and his words show admiration for the great conquerers of yore. I find this akin to praising the positive aspects of Nazi Germany. As others have pointed out in more detail, the Spartans were by no means good guys. They had a ruthless totalitarian government featuring state sanctioned slavery, rape, and ruthless hostility to outsiders (sounds pretty tribal to me). They suppressed art and culture and belittled anyone who wasn't of the warrior caste - the ruling caste. Were the same government to exist today, there is no doubt the USA would categorize them as a terrible dictatorship or terrorists. I found it perplexing how he wrote of the Spartans in such a reverent tone when the truth was their ideals stand opposed to those of the USA. Perhaps their stoic bravery in the face of certain death was respectable, but I find nothing else about their culture to be admirable.

I agree that warriors are a necessary evil, and one who must conduct war should do so as honorably as possible. To the author's credit, there are some passages that I find agreeable. He mentions how the modern U.S. military is beneath a civilian government as it should be, and has passages about Rommel and Alexander, who showed mercy and compassion to their enemies.

The latter half of the book is generally more agreeable, and he even ends on the note that the youthful aspiration to be a warrior is something that fades with age. Basically he says this is all a phase that passes, as one grows out of their hormonal drive to prove their worth and endure the rite of passage into adulthood - after we no longer care about our street cred and just want to live our lives in peace. He ends on a pretty trite note about how this stage of life is the best stage and that it lays the foundation for the rest of our lives; standard 'Art of War' stuff about how we can bring warrior values to our daily lives, etc.

Despite a few good nuggets, the book is a pretty shallow read. It could be summed up in a handful of paragraphs. I would like it better if I didn't find it logically inconsistent for a United States citizen to idolize people who were basically villains by our current point of view. Without those annoying examples, the warrior ethos is basically just a corny way of saying "do your best, work hard, be compassionate, don't complain, look on the bright side and be honorable." If you want a motivational read, maybe it will do the trick. I was just too annoyed from the onset to buy into it much.
Profile Image for Simon Salt.
Author 9 books27 followers
October 10, 2011
Short and to the point. I read this book in a couple of hours. But in that time Steven Pressfield manages to encompass more than a decade of my life. As someone who served in the military this was a wonderful exposition on why so many choose to serve.
But this book is not meant only for members, past and present, of the military. It is for everyone who has ever fought a battle, against any obstacle. Whether you fight your weight, your boss, your spouse, your own creativity. This is a book you want to spend a few hours with and gain an insight into why we choose paths in our lives that are less than easy.
Profile Image for Mo.
29 reviews
May 11, 2021
I think this book would be more aptly named "The Spartan Ethos," because I think it is a weak attempt at defining the warrior ethos. The last paragraph is the only writing in the book that (in my opinion) accurately describes what it means to be a warrior. Even still, I think the author misses a CRITICAL ingredient of what it means to be a warrior (outlined at the end of my monologue). I think the rest of the book describes what it means to be masculine. There is a huge difference between the two. He essentially describes the warrior as being 'a tough guy.' He describes warriors as valuing honor, but essentially describes it as pride. If you insult me, my honor is damaged and I will fight you. If you insult someone in my family, I will fight you. He also uses football as an example of where honor is instilled:

"The American brand of honor is inculcated on the football field, in the locker room and in the street. Back down to no one, avenge every insult, never show fear, never display weakness. Play hurt, never quit." I found it interesting that he picked a sport that is riddled with such a large portion of its population that have been accused of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault. Is that the American brand of honor? The definition of honor by dictionary standards is "an adherence to what is right." Pressfield defines honor as an adherence to what is masculine.

True warriors, I believe, are fueled by love. Pressfield says the same thing, but limits the scope to only the brothers serving beside him. In my experience, warriors are sustained by a love for the greater good, for their families, and yes for each other. But when love is pigeon holed into a singular facet of a persons life (i.e. only your military brothers in arms), it's not real love; it's a need to survive. Love is habitual, and must be extended to everyone if it is to be real. Pressfield does eventually say this as well in the end but did not support this theory throughout his book. When mothers are so hostile to their children, or so shamed out of having emotion that they do not weep for the loss of their children, I don't believe they can truly experience love either. Women (and men for that matter) are still warriors even when they experience the full spectrum of human emotion.

He also misses the mark when talking about courage. Pressfield tells story after story about how Spartans would shame those labeled "tremblers" or those who were scared in battle. The outcome of this type of bullying does not create courage, but rather the ability to hide fear. The absence of fear, is not courage. Courage is the ability to feel fear, and act against it. Fear is normal and a person should not be shamed into hiding it. Instead, a true warrior culture would mentor a soldier to conquer it.

My final criticism, is that the book does not belong to women. The examples he provides and the language he uses excludes 50% of the human population. This is why I say the book is geared more towards the masculine ethos, than the warrior ethos.

Harriet Tubman. Anne Frank. Marie Curie. The Night Witches. Rosa Parks. Joan of Arc. Irena Sendlerowa. Malala Yousafzai. To name a few women who are easily classified as warriors.

To those of you who read this book and did not feel like you fit the warrior ethos, I want to encourage you that if you have ever had to overcome anything in your life, or are currently fighting through something, you are a warrior. If you have been hurt, emotionally, spiritually or physically and took a moment to heal instead of "playing hurt," but then got back on the battle field, you are a warrior. Pressfield left out a crucial ingredient of the warrior ethos, Resiliency. If you have ever fallen, and stood up again, you are a warrior. Being a warrior has nothing to do with being undefeated. It has everything to do with being unwilling to stay down.
Profile Image for Gea.
Author 1 book104 followers
December 30, 2013
This is a slender, concise book on warriors by Steven Pressfield, a man who has spent much of his life studying and writing about their ways. It is slanted toward the West and the Spartans in particular, whom are a brutal, dysfunctional bunch, albeit highly effective. This was a quick, enlightening read, but I wish Pressfield would have widened his lens to include the Samurai, Kshatriya, and the East-- cultures that embrace the spiritual path alongside a martial one. But, as his novels attest, he is virtually a Greek historian so it makes sense that his concept of warriorhood would be epitomized by the Spartans. Warrior cultures, no matter where they arise, have universal traits and Pressfield touches upon many of them here.

The ethos of the warrior is one of discipline and hardship, courage and selflessness. It is about putting certain things before yourself. Honor reigns supreme. Shame is worse than death and old age comes only to a few. The Spartan way is short and hard. Boys are removed from their mothers when they are young and husbands cannot live with their wives until thirty. The Spartan life style produced highly effective warriors, yet it seems a bit imbalanced to me. Freedom of choice was not an option. The Spartans did not produce art, architecture, or literature. They left nothing behind. Their survival was perilously poised upon a large population of slaves. Spartans lived for one thing only: War. They mastered themselves through discipline and the willing acceptance of pain. They were not creators, but they were the ultimate guardians. Western Civilization as we know it has survived because of them.

If one seeks to learn what it means to be a warrior, this book is a good place to start. The Spartans embodied the Western ethos of warriorhood thoroughly, but they are not the final word on the subject.

22 reviews2 followers
February 1, 2019
Sure parts of the values and ideas presented in this book can be useful if applied wisely. But at the same time what Pressfield presents as the “Warrior Ethos” is the thinking that is responsible for vast amount of human suffering. To uncritically celebrate it as done by Pressfield is just totally vulgar.
9 reviews
July 30, 2019
It was a brief book. It started out good and strong saying that courage/bravery could be applied to all things in life, but the book quickly shifted to praising the never ending wars for oil. Mr Pressfield glorifies those who fight in these conflicts, elevating them to strange noble tiers. It was an ok book, but thats all im going to say.
Profile Image for Ryan Rodriquez.
Author 1 book14 followers
December 29, 2020
Every one of us lives by an ethos, whether or not we understand what that word means. Steven Pressfield is an authority on the warrior ethos as displayed in his books; Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and The Virtues of War. He understands the elements of war, internal and external. He also understands that we as societies and individuals adhere to an ethos.

In his book The Warrior Ethos, Pressfield gives a terse and rich lesson on the warrior ethos. He provides numerous examples from the lives and journeys of Alexander the Great and King Leonidas of Sparta that leave you feeling inspired and emboldened to live by such an ethos.

Read this book and be changed for the better!
3 reviews
February 20, 2023
Easily one of the worst books I have ever read in my life. It reads like a hastily written high school essay. The books relies heavily on the Spartan myth of the “perfect warrior” and has no actual basis in history. Would’ve been better had the author tied his arguments to notable historical figures but I guess he didn't have time for that. This book is simply a low effort, propaganda book that the author sold to the US military to put in recruiting offices. Thats it. Theres not much substance to it.
Profile Image for Kent Winward.
1,679 reviews46 followers
December 23, 2017
Pressfield finesses the warrior ethos into personal development by turning the battles into battles with yourself. Kind of a self-help fight club.
Profile Image for Daniel Funke.
122 reviews3 followers
July 22, 2022
Good. Some historical inaccuracies, and he takes the primary sources at face value, but I enjoyed the quotes and the commentary. The Spartans, however, are not great examples in many ways.
Profile Image for Ryan Kirk.
Author 48 books399 followers
July 9, 2018
Every once in a while, a book comes along and kicks you in the pants at exactly the time you need it. I think this book caught me at exactly the right time.

In this short book, Pressfield examines famous warriors and warrior cultures, such as Alexander the Great and the Spartans. He pulls out specific passages of historical texts to make his points (which certainly aren't subtle - one short passage is entitled "The Lord of Discipline," another is called "The Purity of the Weapon").

I suspect most opinions on this book will be formed by your original attitudes. If you have a deep respect for warriors and the sacrifices they make, you'll find this book valuable. If you believe that combat has no place in society, I suspect this book would not be one of your favorites.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book because of the short glimpse it gave into warrior cultures of the past and just how different attitudes have been.
Profile Image for Josh Merkel.
12 reviews
May 17, 2022
Some of the biggest takeaways for me are this:
2 types of salary, psychological salary important
Opposite of fear is love
Warrior ethos is eagerness to embrace adversity, a will to fight, a passion to be great
Easier to be soldier than civilian?
Shared sacrifice is opportunity for honor or virtue
Rite of passage pg82
Warrior archetype is foundation for other archetypes and most powerful and impactful of all
Profile Image for Bob.
92 reviews11 followers
February 7, 2018
Why this book:
I lead a volunteer reading group for young men early in the pipeline to become SEALs or SWCCs (Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen). We pick relatively short books related to the profession they are entering, and we meet and discuss them. I had read several of Steven Pressfield's books, and followed a couple of his blogs and assumed correctly that this short book would fit well in the "curriculum" I am creating for these young men.
Summary in 3 Sentences:
Pressfield uses the extensive research he had done for his historical novels set in ancient Greece as a source for much of the wisdom in this book - especially the culture and values of ancient Sparta. It is less an examination of the Warrior Ethos, and more of an unstructured discussion broken up into 30 short chapters (in a 90 page book!) in which he addresses a variety of aspects of what he considers to be perennial and universal warrior values. He concludes by making the point in the final chapter that warrior virtues should be internalized into the warrior's heart to serve the warrior not just in battle, but in a broad range of contexts where virtues such as courage, patience, loyalty, perseverance, and love also define the great and successful.
For my complete review, go to: https://bobsbeenreading.wordpress.com...
Profile Image for Ian.
Author 3 books39 followers
December 23, 2013
It's important to note that Pressfield specifically states he wrote this short book for "men and women in uniform" and hopes that it can extend to those readers, like myself, who haven't experienced armed conflict.

I imagine for those readers who have fought in wars there is a certain knowing to much of what Pressfield pens about the warrior code, much of which I found enlightening to read. His references, in no great detail, to many of the warrior civilisations like the Spartans were both entertaining and informative.

In the third part of the book Pressfield attempts to take the ethos and apply it to an individual's inner life which was what I was looking forward to. However, this section really only contained various statements recommending such a practice. I was left feeling empty not being able to effectively link the two.

Pressfield is an ex-Marine according to his bio and his fiction and non-fiction works mostly revolve around wars, both external and internal, and I would have appreciated insight in how to apply the Ethos to one's inner conflicts. Not unlike how he tackled "The War of Art".
Profile Image for Max Nova.
419 reviews166 followers
October 7, 2017
Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/warrior-ethos

In "The Warrior Ethos," Pressfield plucks a few gems from a variety of ancient sources but adds little new. The book seems to be the result of calculated marketing acumen - "How can I recycle ancient wisdom to create a tiny book that will sell well with the military crowd?" Heavy on Alexander and the Spartans, Pressfield tosses in a few sayings of the Pashtun warriors of Afghanistan to stay relevant for his target audience. For its unyielding cynicism, I would have given this book a 1-star rating had it not somewhat redeemed itself with a few great quotes. I was particularly struck by the Scythian line, "You may defeat us, but you will never defeat our poverty."
Profile Image for Joshua.
141 reviews1 follower
March 17, 2018
What is a warrior and what are the qualities that we admire in them?

Pressfield presents a poignant discussion through historical examples of the warrior ethos.

In the west we have lost the sense of honor; we are obsessed with the superficial and abandoned the importance of the character in individuals.

How can we learn from our past and apply the lessons of warrior cultures and their stories? How can we embrace the warrior archetype within ourselves when there are no great battles to be fought? No rite of passage to undertake?

The author answers this by telling us to look inward. We must embrace diversity. The hardest thing in the world is to be ourselves. And facing our inner enemy is the key to embodying the warrior ethos.
2 reviews
March 20, 2021
A short but very good book. This book explains the many attributes it takes to be a good warrior. Some people may scoff at these but they are attributes we have needed in the past and will undoutably be needed in the future.

Pressfield mainly focuses on the Spartans and uses anecdotes to explain his lessons although other cultures and people are refrenced.

People can learn a lot from this book.
Profile Image for Sara.
14 reviews10 followers
February 11, 2023
The most famous Spartan mother story is also the shortest

"A Spartan mother handed her son his shield as he prepared to march off to battle. She said, "Come back with this or on it."

That's pretty bad-ass. This book is motivating, inspiring, and thought provoking. You have to pick it up.
Profile Image for John Veon.
7 reviews
May 8, 2016
A great book for combat veterans to read and to remember. The ethos of the tribe is impossible to remove once you have it - Pressfield clearly distills the essence of the warrior mentality. There is no Rambo.
Profile Image for David Miles.
224 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2018
A brief overview of the concept of the warrior ethos and the difference between a warrior in a warrior culture and a warrior in Western society being enfolded in a civilian culture.

The coin of a civilian society is luxury and money. The coin of a warrior society is honour.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
4 reviews
November 9, 2016
This book came to mind today, the day after election day, as being more relevant than ever...
Profile Image for Jonathan Tennis.
625 reviews11 followers
October 27, 2017
Another great book by Pressfield about the struggles we all endure - internal and external. And not just those who go fight wars. Great, short read. I really enjoy Pressfield's writing.
Profile Image for Andrew B.
24 reviews2 followers
December 18, 2022
How the Warrior Ethos connect to the Army Ethos. In his book The Warrior Ethos, author Stephen Pressfield gives short stories from ancient history to show how the values of shame, honor, and love form the Warrior Ethos. The seven Army Values form our own code of conduct that guides our actions. The Warrior Ethos have much to say about how to apply the Army Values of Loyalty, Selfless Service, Honor, and Personal Courage.

Loyalty. Loyalty can lead Soldiers to act honorably in battle. Pressfield writes that “the warrior advancing into battle (or simply resolving to keep up the fight) is more afraid of disgrace in the eyes of his brothers than he is of the spears and lances of the enemy” (p. 24). Soldiers who do not want to let their fellow warriors down will not run away in the face of a fight. Additionally, the Spartan men were not allowed to eat at home, but instead were required to eat at the Spartan “DFAC”. The sign above the door read, “Out this door, nothing” (p. 38). The Spartans looked to each other for support. They demonstrated loyalty on the battlefield and in the everyday events of life, even meals.

Honor. Honor is what we earn when we work hard to accomplish our mission. Pressfield tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton seeking men for his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. He put an ad in the paper: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful; honor and recognition in case of success” (p. 50). Five thousand men showed up the next morning to volunteer. Shackleton knew the power of honor. Today, you can see Special Forces recruiting signs outside every Shoppette. They read: “Want a challenge?” Today’s elite units are motivated by the same desire for honor that drove the Antarctic explores. The cost of being on a hardworking team is high, but the salary is honor.

Selfless Service. If you want to serve others, you need to have courage. “Courage,” Pressfield writes, “is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguably be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness” (p. 41). A Soldier who is afraid will only take care of him or herself. But the Warrior Ethos say that in dangerous times the warrior must put others before him or herself. On the eve of a massive campaign, Alexander the Great gathered all his officers at a private dinner. Starting with his highest-ranking general and continuing to the lowest lieutenant, he gifted them his land and property until he had none left. This show of generosity wasn’t from a desire to look good or receive a positive OER—Alexander genuinely loved his men and desired their welfare in his great campaign. Courageous leaders truly love their Soldiers and serve them selflessly.

Personal Courage. Leaders can show courage in strange ways. “Courage—in particular, stalwartness in the face of death—must be considered the foremost warrior virtue" (p. 13). When told that the Persians had enough arrows to block out the sun, Spartan warrior Dienekes replied, “Good—we’ll have our battle in the shade.” Dienekes did not deny the danger of the situation. He didn’t laugh it off. He acknowledged that the road ahead would be tough, but they would all go down it together. Courageous leaders can demonstrate grace under fire by embodying the dark humor of the Spartan warriors in the face of extreme discomfort.

In summary, the Warrior Ethos of the Spartans, Alexander, and even Shackleton serve as an example for us as we apply the Army Values to our everyday lives in the Army. Let us be led by loyalty to our fellow warriors, a desire to achieve honor, love that leads to selfless service, and courage that laughs in the face of death.
March 8, 2019
Extremely Inspiring and Life Changing Read
I strongly believe that this book is worth reading, simply because of how many life lessons it reinforces. Throughout the book, ancient warrior societies are referenced a lot, but every person can still relate to the book in some way. The idea that everyone is fighting their own battles internally or externally is constantly reinforced throughout the book. This book is inspiring, helpful, and absolutely fascinating while reminding you of how much the Warrior Ethos can be applied to your daily life. This is the first Steven Pressfield book that I have read and I would definitely read more by him. This book was published on March 2nd, 2011. I don’t know much about the author, but he seems very knowledgeable and his writing is very motivating. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading to better themselves.

There are no characters throughout the story, only the narrator and different references of short stories or historical figures throughout the book. The book uses the ancient Spartans, Athenians, Romans, Macedonians, and Persians as examples of civilizations that embodied the Warrior Ethos. Also, the book includes different historical figures such as Erwin Rommel, Herodotus, George Patton, and many more as examples as well. I believe with the style of this book, there was no need for characters. The narrator was the author speaking directly to the reader and I believe this worked very well.

The theme in this book is heavily emphasized on throughout it. The quote on the back of the book, “Wars change, but warriors don’t.”, can be interpreted in many different ways. Readers could interpret it literally and think of the theme as the war may change, but the people’s mindset who fight in them, do not. Readers could also interpret it as running into different challenges throughout your life, but no matter what, you are the only who is able to face them and overcome them. There are also many different life lessons you can take away from this book. The book also emphasizes the idea of extreme mental toughness, as well. There wasn’t really a plot throughout this book because of the style of it. I also cannot compare this book to any of the others that I have read because this is my first non fiction, “self help”, book that I have ever read. I definitely am going to read more in this genre though.

There isn’t anything that I would warn the audience about, except that it is about war. I suggest that any anti-war activists shouldn’t read this book because it could possibly not align very well with their personal views and interests. Also, I suggest that a younger audience should not read this. This book could be too hard for a younger audience to grasp and fully comprehend. Otherwise, there isn’t anything readers should be afraid of in this book.

My opinion on this book is very good.. I definitely am going to be reading more books like this in the future and by the same author. The book was very interesting and it taught me alot with it just being 114 pages long. I wouldn’t recommend the younger age group to read this because it could be confusing to them. I believe that this book can be applied to both males and females, so I would recommend this to anyone except for younger people and anti-war activists. Also, I believe that advanced students would be able to comprehend this book very well. This book would be most interesting to those who are older and looking to better themselves. Overall this was a great book and I would definitely recommend it.

Works Cited
Pressfield, Steven. The Warrior Ethos. Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2011.
Profile Image for Bradley.
1,079 reviews9 followers
June 9, 2019
“Gather round peeps. Steven is going to tell us the history of our people. Get more wood and somebody grab the marshmallows.”

And so, he does. The Warrior Ethos like religious texts points at something that cannot be necessarily related, however it can be understood. Steven takes examples, famous quips, acts of selflessness and heroism and paints a picture for us. I feel that even civilians here can catch a glimpse of what he’s talking about.

At the same time, I can hear another civilian taking the high-brow side, or the moral high-ground, or the historically inaccurate, or a sensible approach to a world harboring a dying breed. All too relevant after reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End before this. He expertly guided the ethos home to our personal lives.

Unsurprisingly a lot of historic references are made to the Greeks and American armed forces. I appreciate the brief, to-the-point, no nonsense approach of saying what needed to be said with just enough words. Unlike this review. I could call the book ‘good’ and that would suffice.

I feel that Steven wrote this book with the intention that it would be received through the lens of the 21st century in the same way we accept Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The Art of War is more a work of philosophy than it is a treatise on warfare. Undoubtedly, I find it to be both. I wonder if the absence of some eastern elements is because The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War stand as a texts to follow, however they are missing a personal tone towards ‘you’. And, there’s no doubt this is targeting a western audience.

Steven ends his text rather philosophically. And I appreciate his analysis of the United State’s predicament of upholding a civilian state while maintaining one of the largest militaries in the world. It is a fair assessment and a pointed question to the people of the U.S…And of the world. How do we honor warriors in current society? Is there a bridge to gap, can it be gapped or are we sustaining a primal way of life that cannot continue in today’s age of civilization?

I enjoyed the read. I am a fan of Steven’s work and am partial to his skills as a writer. What I found I can admire about him is he joined the military and had the balls to say, ‘F this’ and relentlessly pursue the life of a writer. The guilt and shame-based mentalities are real deals. The pocketbook nature of The Warrior Ethos is as much a salute as Steven can give.

Au revoir!
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