Don’t Just Read History

By | August 25, 2020

[August 25, 2020]  A regular theme found in my leadership website is the value of reading, especially the reading of history.  Reading is vital for the development of the mind and helping leaders improve their performance.  However, what is not generally recognized is that readers must also evaluate each reading as to the validity of the research and the author’s knowledge and biases.

I’ll begin with two examples.  There are many histories of the events in the Pacific during WWII in which Gen. Douglas MacArthur played a significant role.  One is American Caesar by William Manchester.  Another is Eagle Against the Sun by Ronald H. Spector.  The need for the evaluation of opinions, as distinguished from historical fact, here are two illustrative extracts:

“Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect.  Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at-arms this nation has produced.” – from American Caesar, book jacket

“My own view of MacArthur is that despite his undoubted qualities of leadership, he was unsuited by temperament, character, and judgment for the positions of high command which he occupied throughout the war.” – from Eagle Against the Sun, book’s introduction

Both these books are based on an established history of WWII in the Pacific, involve comprehensive research, and cover the same ground.  They include one of the most dominant and dynamic military commanders in this or any war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman does this in his book and evaluates each of the author’s background and research.1  He notes that both Manchester and Spector were in the U.S. Marines in a combat area.  Both are established writers.  Both have done incredible research on the war in the Pacific and have produced numerous books and articles on the subject.

We are fortunate that Maj. Gen. Newman has his own personal observations of Gen. MacArthur (which none of these two authors had).  Newman served with MacArthur over 24 years and with MacArthur during WWII from 1943-45 from Australia into New Guinea.  He agrees with Manchester’s assessment of MacArthur.  Spector’s ideas were simply wrong.

Some comments.  The aim of any leader should be to evaluate whatever is read.  First, an accurate grasp and understanding of historical individuals, operations, and activities can be obtained only after multiple readings on the subject.  And second, time blurs what occurred the further back in time we go.


  1. What are Generals Made Of? By Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman, USA (Ret)
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Just Read History

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Well said and a lesson in just being a normal, successful human being. Evaluate. Your judgment matters more than you may think. This message is very positive and not short of enlightenment for those of us caught up in the pandemic and rioting. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Newtown Manager

      Exactly, Dennis. Thanks for making a point I was going to make.

  2. Eric Coda

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another spot-on blog post about a valuable subject. My history lessons mostly came from veterans of various wars. I learned more from them than from any book or course on history.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      You were a lucky person, Eric to have learned so much from those that were there at the ‘tip of the spear’ in combat. Too much of what we learn today is not real in our minds, just junk data.

    2. Jonathan B.

      Evaluation is the ability to reach an informed judgment about the value of a source to your historical topic. It answers the question: ‘How useful and reliable is this source?’

      1. Billy Kenningston

        Good point, Jonathan. Haven’t heard from you in a while, hope all is well.

  3. JT Patterson

    Read about riots and “protests” in the past of the US. Be sure to read multiple sources. Pay attention to what is written in today’s article. You will learn about riots that they DO NOT WORK. The anti-captialist rioters like in Portland and Seattle will not get what they want.

    1. Randy Goodman

      Just another reason I keep coming back to The Leader Maker blog. Loving it. Gives me a small snippet each morning when I get up and get a cup of coffee.

  4. Forrest Gump

    Stupid is as stupid does, oh, I keep writing that here in Gen. Satterfield’s blog. I do it because so many are not paying attention. So, get out of your rut and read history but also evaluate history as well. Just don’t take it word for word. Question what you read.

  5. Harry Donner

    Hey guys, a bit off subject but have you been following the riots in our major cities across the USA? If not, do so. What is the pattern? The mayors of each of those cities ENCOURAGES the rioting. Just listen to them talk. Hmmm, I wonder why? No really, they just want to show that Pres Trump is “BAD MAN” and should be defeated in the upcoming election. Riots = lose election. Simpleton strategy.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yeah, nothing matters to these mayors (and some state governors) except power and since they are, in their minds, superior to the rest of us (just call them ‘elites’). Sounds a lot like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, doesn’t it. If you don’t see the connection, then you are blinded by the darkeness.

    2. Linux Man

      Sad that the mayors are not doing anything really effective. Just look at NYC’s stupid mayor de Blasio.

  6. Doug Smith

    You hit this one out of the park, don’t believe everything you read, evaluate it with your good judgment to start.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Yes, and that is not all. Use the brain God gave you to question everything, don’t assume anything, … you know what to do.

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