When George Marshall headed the U.S. Army in WWII, generals were frequently fired. They haven’t much been since, writes Ricks, a phenomenon he connects to the strategically unsatisfactory conclusions to subsequent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ricks was a military-affairs journalist, and his criticism of the Iraq invasion (Fiasco, 2006) echoes in this survey of the army’s top echelons since WWII. He diagnoses the top brass’ problem as being good at organizing combat operations but terrible at converting tactical victories into war-winning success. He points to several causes of the situation. One has been the slowness of generals trained in set-piece battles to adapt to insurgency warfare. Another has been, Ricks argues, the sidelining of nonconformist officers, outliers in personal habits or in their unorthodox positions in the army’s internal debates about strategic doctrine. Individual cases, such as those of Maxwell Taylor and William Westmoreland, stoke his negative appraisal of the army’s leadership, which he unifies by urging as a remedy a revival of Marshall’s methods of promoting and dismissing generals. Ricks’ prominence plus the publisher’s promotion should equal a high-profile title. --Gilbert Taylor
A Washington Post 2012 Notable Work of Nonfiction
"Ricks shines, blending an impressive level of research with expert storytelling."
—The Weekly Standard
"[A] savvy study of leadership. Combining lucid historical analysis, acid-etched portraits of generals from 'troublesome blowhard' Douglas MacArthur to 'two-time loser' Tommy Franks, and shrewd postmortems of military failures and pointless slaughters such as My Lai, the author demonstrates how everything from strategic doctrine to personnel policies create a mediocre, rigid, morally derelict army leadership... Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess."
—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
"Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing - like the author's 2006 bestseller, Fiasco, this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon."
"Entertaining, provocative and important."
—The Wilson Quarterly
“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 U.S. Secretary of Defense
“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
“Tom Ricks has written another provocative and superbly researched book that addresses a critical issue, generalship. After each period of conflict in our history, the quality and performance of our senior military leaders comes under serious scrutiny. The Generals will be a definitive and controversial work that will spark the debate, once again, regarding how we make and choose our top military leaders.”
—Anthony C. Zinni, General USMC (Ret.)
“The Generals is insightful, well written and thought-provoking. Using General George C. Marshall as the gold standard, it is replete with examples of good and bad generalship in the postwar years. Too often a bureaucratic culture in those years failed to connect performance with consequences. This gave rise to many mediocre and poor senior leaders. Seldom have any of them ever been held accountable for their failures. This book justifiably calls for a return to the strict, demanding and successful Marshall prescription for generalship. It is a reminder that the lives of soldiers are more important than the careers of officers—and that winning wars is more important than either.”
—Bernard E. Trainor, Lt. Gen. USMC (Ret.); author of The Generals’ War
“The Generals rips up the definition of professionalism in which the US Army has clothed itself. Tom Ricks shows that it has lost the habit of sacking those who cannot meet the challenge of war, leaving it to Presidents to do so. His devastating analysis explains much that is wrong in US civil-military relations. America’s allies, who have looked to emulate too slavishly the world’s pre-eminent military power, should also take heed.”
—Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford