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

  • by Thomas E. Ricks
  • Narrated by William Hughes
  • 15 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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? Here, 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 World War II, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough.
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 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. 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 tactically savvy but strategically obtuse leadership that would win battles but end wars badly.
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.


What the Critics Say

"[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)
"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, 19th US Secretary of Defense)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


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. Sixteen Army division commanders were relieved for cause out of a total of 155 officers who commanded divisions in combat during WWII. At least five Corps commanders were also relieved for cause. Marshall replaced them with officers like Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley and so on.

The author says that today the military is not policing its self. The only time an officer is removed is when the politicians intervene. For example the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Scandal or the Veterans Affairs Scandal is some current scandals that politicians have intervened in.

I found the comments by Ricks about the current Army’s upper command full of tactical planners and none trained as strategical planners. The author observation that the General staff is good at winning battles but unable to win the war is directly related to the lack of training in strategic thinking. I found a comment by Ricks about the military could easily apply to the business world, “training tends to prepare for the known problems, education prepares leaders to prepare for the unknown, the unpredictable, and the unexpected.”

Ricks sets out in the book to show how the Army has changed so dramatically in seventy years. Ricks ends the book with some suggestions for reform. The book is well written, deeply researched and pulls no punches. The book is narrated by William Hughes and lasts about 16 hours.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Time to fire some incompetents

Would you consider the audio edition of The Generals to be better than the print version?

Haven't read the book. Just listened.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Generals?

The whole book is memorable and sadly points out what else has gone to hell with the USA since WW2.

Which character – as performed by William Hughes – was your favorite?


If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

It's not meant to be filmed. Should be read and discussed.

Any additional comments?

A must read to explain the current failure of the once great American military that in the 40s destroyed Hitler and Tojo's minions in about 5 years compared to the sorry incompetents who lead America's military today. The book correctly points out that the fault is NOT with the enlisted serviceman we all rightly honor and respect [well most of them] but the sorry excuses for generals leading them since the Korean War. Reward failure and you get what we have now, ten years of incompetence and an Afghanistan that is in worse shape than it was six months after 9/11 when at least the Taliban was momentarily beaten. The book should be read by every American who gives a damn about the USA. Next book by this author should be "The teachers" another sad story of incompetence thanks this time mostly to the teacher's union. Incompetent teachers are even harder to fire than incompetent generals. The administrators of our failed education system should be fired en masse.

I served 20 years in the military before I retired. I served in Vietnam and worked in joint commands so am quite familiar with the Army, Navy and Marines. I would like to think this makes my comments of more value than someone less familiar with the military.

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- Thomas B. Roach

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-30-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.