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The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,367 Ratings  ·  274 Reviews
"From the #1 bestselling author of "Fiasco "and "The Gamble," an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq"
History has been kind to the American generals of World War II--Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley--and less kind to the generals of the wars that followed. In "The Generals," Thomas E. Ricks sets out to explain why
ebook, 576 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Penguin Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jan 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
I can just barely recall the last time a high-ranking general was fired. It was back in 2010, when General Stanley McChrystal gave an ill-advised interview to Rolling Stone magazine, in which he mocked civilian leadership and admitted that his favorite drink was Bud Light Lime. Shortly thereafter, he “resigned” his post and retired from the Army.

I think I speak for everyone when I say this: A man who drinks Bud Light Lime shouldn’t be making fun of anybody. In a democracy, generals should leave
I am in no way well-versed in military history. My curiosity about the generals involved in WWII was piqued by my recent reading of The War . So, when I came across this work by Thomas E. Ricks, I thought it just might fit the bill. While I was able to follow Ricks’ overall thesis (which I'll get to momentarily), in when reading the sections on the Korean War and even Vietnam, I felt like I was in a class for which I had skipped the pre-requisite coursework. Though, as mentioned, I haven't exac ...more
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, hist-misc
I devoured this book. Superb. Scathing. Scintillating. Why is it that no generals have relieved other generals since WW II? Army leadership has abdicated that task to its civilian leadership. General George Marshall fired generals by the dozen before the start of WW II and well into it. And when you were fired it wasn't always a badge of shame either. Not too many surprises here but I was struck by the mendacity of Westmoreland, the stupidity of Tommie Franks, and the mediocrity of Sanchez. Rick ...more
This book fully lives up to its billing. It begins by highlighting the state of the U.S. Army as it was upon the outbreak of the Second World War and the promotion of George Catlett Marshall as Army Chief of Staff. Marshall, while not a West Point graduate as were many of his contemporaries, had made a name for himself as a "brilliant planner" on the staff of General John J. Pershing in France during the First World War. Indeed, it was Marshall's grasp of logistics, of breaking down complex prob ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a nonfiction book that is an analysis of the successes and failures of the U.S. Army from WWII through Iraq and Afghanistan, this book is surprisingly readable. The one sentence summary, that the Army's fighting since WWII has declined because its generals are low quality because they don't get fired, is a bit simplistic. However, it's probably a big contributing factor. The problem is a little wider, in that among the officers the good performers aren't rewarded and the poor performers aren ...more
John Harms
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I absolutely loved this book for its insight and clear-eyed analysis of an incredibly complex topic: the evolution of the US military command structure since WWII. While I'll admit that it sounds like a dull subject, Ricks brings it to life, helping the reader relive some of the most contentious and influential military decisions of the past seventy years. Ricks' main thesis is a simple one. He asserts that our military and civilian leaders must "abide by the belief that the lives of soldiers ar ...more
James Casatelli
I had a hard time deciding what rating to give this book. For much of the book, I felt the author had more of an ax to grind than any pertinent advice to give, though I felt the epilogue sort of redeemed that. I think my biggest problem though was that he was insistent that the army was almost always wrong in its execution of strategy after WWII. That might be a fair statement, but only really with the benefit of hindsight. He fails to take into account any external considerations or the politic ...more
Jean Poulos
I found this book most interesting particularly the difference between Marine Corp leadership and the Army during the Korean War. Thomas Ricks compares the Army of WWII to the military of today, particularly looking at how General Marshall dealt with command officers compared to today.

General George C. Marshall was Chief of Staff during WWII and was ruthless in relieving subordinates who didn’t measure up to his standards. Between September 1939 and Dec 8, 1941 he cashiered at least 600 officers
Mike Kershaw
Senior Leadership in the Senior Service - The Generals by Tom Ricks.

“You don't necessarily get to go to war with the Generals you want" -
anonymous Sergeant Major in Baghdad, circa 2006

This is an important book on an important topic and one that should resonate with any Soldier who served in our Army, in particular, in Iraq during the 2006-2007 timeframe. Tom Ricks has written a book that should be read by all Americans who have an interest in how our military forces are led and, as current even
Michael Burnam-Fink
"As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."

This quote, from Ricks' friend and colleague Lt. Col. Yingling, is at the heart of The Generals, which examines how army culture and personnel policies turned the winners of WW2 into the losers of Vietnam, and the tactically adept but strategically blind generals of the War on Terror. Ricks takes as his guidestone the policies and attitudes of General George Marshall, Chief of Staf
Dana King
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, if uneven. The acknowledgements cite how many people had how much input at various points and drafts, which explains why the book sometimes feels as though it were written by a committee. The analysis of World War II and Korean War generals was excellent and informative, digging well beneath most histories. (Talk about the Forgotten War: Ricks’s description of how the generals handled the Battle of Chosin Reservoir has me looking for a good history of the “police action.”) Lots of good inf ...more
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is outstanding military cultural and historical analysis. Ricks argues that since World War 2, the standard of American military leadership has eroded thanks to an increased focus on institutional survival versus the core mission of supporting American national policy. He recasts the post-Vietnam rebuilding of the Army as a half-success at best. Yes, the Army got much better at winning tactical battles and dominating the operational space, but it perhaps became even worse at achieving strat ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a study of American generals since WWII by the national defense/security correspondent for the Washington Post. Ricks wrote two superb book on the Iraq War (Fiasco; The Gamble). I had expected that the book would be a series of profiles of some of the key individuals to have enjoyed senior command rank in the Army. It is much more than that. Ricks has written a thoughtful management study focused on the issues of how generals are held accountable for their performance - the extent to whi ...more
Lis Carey
Thomas Ricks gives us very thoughtful history of the Army's general officer corps from World War Two forward to the near-present. (At the time of writing, David Petraeus was still Director of the CIA.) Be warned that it's not "objective;" Ricks has a definite viewpoint, and serious concerns about how we are currently training and educating the Army's senior officers.

He begins with WWII, George C. Marshall, and the generals that Marshall, and under him, Dwight D. Eisenhower, mentored and promoted
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From what perspective has history judged the March 1968 actions of the 23rd, Americal Division, Lt. Calley and the Massacre at My Lai in Vietnam? The book characterized this action as a tragedy and a result of poor generalship. But in WWII history judged differently the fire bombing of Dresden, the saturation bombing of Europe, incendiary bombing of Tokyo, Osaka, etc, and atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; that was considered good leadership and good generalship.

The author recites the bes
Todd Martin
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.
- Napoleon Bonaparte

War Is merely the continuation of policy by other means.
- Carl von Clausewitz

The Generals is a history of military commanders from WWII to the present (the ‘present’ being 2012 when the book was published). In addition to a history of military leadership, the author (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks) puts forth a premise that can be summarized as follows:

During WWII military leaders such as Army Chief of Staff General
Eric Hammel
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tom Ricks is a scrupulously honest, brutally candid assessor of the American military and its civilian bosses in war and between wars. He has been for decades, and at the highest professional levels. Fiasco, his courageously entitled coverage of the Iraq War leadership, has made him a hero to those who see the absolute requirement to recalibrate the system of America's war following a decade of that aimless adventure.

In The Generals, Ricks has cast a wider, deeper net that allows readers to foll
I would recommend this book for any military officer. I admit I started reading The Generals as a strong skeptic focusing on the inconsistencies, the provocative statements, the exaggerations and generalizations. In the end I have to agree with much of Tom Ricks' basic ideas. I support his idea that the ability to achieve results and the importance of accountability of generals in wartime command billets are paramount. How those results are assessed against an understanding of the operational / ...more
J.J. Zerr
I would give this a four except for the basic premise: We won World War II because Gen. Marshall fired generals who didn't measure up and that we've failed in subsequent wars because we don't fire generals any more (except of course for political reasons rather than battlefield inadequacies). In World War II, we had very specific goals, pretty much the way Grant stated them. If a general fails to get the enemy to surrender, he gets fired. Generals, admirals, businessmen, and mother superior in t ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very engaging thesis: Our present system of training U.S. Army Generals is overly focused on the tactical side of combat and not enough on the strategic overall mission, primarily due to the army's officer core forgetting it central mission. Rick supports this thesis by examining the past seventy years of American generals, starting with his paradigm, General George C. Marshall and ending with General David Petraeus. He does not spend much time with any specific general or war, rather focusing ...more
Mike Dargan
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As an American history buff I had to read Ricks' latest book on our military. His theme, how generals are made and managed, could start with the Revolution. Certainly, Lincoln set a good example for choosing, using, and discarding generals. George C. Marshal, wasn't perfect in World War II, but he had clear notions of what he wanted his generals to accomplish and wasn't afraid to act. Even Marshal made some mistakes--Fredenhall and Mark Clark stand out. However, after Marshall, the management of ...more
Bjorn Vang
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview of some of the more important US generals since (and including) Marshall, their triumphs and failures, and the way they either shaped the U.S. Army, or failed to shape it. It is unkind to most of them, especially those who, through inaction, lack of flexibility or intellect, chose to be followers instead of the leaders their stars called for them to be. Well written, well researched, at times controversial. A good read.
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today is by far his best writing piece since his 2006 book 'Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq'. Starting with a lengthy and critical look into the best, and worst, examples of Army leadership during the "good war", Ricks uses the Marshall-template to evaluate the prominent Army generals that have taken command during our wars and non-wars since 1945.

I highly recommend this book.
Lee Broad
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An objective assessment of the history and current state of the US Army's general staff. Heartening and unnerving at the same time. The challenges of building an effective organization capable of achieving its mission by making critical, timely personnel decisions are as daunting for the military as for business, if not more so because so many lives depend on getting it right. Well researched and document, but a little repetitious in parts.
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book that investigates generals from WWII through the current situation in Afghanistan. Ricks holds back nothing in his evaluation of specific Army generals, from generals with characteristics that should be developed (Marshall) to ineffectual generals whose leadership lead to chaos and death (Moreland and Franks).

I learned a lot about the history of American wars, the art of leadership, and the consequences of poor generals.

Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely read military "things". This book was very readable from 3 standpoints: personalities of the generals, excellent history of the era in which they were most prominent, the changing philosophy and effects of that on the military. I thought Ricks laid out each these areas in a very clear and readable manner.
Guyon Turner
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Excellent book. A real page-turner. Excellent insights about our wars thru today. If you agree that high military command makes the critical difference in the outcomes of war, this book is recommended. Obviously totally male oriented.

Argues that, since WWII, generals are rarely held accountable. Only replaced if they disagree with President.
Carey Radican
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome insights into why the military is doing business the way they are and the associated challenges as a result. A must read for anyone that is aspiring to bee a senior leader. I am reading it for the second time and think it is just as good this time
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-military
As usual, Ricks understands the internal dynamics of the U.S. Army better than any outsider covering defense today. His assessment of the current higher leadership culture is tough to refute, and some of those who have tried merely reinforce his argument by demonstrating that generals, when challenged, will circle the wagons and defend their fellow club members. Ricks advances two hypotheses, only one of which has received much attention. The first is that the U.S. Army officer corps, and partic ...more
Justin Tapp
The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today
How important to the health of an organization is it to have the freedom and wherewithal to fire people who are not living up to the organization's standards? It is vitally important, and this book is an excellent case study.

Ricks' Fiasco, on the 2003 Iraq war, basically defined that war for me when I read it in 2005. This book, in turn, has changed my view of several other wars. You cannot read Ricks' books and not be skeptical o
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Thomas Edwin "Tom" Ricks (born September 25, 1955) is an American journalist who writes on defense topics. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He writes a blog at and is a member of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank.

He lectures widely to the military and is a member of Harvard University
More about Thomas E. Ricks...
“War. In 1901, he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, where he marched before Stonewall Jackson’s widow. He soon joined the Army, which then was recovering from its low ebb of the 1890s, the decade when the frontier officially closed and the last of the Indian wars ended. The Army expanded rapidly in the wake of the Spanish–American War of 1898, almost quadrupling in size to 100,000. As part of that growth, George Marshall received his commission. In this newly energized force, he stood out as a young officer. Marshall was temporarily posted to Fort Douglas, Utah—originally placed on a hillside overlooking Salt Lake City to keep an eye on Brigham Young’s nascent and hostile Mormon empire. One” 1 likes
“especially in the key task of translating broad strategic concepts into feasible operational orders. Marshall understood that Eisenhower had a talent for implementing strategy. And that job, Marshall believed, was more difficult than designing it. “There’s nothing so profound in the logic of the thing,” he said years later, discussing his own role in winning approval for the Marshall Plan. “But the execution of it, that’s another matter.” In other words, successful generalship involves first figuring out what to do, then getting people to do it. It has one foot in the intellectual realm of critical thinking and the other in the human world of management and leadership. It” 0 likes
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