Mattis, who prefers the nickname “Warrior Monk” to “Mad Dog,” repeatedly leans on his bibliomania throughout his 300-page book. The book reads like a literature review at times, as the 68-year-old recommends dozens of titles and name-checks too many authors to mention here. He also makes time to mock the scholars who said after the Cold War that it was “the end of history.”
The way some people prepare for a marathon, Mattis challenges himself intellectually by picking some battle or area of history where he’s weak. Then he fixates on the subject and reads everything he can find until he feels like an expert. “Living in history builds your own shock absorber, because you’ll learn that there are lots of old solutions to new problems,” he explains. “Strategy is hard, unless you’re a dilettante. You must think until your head hurts.”
He does, however, seem to have lots of time to watch television. And play golf. And tweet.
Mattis is partial to studying Roman generals and historians, from Marcus Aurelius and Scipio Africanus to Tacitus. “I followed Caesar across Gaul,” he writes wistfully. “I marveled at how the plain prose of [Ulysses] Grant and [William Tecumseh] Sherman revealed the value of steely determination. … Biographies of … Native American leaders, of wartime political leaders and sergeants, and of strategic thinkers from Sun Tzu to Colin Gray have guided me through tough challenges.”
Mattis argues that intellectual rigor is just as important as physical rigor to excel in his beloved corps. He remembers a grueling jog from decades ago on a sweltering day with an Israel exchange officer in the Virginia woods, probably at Quantico. “Read the ancient Greeks and how they turned out their warriors,” the Israeli bellowed. So he did.