Big changes to The Commandant’s Professional Reading List Program were recently announced. For anyone not in the know, the United States Marine Corps has a professional reading list, packed full of titles that are meant to educate Marines and inculcate them with the Corps’ values. We explained how it typically works in a previous article, but a good deal of that has now shifted, mostly for the better.
We here at Busy Nest News love a reading list, especially a list meant to develop leadership, creativity, and resilience. We believe any org can benefit from developing a reading list for its members. The Commandant’s Reading List has been updated regularly since it was established in 1989, so it’s always been one of our first stops when we’re looking for the next book in our respective self-development journeys. So what are these changes, and why are they a big deal? Doesn’t the list get updated frequently anyway? Read on for my initial analysis of the changes.
(Before we go any further, let's make this important disclaimer: Busy Nest News is in no way sponsored nor endorsed by the United States Marine Corps or any other branch of the US Armed Services. All opinions and properties belong solely to the creators of this site and no one else.)
CPRP 2020: More Than an Update
The biggest change to the list is that the latest version is no longer broken into sections by rank. Marines were previously encouraged to read any part of the list (as well as periodicals and anything else they think might be helpful), but they were required to read at least two titles in “their” section annually. Now anyone can read from one of five topics. The topics are: Commandant’s Choice, Profession of Arms, Innovation, Leadership, and Strategy.
A Shorter List
The next big change followers of the list will note is that it’s half as long! The last version of the list had 97 titles on it, whereas the latest version has only 46. Some legacy books that have never left the list are still there, but there are also many newer titles. This list may be shorter, but it has depth.
Shift in Priorities
Content-wise, this list is a real tune-up. The spirit of the old lists persists; there are many books about Marine Corps history, strategy, and the future of war, just as one would expect of a military reading list. However, some new titles stand out as indicators of a decided shift in focus and values. There are two books specific to women’s experiences in modern war. Several books about more recent conflicts have taken the place of (some) longtime list residents about Korea and Vietnam. Finally, the Leadership section provides a reading goal that any would-be leader should be striving for, with more focus on empathy, vulnerability, and resilience.
Eliminating the rank-based tiers of the list really makes it feel like it’s been opened up. When interacting on a base with people and services, there’s a stark divide between officer and enlisted, and even junior or senior people within those groups. These are important boundaries for a lot of reasons; mostly for “good order and discipline,” but also because some things just aren’t available to you, and trying to access them makes things awkward for everyone. You learn very early on to avoid things that aren’t labeled as being for your group. I’m sure a certain amount of this was happening with the old lists, and it caused Marines (even subconsciously) to avoid anything that wasn’t one of “their” books.
Making the list significantly shorter will be a big help, too. Just printing it all on one page was difficult before. People get overwhelmed when there are too many choices! Individuals will probably read a greater portion of the list now that it’s easier to choose what to read next. Also, it’s a much more efficient use of resources! Every Marine Corps library has to order multiple copies of every book on the Commandant’s List. Half as many titles means that the same funds can purchase more copies of each, and in more formats.
The titles on the latest list also show recognition of how people consume books now. Of the books on the list, 85% are available as eBooks on the Navy’s Overdrive service, and 61% are available as audiobooks. The Commandant knows that his Marines are not monks, the barracks are not medieval dormitories, and their rooms are not monastery cells. Many units are experiencing a very high op-tempo, and selecting titles that can be easily downloaded to a phone, tablet, or dedicated e-reader acknowledges that need for accessibility and hands-free use. Oh, and podcasts are encouraged, too! The newly revamped webpage has a few titles to get you started (plus a printable brochure of the reading list that fits on a normal piece of paper ). Audiobooks and podcasts are very popular for individual workouts and interminable waits for transportation, so it's nice to see them being embraced as a medium.
The big surprise on the list is Maximilian Uriarte’s The White Donkey: Terminal Lance, which is a graphic novel- a genre/medium which has never previously appeared on the list. No one was surprised when The White Donkey became a bestseller, as Uriarte has long been affectionately and sarcastically speaking truth about Marine Corps life in his comic, Terminal Lance. What’s surprising is that a graphic novel by a former salty senior Lance Corporal is being encouraged as basically mandatory reading across the Corps. Just further evidence that this version of the list really seeks to connect with Marines through their struggles, even when the source of some of their problems is the Corps itself.
As a whole, I’m very excited about these changes. I think more Marines will find it easier to navigate and actually do their reading. The truly great legacy books about past wars stand out, now that they aren’t surrounded by less interesting works about the same era. The Leadership section is a particular gem, as just about any leader could lift that whole chunk of the list and benefit from it in a civilian context. My disappointment is just limited to some of my favorite titles that didn’t make the latest cut, including Grit and Blink, and I have a few more that have never been on the list that I think would be beneficial. But, there are bound to be many people bummed to see their favorites leave. In general, I’m pleasantly surprised by these changes.
Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
Let's keep in touch!