The Art of Command

The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell, edited by Harry S. Laver and Jeffrey J. Matthews (The University Press of Kentucky, 2008, 294 pages)

A Collection of Essays

This book is a collection of nine essays about military leaders throughout U.S. history, though most discuss the period after World War I. Many of the nine contributing authors and their co-authors have also written books or articles about the subject of their individual essays, and they have done a great job packing each essay with much information. 

The book’s introduction states that “leadership skills are learned and developed over the course of an individual’s life and career through education, mentoring, and experience.” And the essays make the point that it took hard work for the profiled leaders to succeed. Several struggled in school and in military training, although most liked to read for personal improvement. Many were greatly assisted during their careers by mentors and actively mentored others as they progressed in rank. 

Reading, Learning, and Careers

Through the essays, the book makes the case that great military leaders are developed as the result of ongoing efforts to read, learn, and improve themselves through their careers. 

Eight of the essays have the word “leadership” in the title. The exception is “Exemplary Followership” written by Matthews about Colin Powel. In this essay, Matthews makes the case that all military leaders are also followers–they work for someone else, they have a boss whose orders they are carrying out. This essay is a great addition to the collection, discussing the challenge (and opportunity) of providing information and guidance up the chain of command. 

Averaging less than thirty pages each, the essays are ideal for a small group or a wardroom to leverage for training on a particular leadership trait. Taken together, the entire collection underscores the similarities between the various leaders, while also highlighting the specific leadership trait that is the focus of each essay. A “Recommended Reading” section lists a number of books about leadership for those interested in learning more.  


This book review was contributed by Stephen Lepper. Mr. Lepper is a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He currently lives with his family in central Massachusetts and can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-lepper

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