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Jocko Willink’s Handpicked 25 Books for Intellectual Warriors: Military/History/Resilience

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Source: Books Jocko recommended in his podcast — Jocko Podcast

In the pursuit of personal growth and intellectual development, reading plays a crucial role. Jocko Willink, a decorated Navy SEAL and renowned leadership expert, has curated a list of 25 books that he believes are essential for intellectual warriors seeking knowledge in the realms of military history and resilience. These books delve into the depths of human strength, resilience, and the lessons learned from the battlefield. Whether you’re a military professional, a history enthusiast, or simply someone striving for personal growth, this handpicked collection is sure to challenge and inspire you.

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1. “Scars and Stripes: An Unapologetically American Story of Fighting the Taliban, UFC Warriors, and Myself” by Tim Kennedy:

“Scars and Stripes” takes readers on a captivating journey through the life of Tim Kennedy, a former Special Forces soldier and professional MMA fighter. With raw honesty, Kennedy shares his experiences battling the Taliban and the rigorous challenges he faced as a UFC warrior. This book provides a unique perspective on the strength of the American spirit and the resilience required to overcome adversity.

2. “Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West” by Cormac McCarthy:

Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” is a dark and haunting novel set in the American West during the mid-19th century. It follows a young protagonist’s encounters with a ruthless gang of scalp hunters. McCarthy’s lyrical prose and vivid descriptions create a captivating narrative that explores the inherent darkness within human nature, making it a compelling read for those interested in the harsh realities of history and the human condition.

3. “About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior” by Colonel David H. Hackworth:

Colonel David H. Hackworth’s autobiography, “About Face,” provides an insider’s account of his remarkable military career. From his experiences in World War II to his time in Korea and Vietnam, Hackworth offers candid insights into the challenges, victories, and failures of military leadership. This book serves as an invaluable resource for understanding the complexities of war and the importance of leadership in the face of adversity.

4. “The Gulag Archipelago” (3 books) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“The Gulag Archipelago” is a monumental work by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that exposes the horrors of the Soviet prison system during the Stalinist era. Drawing from his own experiences as a political prisoner, Solzhenitsyn meticulously documents the dehumanizing conditions and the resilience of those who endured them. This profound exploration of totalitarianism serves as a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the importance of standing up against oppression.

5. “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” by Christopher R. Browning:

Christopher R. Browning’s “Ordinary Men” presents a thought-provoking examination of the role ordinary individuals played in perpetrating the Holocaust. Focusing on Reserve Police Battalion 101, Browning delves into the psychological and social factors that led seemingly average men to commit acts of extreme violence. This book challenges readers to reflect on the dark depths to which human beings can sink and the importance of moral choices.

6. “Panzram: A Journal of Murder” by Harold Schechter:

“Panzram” tells the chilling true story of Carl Panzram, a notorious serial killer and rapist. Compiled from Panzram’s personal writings and interviews, this book offers a disturbing glimpse into the mind of a remorseless criminal. Schechter’s meticulous research and analysis shed light on the factors that shaped Panzram’s violent nature, making it a gripping read for those interested in the psychology of criminals and the nature of evil.

7. “How to be Strong, Healthy and Happy” by Bob Hoffman:

Bob Hoffman’s “How to be Strong, Healthy and Happy” provides practical guidance on physical fitness and mental well-being. Drawing from his experience as a renowned weightlifting coach, Hoffman offers valuable advice on strength training, nutrition, and mindset. This book serves as a comprehensive resource for individuals looking to optimize their physical and mental performance, emphasizing the importance of discipline, perseverance, and self-care.

8. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl:

“Man’s Search for Meaning” is Viktor E. Frankl’s seminal work that explores the human search for purpose and meaning in life. Based on his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, Frankl delves into the depths of human suffering and resilience. Through existential analysis, he argues that finding meaning in even the most challenging circumstances can provide the strength to endure. This philosophical masterpiece inspires readers to reflect on their own lives and discover their unique purpose.

9. “Mind Over Muscle: Writings from the Founder of Judo” by Jigoro Kano:

Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, shares his insights on physical and mental discipline in “Mind Over Muscle.” This collection of writings explores the principles of judo, emphasizing the importance of cultivating a strong mind and body. Kano’s teachings go beyond the realm of martial arts, providing valuable lessons on personal development, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence.

10. “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi:

“The Book of Five Rings” is a classic text on martial arts strategy written by the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi. In this influential work, Musashi imparts his wisdom on strategy, tactics, and the mindset required for success in combat. However, the principles discussed extend far beyond the battlefield, offering valuable insights on discipline, focus, and self-improvement in all aspects of life.

11. “Psychology For The Fighting Man: What You Should Know About Yourself And Others” by Committee Of The National Research Council:

“Psychology For The Fighting Man” provides a comprehensive overview of psychological principles relevant to military personnel. Compiled by the Committee Of The National Research Council, this book delves into topics such as stress management, decision-making, and interpersonal relationships. It equips readers with a deeper understanding of human behavior and the psychological challenges faced in high-pressure environments.

12. “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan Peterson:

In “12 Rules for Life,” Jordan Peterson presents a set of guiding principles for personal growth and meaning. Drawing from various disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, and mythology, Peterson offers practical advice on taking responsibility, confronting adversity, and finding purpose. This book resonates with readers seeking guidance in navigating the complexities of life and developing resilience in the face of chaos.

13. “Hard-Core: Life of My Own” by Harley Flanagan:

“Hard-Core” is the autobiography of Harley Flanagan, the founder of the influential hardcore punk band Cro-Mags. Flanagan’s raw and unapologetic account takes readers on a journey through the tumultuous world of punk rock, exploring themes of identity, rebellion, and resilience. This book provides a unique perspective on the intersection of music, subculture, and personal growth.

14. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy:

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” paints a haunting post-apocalyptic landscape in which a father and son struggle to survive. Through their harrowing journey, McCarthy explores themes of hope, despair, and the enduring power of love in the face of overwhelming adversity. This gripping novel prompts readers to reflect on the resilience of the human spirit and the lengths we wouldgo to protect those we love.

15. “Serve to Lead: The British Army’s Anthology on Leadership” by Winston Churchill:

Winston Churchill’s “Serve to Lead” is a compelling anthology that showcases the leadership principles and experiences of the British Army. Drawing from his own military background, Churchill emphasizes the importance of leadership in times of crisis and the qualities required to inspire and guide others. This anthology serves as a valuable resource for individuals seeking to develop their leadership skills and understand the intricacies of military leadership.

16. “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers” by Tim Ferriss:

In “Tools of Titans,” Tim Ferriss interviews a diverse range of high achievers to uncover their strategies for success. This book provides a wealth of insights into the habits, routines, and mindset of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. With practical advice and actionable takeaways, Ferriss equips readers with the tools they need to optimize their performance and cultivate resilience in pursuit of their goals.

17. “Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era” by Eiji Yoshikawa:

“Epic” is the perfect word to describe Eiji Yoshikawa’s “Musashi.” This sprawling historical novel traces the life and exploits of Miyamoto Musashi, one of Japan’s most legendary swordsmen. Through Musashi’s journey of self-discovery and martial prowess, Yoshikawa explores themes of discipline, honor, and the pursuit of mastery. This captivating novel offers valuable insights into the samurai code and the indomitable spirit of a warrior.

18. “Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir “ by Joseph R. Owen:

“Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir” by Joseph R. Owen is a gripping firsthand account of the brutal Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. Owen’s vivid storytelling immerses readers in the freezing temperatures and relentless enemy attacks faced by the Marines. This book offers a harrowing and eye-opening perspective on the resilience and sacrifice of those who fought in one of the most challenging battles in military history.

19. “Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer” by Thomas B. Marquis:

In “Wooden Leg,” Thomas B. Marquis presents the gripping firsthand account of a Cheyenne warrior who participated in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Wooden Leg’s recollections provide unique insights into the Native American perspective and the struggles faced during the tumultuous era of westward expansion. This book offers a compelling narrative that showcases resilience, cultural preservation, and the impact of historical events on individual lives.

20. “The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War” by Frederick Downs Jr.:

Frederick Downs Jr.’s “The Killing Zone” offers a candid and visceral account of his experiences as an infantry platoon leader during the Vietnam War. Downs provides a vivid portrayal of the challenges faced by soldiers in a hostile environment, exploring themes of survival, camaraderie, and the psychological toll of war. This book serves as a testament to the resilience and bravery displayed by military personnel in the face of unimaginable hardship.

21. “Valleys of Death: A Memoir of the Korean War” by Bill Richardson:

“Valleys of Death” is Bill Richardson’s poignant memoir of his service as a Marine during the Korean War. Through his personal experiences, Richardson captures the brutality and chaos of war, as well as the resilience and brotherhood forged among soldiers. This memoir offers a firsthand account of the Korean War and sheds light on the sacrifices made by those who fought on the frontlines.

22. “Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific” by Alistair Urquhart:

Alistair Urquhart’s “Forgotten Highlander” is a gripping memoir that recounts his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II. Captured by the Japanese in Singapore, Urquhart endured unspeakable horrors as a forced laborer on the infamous Burma Railway. This extraordinary tale of survival and resilience highlights the strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.

23. “The Terminal List: A Thriller” by Jack Carr:

“The Terminal List” is a thrilling novel by former Navy SEAL Jack Carr. Following the story of James Reece, a Navy SEAL seeking revenge for the betrayal of his team, this action-packed book explores themes of justice, resilience, and the lengths one will go to protect what they hold dear. Carr’s firsthand knowledge of military operations and his compelling storytelling make this a captivating read for fans of military fiction.

24. “Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World” by Tim Ferriss:

“Tribe of Mentors” is a compilation of advice and insights from a diverse range of accomplished individuals across various fields. Tim Ferriss poses thought-provoking questions to his mentors, allowing readers to benefit from the wisdom and experiences of world-class performers. This book offers a treasure trove of actionable advice and perspectives that can inspire personal growth, resilience, and intellectual development.

25. “Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” by Jean Hatzfeld:

In “Machete Season,” Jean Hatzfeld provides a chilling account of the Rwandan genocide through the testimonies of the killers themselves. Hatzfeld’s interviews with Hutu men who participated in the mass killings shed light on the psychology and motivations behind the atrocities. This book serves as a sobering reminder of the horrors of genocide and the resilience of survivors in the aftermath of unimaginable violence.


Jocko Willink’s handpicked selection of 25 books for intellectual warriors offers a diverse range of perspectives on military history, resilience, and the human spirit. From gripping memoirs to philosophical treatises, each book provides unique insights into the depths of human strength and the lessons learned from both triumph and tragedy. By immersing ourselves in these powerful narratives and thought-provoking works, we can cultivate resilience, broaden our understanding of history, and continue on our own personal journeys of intellectual growth and self-discovery.


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