The former secretary of defense delivers lessons for would-be leaders.
The title might describe the current White House, from which Mattis (co-editor: Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military, 2016) departed after disagreeing on one issue too many with the sitting president. However, it derives from an ironic Marine Corps acronym. Mattis spotted trouble from the start, noting that, after all, the separation of military from civilian leadership, by which officers were forbidden from serving in the office “within seven years of departing military service,” is there for a good reason—a reason disregarded by Trump and company. Still, Mattis, writing with Bing (One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War, 2014, etc.), has relatively little to say about his time in that orbit. Instead, he focuses on his military career, during which he rose through the ranks and replaced Gen. David Petraeus as head of the U.S. Central Command; and on the leadership lessons he learned in the field and on base. Considered an intellectual, he insists foremost on lifelong learning and constant reading: When he was called on to lead the 1st Marine Division in the Iraq War, for instance, he devoured books, from T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (“few Westerners in recent history had achieved his level of trust with Arabs on the battlefield”) to memoirs and studies of William Tecumseh Sherman, Gertrude Bell, and Alexander the Great. “I may not have come up with many new ideas,” writes Mattis, “but I’ve adopted or integrated a lot from others,” and he insisted that his officers and enlisted personnel read and study. Some lessons are obvious (don’t play favorites), some gung-ho (show an “obvious bias for action”), and most eminently useful for leaders in whatever sector (“You must decide, act, and move on"). One wishes for a little more dirt, but the author, a cool-headed diplomat, seems to be reserving that for magazine interviews, dishing it judiciously.
Meatier and more substantive than books like The 48 Laws of Power and a font of well-considered guidance.