Essential Books on Douglas MacArthur
There are countless books on Douglas MacArthur, and it comes with good reason, he was one of only five men to rise to the rank of General of the Army in the United States Army, played a prominent role in the Pacific Theater during World War II, received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines campaign, and as the effective ruler of Japan following World War II, oversaw the demobilization of the nation’s military forces, the restoration of the economy, and the drafting of a liberal constitution.
“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the height of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on Douglas MacArthur.
American Caesar by William Manchester
American Caesar, a bestselling classic, examines the exemplary army career, the stunning successes (and lapses) on the battlefield, and the turbulent private life of the soldier-hero whose mystery and appeal created a uniquely American legend. Douglas MacArthur, one of only five men in history to have achieved the rank of General of the United States Army, served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, and is famous for stating that “in war, there is no substitute for victory.”
Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior by Arthur Herman
MacArthur’s life spans the emergence of the United States Army as a global fighting force. Its history is to a great degree his story. The son of a Civil War hero, he led American troops in three monumental conflicts – World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Born four years after Little Bighorn, he died just as American forces began deploying in Vietnam.
Herman’s magisterial book spans the full arc of MacArthur’s journey, from his elevation to major general at thirty-eight through his tenure as superintendent of West Point, field marshal of the Philippines, supreme ruler of postwar Japan, and beyond. More than any previous biographer, Herman shows how MacArthur’s strategic vision helped shape several decades of U.S. foreign policy. Alone among his peers, he foresaw the shift away from Europe, becoming the prophet of America’s destiny in the Pacific Rim.
Here, too, is a vivid portrait of a man whose grandiose vision of his own destiny won him enemies as well as acolytes. MacArthur was one of the first military heroes to cultivate his own public persona – the swashbuckling commander outfitted with Ray-Ban sunglasses, riding crop, and corncob pipe. Repeatedly spared from being killed in battle – his soldiers nicknamed him “Bullet Proof” – he had a strong sense of divine mission.
“Mac” was a man possessed, in the words of one of his contemporaries, of a “supreme and almost mystical faith that he could not fail.” Yet when he did, it was on an epic scale. His willingness to defy both civilian and military authority was, Herman shows, a lifelong trait – and it would become his undoing. Tellingly, MacArthur once observed, “Sometimes it is the order one disobeys that makes one famous.”
Reminiscences by Douglas MacArthur
Written in his own hand and finished only weeks before his death, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s memoir spans more than half a century of modern history. His vantage point at center stage during major controversies of the twentieth century enabled him to present unique views of the conflicts in which he played a vital role. No soldier in modern time has been more admired – or reviled.
Liberator of the Philippines, shogun of Occupied Japan, victor of the Battle of Inchon, the general was a national hero when suddenly relieved of his command by President Truman. His supporters believe his genius for command and ability to implement that command by strategy stand as landmarks in military history. His critics are not so kind, calling him a gigantic ego paying homage to himself in this book.
Decade by decade, battlefield by battlefield, this self-portrait is a moving final testament to a life of service that began at West Point and continued in Vera Cruz during the Mexican uprisings and throughout the world wars. Appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific, MacArthur was the architect of the campaign to drive the Japanese from their strongholds at Bataan, Corregidor, and New Guinea. His recounting of World War II is dramatically punctuated with intimate portraits of key personalities and insights into his stand on controversial issues.
The Most Dangerous Man in America by Mark Perry
At times, even his admirers seemed unsure of what to do with General Douglas MacArthur. Imperious, headstrong, and vain, MacArthur matched an undeniable military genius with a massive ego and a rebellious streak that often seemed to destine him for the dustbin of history. Yet despite his flaws, MacArthur is remembered as a brilliant commander whose combined-arms operation in the Pacific – the first in the history of warfare – secured America’s triumph in World War II and changed the course of history.
In this gem among books on Douglas MacArthur, celebrated historian Mark Perry examines how this paradox of a man overcame personal and professional challenges to lead his countrymen in their darkest hour. As Perry shows, Franklin Roosevelt and a handful of MacArthur’s subordinates made this feat possible, taming MacArthur, making him useful, and finally making him victorious. A gripping, authoritative biography of the Pacific Theater’s most celebrated and misunderstood commander, he book reveals the secrets of Douglas MacArthur’s success – and the incredible efforts of the men who made it possible.
The General vs. The President by H. W. Brands
At the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China’s entry into the war, Truman replied testily, “The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has.” This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America’s path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way.
Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Heir to a struggling economy, a ruined Europe, and increasing tension with the Soviet Union, on no issue was the path ahead clear and easy. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The lessons he drew from World War II were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster and a showdown with the communists was inevitable – the sooner the better. In the nuclear era, when the Soviets, too, had the bomb, the specter of a catastrophic third World War lurked menacingly close on the horizon.
The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. From the drama of Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur’s forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General vs. The President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.
MacArthur at War by Walter R. Borneman
World War II changed the course of history. Douglas MacArthur changed the course of World War II. Macarthur at War will go deeper into this transformative period of his life than previous biographies, drilling into the military strategy that Walter R. Borneman is so skilled at conveying, and exploring how personality and ego translate into military successes and failures.
Architect of stunning triumphs and inexplicable defeats, General MacArthur is the most intriguing military leader of the twentieth century. There was never any middle ground with MacArthur. This in-depth study of the most critical period of his career shows how his influence spread far beyond the war-torn Pacific.
Return to Victory by James P. Duffey
“I shall return,” General Douglas MacArthur promised the Filipino people following the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines in the spring of 1942. The people there believed MacArthur’s vow – and even Americans were stirred by his dramatic pledge. Now, two and half years later, MacArthur was ready to fulfill his promise – the liberation of the Philippines was about to begin.
It would not be an easy campaign. The more than 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago were the key to taking down the Japanese Empire – and the Imperial forces were prepared to sacrifice every man and every ship to prevent MacArthur from regaining control of them.
Covering both the strategic and tactical aspects of the campaign through the participation of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen, as well as its commanders, James P. Duffy leads readers through a vivid account of the nearly year-long, bloody campaign to defeat over a quarter million die-hard Japanese defenders in the Pacific theater. Return to Victory is a wide-ranging, dramatic and stirring account of MacArthur’s epic liberation of the Philippines.
MacArthur’s Air Force by Bill Yenne
After being humbled by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942, MacArthur and his air chief General George Kenney rebuilt the US aerial presence in the Pacific, helping Allied naval and ground forces to push back the Japanese Air Force, re-take the Philippines, and carry the war north towards the Home Islands. Following the end of World War II, MacArthur was the highest military and political authority in Japan, and at the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 he was named as Commander in Chief, United Nations Command. In the ten months of his command his Far East Air Forces increased dramatically and saw the first aerial combat between jet fighters.
Written by award-winning aviation historian Bill Yenne, this necessary installment to Douglas MacArthur books traces the journey of American air forces in the Pacific under General MacArthur’s command, from their lowly beginnings to their eventual triumph over Imperial Japan, followed by their entry into the jet age in the skies over Korea.
Old Soldiers Never Die by Geoffrey Perret
In the first cradle-to-grave biography of MacArthur in nearly 20 years, Perret reveals new information and offers fresh insights into this landmark figure of American history. From his obsessive interest in becoming the most highly decorated soldier in American history to his disastrous flirtation with presidential politics, MacArthur is revealed, warts and all.
Supreme Commander by Seymour Morris, Jr.
As the uniquely titled Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Douglas MacArthur was charged with transforming a defeated, militarist empire into a beacon of peace and democracy – “the greatest gamble ever attempted,” he called it. A career military man, MacArthur had no experience in politics, diplomacy, or economics. A vain, reclusive, and self-centered man, his many enemies in Washington thought he was a flaming peacock, and few, including President Harry Truman’s closest advisors, gave him a chance of succeeding.
Supreme Commander tells for the first time, the story of how MacArthur’s leadership achieved a nation-building success that had never been attempted before – and never replicated since. Seymour Morris Jr. reveals a flawed man who at his best treated a defeated enemy with respect, made informed and thoughtful decisions yet could be brash and stubborn when necessary, and led the occupation with intelligence, class, and compassion.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Douglas MacArthur, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on President Dwight D. Eisenhower!