More #ReadingWomen

Miranda Summers-Lowe

In tandem with last week’s post, this piece from the inspiration behind the reading list initiative sets out the perspective on the matter from a woman in uniform and policy. As often a target of the lists as a contributor, the view she brings is critical during this period of transformation in how women serve. While it is certainly no panacea to the current problems of sexism associated with the Marines United and related stories, intellectual respect for women’s scholarship and role in history will aid in the development of improved gender leadership in the armed forces. To participate, see the original call for recommendations. Read and enjoy!

— JSR

Reading lists are a staple of the National Security Community. Recently, it seems as though not only every branch of military service, but every commander, journal and blog has their own reading list. For the scholar it informs fields or fills a syllabus. It keeps a practicing National Security professional current in the field’s developments. For military professionals, it’s often how we form the basis of a cultural standard — what we need to have read to be considered professionals. These are all wonderful jumping off points for study, or within the military are even required for rank or awards.

While these are valuable uses of sharing our reading lists, what happens when we fail to look outside what we’re handed from others? Recently some attention has been brought to where women are included, or not included, in reading lists. Often, in copying the reading lists we’ve seen before, we leave out some of the women who are producing innovative new work in the field or have emerged from the shadows. This reinforces a problem: Women may start out perceiving that they are not welcome in the “man’s world” of national security, a perception that is reinforced when they are not presented with female authors on professional development reading lists. However, finding female leaders and scholars is not a particularly difficult exercise, as there are plentiful qualified options if you care to look. This reading list intends to build a collection of role models in the field of National Security in academia, journalism, and military practice.

In addition to prescribed professional reading lists, I recommend developing your own list as an intellectual exercise. WINS is a jumping off point; a sample of some of the authors who are already part of the canon. In collecting thoughts and reviews of women in National Security, we hope to not only consolidate a body of work helpful to any National Security professional, but dispel the misconception that women are uncommon in the field.

As I’ve developed my own reading lists, I would be remiss not to recognize how many of these women I encountered through the recommendation of fellow soldiers, academic syllabi, and book forums and speaker presentations. For example, I look out for new work by Nora Bensahel, whose voice in publications ranging from War on the Rocks to the Atlantic Council is always fresh, and timely. Similarly How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything by Rosa Brooks has been one most talked about books in my community.

On a day off I’m much more likely to reach for a memoir or biography that political theory. Yes, I still read a Theodore Roosevelt book per year, but last year I also read Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a book that changed my opinion on women in combat assignments. Generally Speaking by Claudia Kennedy and One Woman’s Army by Charity Adams Earleywere formative books in my early career as I reconciled the army I serve in with the gender and racially segregated organization of the not-so-distant past.

In my military history classes, Barbara Tuchman, Drew Gilpin Faust and Cynthia Enloe were syllabus staples that I rarely see on professional development book lists. The Guns of August, a Pulitzer-prize winning account of the events leading up to World War I, is included in the Modern Library best 100 nonfiction books of all time. Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University and National Book Award winner, and Cynthia Enloe wrote extensively about the militarization of women and the cultural effect of warfare.

Mary Roach, a best-selling science author who doesn’t always write on National Security topics, but her recent book Grunthas been wildly popular in and out of the military. Telling the story of humans in war in a way that’s funny and engaging is no small challenge, and this book has helped bridge a gap between the military and the wider public that doesn’t seek out National Security books.

Finally, though not primarily an author, other women have had a huge role in preserving and studying military history. A personal hero of mine, Anne S.K. Brown, amassed one of the largest privately held collections of military books and art in existence, which is now held at Brown University. Many of these resources she rescued from Europe around World War II, preserving them for the future. She was also a founder of the Company of Military Historians, still a large and active military history professional groups.


CPT Miranda Summers Lowe is a career Army National Guard Officer currently serving in the office of the Director of the Army National Guard. Previously, she was a historian in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s OEF Study Group, the team tasked with writing the Army’s operational history of the war in Afghanistan. Since her commissioning in 2009, she deployed to Djibouti as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs for Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa and served in positions including state public affairs officer, command historian, intelligence officer and military police platoon leader in the District of Columbia National Guard. Prior to OCS, she served as a supply sergeant, including a tour in Al Anbar, Iraq as a Black Hawk door gunner. Outside of the military, she has worked at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Smithsonian American History Museum and the Naval War College. She has a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and a masters degree from Brown University.