Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version
The Wavell Room is run by a team of volunteers with full time jobs and full time families. We’re an enthusiastic and energetic bunch who do it to make defence a better place. To keep ourselves sharp, we make sure we develop ourselves (and each other) throughout the year. And every year we ask our volunteers what they have been reading, listening to, and watching. The answers normally tell you a lot about our mix of personalities, and some of the responses below give you an opportunity to see what makes us tick.
We’ve tried our best to be normal and traditional, but we just ain’t. This list is light hearted and fun. But it also contains serious recommendations for learning about war and warfare, because ultimately that’s what we do. This article is our list of recommendations for 2023.
(Land Editor and Bore in chief)
What I’ve been reading: Jim Storr. Jim can be somewhat of an awkward character. His 2022 skirmish into Twitter didn’t really go well and probably lost him a few supporters. It’s also irrelevant. His writing on warfare is outstanding and his thinking is rapidly challenging orthodoxy across British defence. This year I reviewed Something Rotten and it is Storr at his most cutting and analytical best. I was also really impressed with BattleGroup!, a far more technical and doctrinal analysis of Cold War tactics. A reader also reviewed The Hall of Mirrors and you should check it out before hitting the library. I’m a big fan of Jim, but that doesn’t mean all his ideas are right. We have some punchy counter articles coming this way in 2023, but why not take a read of his work and see what you think? If we all agreed life would be boring.
What I’ve been listening to: Can I recommend some of our own stuff? Peter and James’ podcast series ‘Sailor, Soldier, Scientist’ is outstanding. It’s a series of interviews with ‘proper nerds’ (their own description) and it covers everything in the kind of detail an infantree soldier like me needs.
What I’ve been watching: Rhyme Time Town with my toddler. MaryMary (the grumpy introvert hedgehog seeking attention and fame is definitely my spirit animal) … and when I have time…Ru Paul’s drag race. Seriously, it’s got nothing to do with warfare, but it’s creativity at its best and features incredible humans. For any American readers, Drag Race UK is far superior to your version… and it’s even ahead of Drag Race Down Under. And with that, I’ll sashay away.
(Battle of Britain veteran, Greggs enthusiast)
What I’ve been reading: In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself strangely drawn to the display on my smart metre in the desperate hope that what goes up must come down. My favourite actual read of 2022 was Robert Gerwarth’s 2017 The Vanquished – Why the First World War Failed to End. A fascinating account of how 1918 was not the end, how liberal democracies struggled to find their feet against an onrushing tide of nationalism. Developments in Eastern Europe being of particular interest in 2022.
What I’ve been listening to: A range of Ukraine-related podcasts which on reflection means I’ve not given Al Murray and James Holland’s We Have Ways series the attention it deserves. According to Spotify, my top 5 songs from 2022 are all by Steps which I can tell you comes from my Zwift repertoire on 100km group rides.
What I’ve been watching: Difficult to remember life before Strictly and with so much streaming available I’m not sure when Slow Horses was actually released but it was brilliant: a rival to Hamza’s Week 4 Samba it was that good.
(New guy and chief challenger)
What I’ve been reading: With a recent diagnosis of autism, 2022 has seen my development within people and leadership take a laser-focus on autism and neurodivergent thinking. And what an eye-opener it has been! I’ve come to realise that the condition is a beautiful way of being human, and have been awestruck at the value neurodivergence has brought humanity since… well, forever. It is likely that there are people around you in your workplace who are neurodivergent, and that their environment is—in some way—limiting their potential.
I highly recommend Dr Luke Beardon’s Autism in Adults as a short, punchy, challenging read that counters many pervasive myths and stereotypes around autism. Secondly, and equally important, Dr Felicity Sedgewick et al.’s Autism and Masking. This book uncovers the consequences of masking (hiding autistic traits), including the toll it can have on mental and physical health, while offering guidance to ameliorate those negative effects. Neurodiversity is critical to outperforming the competition, therefore it is critical to Defence; let’s think differently about people who think differently.
What I’ve been listening to: I save listening (almost) exclusively for fiction to chill out, unwind, and let my mind wonder. This year I discovered I quite enjoy the space opera genre, starting out with To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. At 30 hours, I found myself enthralled by the story, travelling through space and time on this odyssey of discovery, and was hooked. I moved on to We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor shortly after, and don’t be fooled by the odd title, it is a witty, gripping, and fascinating story! I’m now halfway through the Expeditionary Force series by Craig Alanson. Book one was a bit of a push to get through but the military banter and immersive story captured me before long.
What I’ve been watching: During this year’s research journey I came across a moving and refreshing TEDx talk The beautiful reality of autism. In his 17 minute talk, Guy Shahar discusses his son’s autism. Not as a disorder or impairment, but instead as a condition of profound sensitivity. Temple Grandin also presents an impactful 60 minute talk in The Autistic Brain, which is packed end to end with an accessible and relatable understanding of the differences between neurotypical and neurodivergent brains. Of all the material I’ve consumed this year, one resounding message stands out: when autistic people play to their strengths—unhindered by their environments and the people around them—they can thrive, flourish, and pioneer.
(Chief (Gravy) boats)
What I’ve been reading: On the ‘thinking’ side of the house, the book that I would most recommend that people dive into is Human Frontiers by Michael Bhaskar. It is a fascinating thesis that as a species our cultural advancements have, counterintuitively, markedly decreased the likelihood of “Big Ideas” happening in future. The great leaps forward experienced in most areas in the C20th, from technology to medicine and science, will become fewer and more costly to achieve. This has a profound impact in all aspects of life and really makes you think. Plus, being a year late to the HF party, it can be secured for under a tenner. Under £1 on Kindle if you are feeling particularly pinched! For a lighter-hearted read when you have decided the world is all going to rack and ruin and your brain really can’t take more doctrine… then the 13+ books of the Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor is a rip-roaring and hilarious read about a group of time-travelling archaeologists and absolutely worth your time.
What I’ve been listening to: I would continue to recommend the Deep Leadership podcast for its unmatched mix of high profile and disparate chats with business, sport, charitable sector and other leaders, all grilled by a former US Navy nuclear submarine officer. For those with an interest in the Great War, The Old Front Line series is brilliant as the hosts ‘walk’ you through various battlefields, memorials and sites of interest.
What I’ve been watching: Continuing my eclectic contribution, this year my most notable success has been to introduce Mrs Nick to The Good Place. Even during a full retrospective after a few years since first viewing, it holds its own. Sharp. Brilliantly observed and laugh out loud funny. My other recommendation would be Netflix’s 1899. From the creators of the magnificent The Dark, this atmospheric, wonderfully written and superbly acted thriller is worth every one of its (just short of) 8 hour duration!
What I’ve been reading: This year has been dominated by finishing my part-time MA. I really enjoyed writing my dissertation on deception and strategic communications. My go-to book for this has to be Info Ops: From World War I to the Twitter Era. This book provided a fascinating insight into the world of deception, specifically how creativity and mischievousness is at its heart. I had the pleasure of working with Francesca Granelli whilst studying and can also recommend her book Trust, Politics and Revolution: A European History. Finally, my favourite (free!) newsletter I subscribed to this year is from Caroline Perez, author of Invisible Women. You can subscribe and challenge your thinking on gender data gaps here.
What I’ve been listening to: No different to last year, the Irregular Warfare podcast has been up there. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the sterling work done by the home team. The Wavell Room have released some awesome podcasts this year, from This Means War to Soldier, Sailor, Scientist. Did I mention we also interviewed the Chief of Defence Staff?! Not PME related, but for a bit of light listening on my travels (and channelling my inner Wednesday Addams), I have indulged in Yvette Fielding’s Paranormal Activity podcast. Am I the only one who enjoys being scared… ?
What I’ve been watching: Netflix, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer have been good to me this year. Netflix’s Wednesday was binge watched over a weekend and Prime’s The Devil’s Hour provided a good thriller/mystery short series. However, BBC iPlayer has been the real MVP here. Between Louis Theroux Interviews, Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne and Zara McDermott’s docuseries, it has been a great journey of self-discovery, human psychology and behavioural insights.
(Translator for US speakers)
What I’ve been reading: I am working on a PhD in International Relations so a lot of my reading is consumed with IR theory and methods theory. Nonetheless, I still find time to read outside the confines of my studies. I recently finished Mark Galeotti’s Putin’s Wars, which documents armed conflict throughout Vladimir Putin’s rule of Russia. Having studied Russian history, as well as the Russo-Ukrainian War, in great detail, I found Galeotti’s book one of the most complete and useful books on Russian foreign policy I’ve read in quite a lot time. Definitely something you should pick up. Also, Anthony King’s Will Inter-State War Take Place in Cities? tops my list of academic articles published this year. King’s article builds on the ideas from his book, Urban Warfare in the Twenty-First Century, and asserts a few variables ensure that wars will remain decidedly urban moving into the future – Force sizes are much smaller today than at many points in the past. Smaller forces result in towns no longer being consumed by a mass army operating on a front, but instead urban areas become dominant operating locations for armies striving for parity. As with King’s other works, Will Inter-State War provides a useful injection of Conflict Realism into an overly idealistic view of future war. A definite must for the student of war and warfare.
What I’ve been listening to: I have two podcasts that are worth your time. The first is School of War, hosted by Aaron MacLean. The podcast continually pumps out terrific episodes that discuss a variety of topics in war, warfare, and military and strategic thought. In addition to conceptual and theoretical conversations, MacLean brings in experts to discuss various historical battles, campaigns, and wars. Truly fantastic podcast and well worth your time. The Fly on the Wall podcast, with Dana Carvey and David Spade, is a lighthearted podcast in which Carvey and Spade reflect on their time working at Saturday Night Live. On the podcast they bring in everyone from executive producer Lorne Michaels to Fred Armisen to discuss SNL, as well as other aspects of their career. This is a fun, upbeat podcast that helps offset the gloom that comes with always trying to stay abreast of armed conflict throughout the world.
What I’ve been watching: As one of two Americans on staff with the Wavell Room, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my main viewing pleasure is American college football. The regular season recently concluded and the college football playoffs are about to start. As are many Americans outside of the South, I am happy to see that Alabama and Clemson did not make the playoff this year. As a Midwestern, I am very happy to see both Michigan and Ohio State in the playoff.
(DSTL deputy nerd)
What I’ve been reading: Frankly, far too many fantasy and sci-fi novels! The Burning Kingdoms by Tasha Suri, about a civil war taking place in a Mughal-inspired world, was a particular favourite; as was Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, where gods are banks and lawyers are necromancers. On more directly PME-related ground, George Morton-Jack’s The Indian Empire at War was a brilliant way to look at the First World War through an imperial, rather than British, prism. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a detailed and damning assessment of American policies in Iraq. And I found Tommy and Redcoat by Richard Holmes superb histories of the British soldiering experience from 1700 to 1914 – all well worth a read!
What I’ve been listening to: I’ve been greatly enjoying Revolutions by Mike Duncan, a podcast series covering ten great revolutions from England to Russia across the span of four centuries. The history is engagingly presented—Duncan has a knack for making compelling stories out of seemingly dry details—and the broader lessons insightful. I’ve also recently gotten into The Rest Is Politics with Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell; both incisive observers on current affairs, who’s divergent views make for interesting but still civil conversations.
What I’ve been watching: I haven’t watched a lot of TV this year, but I did carve out time for Andor over on Disney+, which turned out to be an excellent decision. The show depicts the opening moves of the Galactic Civil War from Star Wars with complexity, realism, and consistently superb characterisation for all participants. Even if you’re not into Star Wars, as a standalone spy thriller it’s surely best-in-class.
The Wavell Room Team
The Wavell Room Team are a bunch of enthusiastic individuals who believe strongly in constructive debate, discussion and openness in order to arrive at a sound, non-bias and informed position on many subjects. The team are all volunteers and support this non-profit in their own time.