If I had to describe myself as a reader, it would be that I am a voracious one. I read constantly, have read since I was a very young boy and take great pleasure from it. In fact, my world grows as a result and reading military history from a very young age was undoubtedly a major factor in me becoming the soldier that I always wanted to be. I get great joy out of reading—while traveling, before going to sleep and indeed whenever the opportunity arises, if only for a few pages. I read a wide selection of genres so here are some of my favourites.
This is without a doubt my favourite type of book to read. I absolutely love everything that George MacDonald Fraser wrote, especially The Flashman Papers, The General Danced at Dawn and McAuslan in the Rough. The sober book he wrote of his own experiences in Burma during WWII, in Field Marshall Slim's 14th Army, Quartered Safe Out Here, is also enthralling and shaped me as a soldier, certainly.
Bernard Cornwell is also right at the top of my favourite authors and his best works are the Sharpe series. I've read all 24 of them, numerous times! I appreciate the humour of the soldier's life plus the harsh reality as he presents it. As a soldier, I can empathize with so much of what Sharp encounters. Wonderful reading. When I retired from the military, an envelope was on my desk the very last day and it said simply 'to General Hillier.' Inside was one sheet of paper that said, handwritten, 'with the compliments of LCol Richard Sharpe,' the main character in the series. I was thrilled that someone had reached out to Bernard Cornwell to do this for me!!! To this day, I don't know who did it, but I am indebted to them, immensely.
I like humour, a lot, and Elmore Leonard provides lots of it in his books, so I snap them up as quickly as they become available. Maximum Bob and Get Shorty are two of his best and I find myself laughing out loud at times when reading his work.
I read thrillers as fast as I can obtain them. Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Daniel Silva (whose work is just awesome), John Sandford, Nelson DeMille, Ken Follett and Wilbur Smith are authors that I buy in advance since I enjoy their work so much. I think I've read everything each has written. The work of Edward Rutherfurd, although not the same category, is also enthralling and Paris and The Prince of Ireland are wonderful. I've not looked at the Eiffel Tower the same since reading Paris.
Military history is my favourite reading, by far. I enjoy Antony Beevor, especially his book Ardennes 1944, but many others also. Stephen Ambrose's biography of General Eisenhower is wonderful and Hugh Ambrose’s The Pacific, about WWII in the Pacific, is magnificent and addictive. I've read it five times. Rick Atkinson's trilogy on WWII is wonderful and, although American-centric, captured me.
Canadian military historians are wonderful, and we have some of the best. People like Jack Granatstein, Terry Copp, Tim Cook, Lee Windsor and Mark Zuehlke—just to name a few—help tell the story of our greatest generation and how those men and women stood tall, at terrible cost, when the world needed them. Whether it’s Ortona, Cassino, Fight to the Finish, Cinderella Army, Juno or others, I am always moved by the story they tell and how the massive struggle for freedom and liberty in the defining moment of human civilization came down to individual men and women doing their duty, time after time, despite sheer terror, discomfort and no obvious window at the end of the tunnel. Those authors, and their subjects, are inspirational and they make me proud, so proud, to be Canadian. As Chief of Defence Staff, I tried at every occasion to showcase Canada's present generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen, special forces troopers and their families for the incredible people they are, doing so much and asking for so little.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my movies are along the same line! A Bridge Too Far is my all-time favourite, with Saving Private Ryan a close second. The classic, The Man Who Would Be King, bringing Afghanistan and its wonderful people into view is also hypnotic. For pure, enjoyable entertainment, True Grit with Jeff Bridges is something I will enjoy any time I have the chance.
Don't miss your chance to hear from General Rick Hillier at our 2019 EPL Gala: An Evening with General Rick Hillier on Thursday, Sept. 26.