The Marine Corps released a radically different Commandant’s Reading List on Tuesday, cutting the list in half, adding 30-some new titles and for the first time including a graphic novel, books focused on the experience of female Marines, and companion podcasts and periodicals.
Since 1989 the Commandant’s Reading List has recommended a wide range of books the Corps suggested Marines of all ranks and experience to read in order to broaden their understanding of the Corps, develop leadership and improve understanding of the Corps’ core values.
In the past the list has been broken down into 11 categories, with Marines of different ranks and career positions recommended to read different books. The rank segregated categories led to a cluttered list, with several titles repeated throughout, while also creating a barrier between leaders and junior Marines, preventing them from connecting over a shared reading experience.
“As a first sergeant, if I wanted to have a conversation with a Marine about a book that they read with a previous list, if I asked him what their most recent book they read, if it was from their category and I was reading for my category, it was hard to have a conversation,” 1st Sgt. Monica Cervantes, from the Lejeune Leadership Institute, told Marine Corps Times in a phone interview.
To fix the problem, the new streamlined list consists of 46 titles, compared to the 97 titles on the 2019 list, and will have only five categories based entirely on the subject of the content that Marines of all ranks are encouraged to read.
The new categories are:
♦Commandant’s Choice: The Commandant of the Marine Corps Choice is a holdover from the old list and includes one title, which Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger personally chose: “The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare,” C. Brose.
♦Profession of Arms, with 11 titles focusing on the Corps' history.
♦Innovation, which shows 12 examples of Marine Corps creativity in problem-solving.
♦Leadership, with 11 titles that will help Marines become better leaders.
♦Strategy, with 11 titles meant to help Marines understand warfare at a higher level.
For the first time the list will include not only one, but two books that detail the experience of women in the military, with “Women at War: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Conflicts,” by James E. Wise Jr. and Scott Baron, and “Hesitation Kills: A Female Marine Officer’s Combat Experience in Iraq,” by Jane. Blair.
“Women at War," published in August 2011, tells the story of 30 women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, while reaching back in time to tell the story of women who fought and died for America in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.
“We realized that was one that we were missing,” Cervantes said. “We really wanted to just showcase all the different aspects of the Marine Corps."
But, what may be the most exciting addition to some Marines is, “The White Donkey,” by famed Terminal Lance creator Max Uriarte.
“I am hugely gratified and amazed and excited about, 'The White Donkey’ being on the list,” Brown said. “It shows that it’s not just a it’s not just a comic book you can tell a powerful story, and it gives you multiple mediums to convey that message."
The Corps added the semi-autobiographical book about war, loss, PTSD and the under absurdity that is the Marine Corps experience as a nod to the growing relevance graphic novels have in the modern reading world.
For Uriarte, a Marine veteran who deployed twice to Iraq, being selected for the list came as a shock.
“It was always one of those things I always wanted to happen, I don’t know if I ever thought it actually would," he told Marine Corps Times.
The book could help Marines come to grips with the pain and loss of a combat deployment and help them understand they are not alone, Uriarte said, excited at the prospect that a generation of Marines are having his book suggested to them by the Marine Corps.
“'The White Donkey' is a very raw and honest examination of not just a combat deployment and the story of loss and heartbreaking events that unfold in the story,” Uriarte said. “I can see why it is important for Marines to read it, so when they encounter that they have something that understands them and what they are going through."
“The underlying message about resiliency was what we liked about the ‘White Donkey,'” Cervantes said.
Uriarte confessed that he did not read any books off the reading list while he was in the Corps, though he had read “Starship Trooper” — a mainstay on the reading list in years past — while in high school.
If a graphic novel had been on the list in the past, he might have read it though.
“The problem with the reading list is Marines don’t know how to read so you have to have stuff with pictures on it,” Uriarte said.
The 2020 list also hopes to modernize in a way that reflects the modern day Marine Corps while adjusting to how Marines consume content in the 21st century. The list urges Marines to listen to podcasts and add periodicals to their reading regimens.
Including podcasts is an acknowledgement by the Marine Corps that not everyone learns best simply by reading books, Maj. Ian Brown, the operations officer for innovation and creativity for the Brute Krulak Center, told Marine Corps Times.
“If you’re trying to put the onus on the learner to sort of take control of their own professional development, you need to give them options that sort of feed into the way that they learn information and not everybody learns information the same way,” Brown told Marine Corps Times.
“Some people are more visual and pictures, some people are more, the written word they get it really well and then there’s absorbing information audibly,” he added.
Podcasts also come with regular updates, providing Marines with new and relevant information in a way that books simply can’t do.
A supplemental category called foundational will include the Constitution, the Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication on learning and the Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication on warfighting.
The foundational category is meant to be the same every year, providing the most basic information on what it means to be a Marine and what is required of every Marine.
“Those are books that are a starting point for Marines,” Cervantes said. “Those are also books that at different levels at different ranks, you might want to come back and read over time and get a different perspective."