When we think of the men and women who serve our country, we envision those enlisted in the armed forces. Yet there are so many, many more ways to serve ― not only for America but the world. For this list, we’ve gathered together the memoirs of six fascinating individuals. Some are military and some are civilian, yet what they all share in common is service. Each has a unique story to tell and a set of lessons to impart to us about leadership, courage and survival writ large on the world stage.


When the Tempest Gathers by Andrew Milburn (Pen and Sword Books)
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Andrew Milburn’s memoir of his service as a Marine Corps leader in Mogadishu, Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and in the fight against ISIS puts readers into the mind, body and soul of a warrior. He recounts one precarious leadership assignment after another in such visceral detail, we feel and understand the experience as he lived it. Milburn takes you inside his feelings, whether it is simply assessing strategy at a battle scene, sucking it up under the weight of constant high-level scrutiny, or having to identify bodies from a helicopter crash and travel the country to console their families. Gluttons for military detail will marvel at this work and appreciate the fine writing. Milburn comes off as a great history teacher as he dissects his experiences within the big picture, but also captures the human drama and emotion of men in the trenches, banded together in the most unusual of circumstances. Read Jim Alkon’s full review here.


The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel by Robert Mazur (Back Bay Books)
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This crazy memoir, which inspired the 2016 movie The Infiltrator starring infamous fake drug kingpin Bryan Cranston, tells the real-life story of an undercover agent who spent years gaining entry into the world of black market drug deals. In the midst of crazy parties, expensive private jets and bottles of champagne more expensive than my car, Robert Mazur was collecting details that would one day help bring down the businessmen behind some of the world’s biggest drug cartels. It’s an intense book, but a good between-seasons fix for fans of Netflix’s Narcos as they await a verdict on a third-season renewal for Narcos: Mexico. ―Katie Hires


Switched On: The Heart and Mind of a Special Agent by Eric J. Caron (Gatekeeper Press)
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Former U.S. Special Agent Eric J. Caron has taken on missions that span the globe during his 25-year career. More than a memoir, Caron relates survival lessons he’s learned in the field, including a state of well-prepared and in-the-moment awareness he calls being “switched on” — “a coat of armor,” he says, “that protects you from all types of threats, in all aspects of life.” In his narrative, Caron jumps seamlessly from tales of his upbringing and difficult family matters to finding himself in the thick of — and often heading up — security and intelligence cases. His investigations ranged from terrorist threats, to transnational crime, the illegal drug trade, U.S. defense contractors and CIA going rogue, to the WMD programs of Iran, China and Russia. His most challenging case would be a mere mile from his family home, and grip the nation. It made for an exciting and dangerous life, but Caron says he made it through by following core personal values instilled in him as a boy. This memoir is an incredible ride that takes us behind the scenes for a close look at one of our country’s seldom-publicized guardians. Read Jim Alkon’s full review here.


Serving to Lead: Lessons in Adversity and Resilience from the Battlefield, Gridiron and the Corporate World by Sgt. Major Keith L. Craig (R) (Best Seller Publishing LLC)
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“Leadership is … about taking care of the group first and serving yourself last — mission, people and then self.” So goes the philosophy of service, strategy and leadership honed by Sgt. Major Keith L. Craig (R) through his 32 years in the Army, stint in professional football, and corporate career. In this “memoir slash leadership primer,” Craig recounts his rise from an impoverished child in the South to becoming one of the Army’s highest-ranking non-commissioned officers, serving in six combat tours under as many presidents, and later being part of a record-breaking theatrical distribution team at Disney. He guides us through a step-by-step system designed to help would-be leaders define their mission, make a plan, set the tone, rehearse the plan and pre-execute it. Preparation is a key factor in success. Included are plentiful personal and historical anecdotes that drive the lessons home. Craig’s journey is an inspirational and impressive example of what can be accomplished by following an intelligent, structured, productive course. Read Jim Alkon’s full review here.


Blue Grit: A Life on the Humanitarian Front Lines of the United Nations by Ulf T. Kristoffersson (CreateSpace)
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“I have been shot at, taken hostage, bombed, threatened and evacuated. I’ve witnessed the evidence of massacres and famines. I’ve put colleagues in body bags.” This is no global thriller we’re talking about. This is the fascinating and often-harrowing memoir of Ulf T. Kristoffersson,  reflecting on the most perilous humanitarian and peacekeeping missions of his 40-year career with the United Nations. Kristoffersson served six Secretaries-General, joined four UN agencies, was posted to 17 duty stations, operating in nine emergencies and traveled to close to 100 countries. His book is an up-close account of how the UN operates, how it affects the people who serve it, and a primer on some of the international crises in which it has offered support and relief. The book provides a candid inside look at an important world organization, analyzed not only with a bird’s eye view but from deep in the trenches, with the strains of people in the throes of assault and struggling to survive. Read Jim Alkon’s full review here.


Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA’s War on Terror by Thomas Pecora with Jon Land and Lindsay Preston (Post Hill Press)
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For 24 years, Thomas Pecora was a CIA security officer tasked with protecting America’s intelligence personnel during some of the most precarious moments in history. In this bracing memoir, Pecora describes a life under the constant threat of ambush and enemy fire while providing diplomatic security in the world’s most dangerous and lawless environments. His assignments took him to multiple war zones across Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East, working behind the scenes and doing the kind of work few are even aware exists. From the escalating lead-up to the 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia, to areas of the world in which terrorist gangs such as Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah, Hamas and Abu Nidal reigned supreme, Pecora functioned in a constant state of hypervigilance to protect himself and others. Guardian presents a fascinating narrative and rare opportunity to get an insider’s look into the little-known and often-misunderstood world of CIA protective operations. Read Garrett Sweitzer’s full review here.