USNI Blog » Blog Archive » The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War

For the past few years, professor Timothy Demy and Major General John J. Salesses, USMC(ret.), have been teaching the elective the Pen and the Sword at the US Naval War College. It’s a class, Demy says, that uses the literature of war to explore the relationship between the fiction and reality, the written word and the lived experience.


Students study leadership, ethics, and the experience of war from the pens of those who have experienced it as well as those who have imagined it. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Demy and talk about books, poetry, and the state of reading in the military today.

via USNI Blog » Blog Archive » The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War.

I don’t read too much fiction these days. Not NONE, but not as much as I used to. And even then, my tastes ran more to paperbacks at the PX than the classics.

Still, I’m not totally unlettered.

Just off the top of my head:

  1. The Aubrey-Maturin series (Master & Commander to you heathens)
  2. The Bolithio series
  3. Clancy, of course
  4. Harold Coyle
  5. Leonard B. Scott
  6. Stephen Coonts
  7. The Horatio Hornblower series
  8. Cornwell’s Sharpe’s series
  9. Flashman (well, some of them. I hate to admit I don’t really enjoy them much)
  10. The Honor Harrington novels

What military(ish) fiction do you read? Recommend?

38 thoughts on “USNI Blog » Blog Archive » The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War”

  1. I enjoy books written by David Drake, Eric Flint, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tom Kratman, John Ringo, John Birmingham, and Orson Scott Card. There are others as well; but these are off the top of my mind and book shelf.


  2. I’m a big fan of:

    Bernard Cornwell – not just Sharpe, everything
    David Weber
    Eric Flint
    John Ringo
    Tom Kratman
    Marko Kloos
    Tom Clancy
    Harold Coyle
    Stephen Coonts
    Bill Baldwin

    … plus a cast of thousands of others.

  3. Two from Pournelle: his Falkenberg’s Legion series, and the There Will Be War anthology series. The latter includes some non-fiction articles, but they’re relevant to warfare.

  4. Joe Haldeman. Some of Heinlein’s stuff. Some Zelazny. Jack Campbell/John Hemry.

    Robb White. WEB Griffin.

    1. WEB Griffin falls – for me, at least – into the category of guilty pleasure more than good author. The sheer quantity of continuity errors that he (they, I guess now) has in his books is just utterly appalling.

      (Plus, much as I enjoy his books, I absolutely can’t stand the guy in person – I would rather get locked in a closet with a rabid badger (shut up, Scott) than have to spend an hour in a room with the guy without benefit of a bottle of Scotch. For a great storyteller, he’s probably the most boring person I’ve ever met, with a monotone voice like nails on a chalkboard.)

    2. LT Rusty:

      As with you, I enjoy WEB Griffin’s books. However, he/they have more of a problem than continuity errors. In every book, so far, I have found at least one error of fact.

      I have never met him/them, and taking your word on the subject, I now think myself lucky.


    3. Shaun:

      Some of Heinlein’s stuff?? Which of his books do you not like and why? I really would like to know because I like all of his, albeit some more than others.


    4. Paul – I got lucky when I was in college, and got to meet a bunch of writers who did sleeves and / or signings at The Citadel. Pat Conroy, Robert Jordan, WEB Griffin, and a few others. Griffin was just insanely boring.

    5. Paul,
      I was sticking to the “military-ish” theme. Like pretty much all of Heinlein.

  5. Michael Curtis Ford has done some excellent military historical fiction set in ancient Greece and Rome (The Ten Thousand is probably his best, in my opinion). Go check him out, I think everyone this blog would like his work.

  6. I know everyone usually raves about Heinlein and Starship Troopers, but if you want to read the pinnacle of space marine/powered armor science fiction, read Armor by John Steakley. I’ve had to buy it four or five times because I keep lending it out to my buddies (who never return it, of course. The eternal curse of all military guys who read, I suppose…)

  7. I agree on web strap griffin; some of it’s crap, some very good storytelling.

    Great Battle of the Bulge novel is “Runner” by Milar Larson. Out of print but pb’s available on ABE or amazon.

    Speaking of WWII fiction, To Hell And Back.

    Back to military sf, “Temporary Duty” by Ric Locke (RIP) is well worth a read.

  8. I see a lot of Andy McNab and Chris Ryan on my shelves. Not all of it fiction. Entertaining at least…

  9. Rick Shelley did a decent job. Not the best, but OK. Jerry Pournelle’s mercenary (AKA Falkenberg’s Legion) series is very well written, and he gets the details right as so few who try MilSciFi do. Having been a Red Leg in combat in Korea helps him a lot. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, although the point is political rather than military. The two anthology Series by Pournelle “There Will Be War” (which is coming out again under Castalia House in ebook format) and “Imperial Stars.” Often the point of the anthologies is political, but it has a large miniltary component and fair amount of non-fiction besides. Pournelle Talks about “The Strategy Of Technology” in one, for example. Both series are worth the price of admission for many reasons beyond the mil stuff.

    I’ve read the Honor Harrington series, but don’t like the PC component of making a woman a battle babe. It’s bad enough seeing men mutilated by combat, but doing it to a woman is beyond barbaric.

    1. QM, ever read Strategy for Technology? I did back in the 80s. Was looking for Pournelle in Miami University’s library and that popped up. Figured it was something like his “Step Farther Out” column. Wrong. 🙂

    2. I was able to read parts of it. Pournelle was selling on his website for awhile. Don’t know if he still is or not. Much of what I read was over my head at the time.

  10. Mostly seconding others recommendations, but definitely take a look at John G. Hemry’s JAG in Space series. I never served in the Navy, but it feels like a realistic take on what the US Navy would do with spaceships.

    Larry Bond (some of the earlier stuff anyway- Red Phoenix, Cauldron, Vortex) had some fun techno-thrillers.

  11. This was a guilty pleasure, I admit, but I actually enjoyed some of Richard Marcinko’s early work (Rogue Warrior and the first couple of fiction books based on that). He is, of course, full of shit about quite a few things, so as long as you don’t have total “buy-in”, he can be an entertaining story-teller.

  12. Reading? What’s that? I have so little time to read any more. Can’t keep up with required work materials, let alone for pleasure. I have slowly been working my way through the Master and Commander series for, I believe, the fourth time but at the rate I am going, it will take another year and a half.

  13. Interesting to see so many Ringo fans here. FYI, he has a four book series about Space Marines in powered armor. Since he uses Travis Taylor for the science parts of the seriously (and Doc Taylor has a whole bunch of degrees and works at Huntsville, Alabama, hint, hint). The same as the rest, except you all missed one: Barrett Tillman wrote the best book on war at sea between two modern carrier battle groups I’ve ever read: The Sixth Battle. Barrett also has several other great fiction books and a hell of a lot of superb non-fiction books.

    1. Incidentally, and I’m not 100% sure of this, but I believe that our very own Roamy knows Doctor Taylor.

      And Byron, you just like Ringo because you’re a non-red-shirted character in one of his books. 🙂

  14. LT Rusty: au contraire, I’m in the second and third “Live Free or Die” books, the gas mine engineer/manager. Also, the last Zombie book, please read the acknowledgements 🙂 And Roamy needs to be really careful around Doc Travis, he practically invented the phrase, “Hold my beer and watch this!” 🙂

    Brad, as a Harpoon player for many years, Sixth Battle was more of a primer for war at sea in many ways than Clancy’s Red Storm Rising.

    1. Huh, guess I need to re-read those.

      I haven’t read the Zombie books yet. I just sort of have been feeling a little zombie’d out with the flood of zombie-everything lately.

  15. Rusty…shame on you. This is John Ringo, not the usual dreck. Wait till you “meet” Lt. Faith Marie Smith, adored and revered by all her Marines, and all of 16 years old. I thought the same thing but since it had Ringo on it, I bought it. Wasn’t disappointed, either. Brad, I think I saw where Sixth battle is at Amazon

    1. Byron:

      Correction: Faith was 13, at least when the series started and when she was commissioned.


  16. Paul, I was thinking of the period where she was no longer a “probationary third lieutenant” but was a full LT and was about to become CO of POTUS’s Marine detachment…and STILL was revered by all Marines. They even grew to like Trixie 🙂

    1. Byron:

      As of the last in the series that I have read, I don’t think that she had reached her 16th birthday yet. Could be wrong, it’s been some months and a dozen or so books since then.


  17. I believe she had, but I won’t be sure till I re-read it again later this year. BTW, there’s a new Kildar in the works and a new Prince Roger (Ringo realized that that story wasn’t finished by a long shot). And for my money, Ringo does a better job of painting the picture of a warrior than anyone else. Besides, anyone who drops Kipling throughout all his novels can’t be a bad author 🙂

    1. Yea!! Prince Roger is one of my favorites. Any idea when it will be published? What publisher?


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