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Recommended reading for street cops, from Dale Carnegie to Sun Tzu

Editor’s Note: Wearing “blinders” in the bookstore (or the public library) is a problem for people in every profession. Economists tend to read books about economics, pilots read about flying, doctors read about doctoring... But in police work, you will encounter all manner of person, challenge, level of intellect, etc. The only way to prepare is to give some thought (and time spent reading) about as many subjects as possible. Here, PoliceOne Columnist Jim Guffey provides a list of books he says can help you on the street. What are the books you’ve read that have, at least on the surface, nothing to do with law enforcement, but wound up helping you in the job?” Post your recommended reading in the comments area below.

This article is one that I’ve thought quite a bit about, but was never sure about writing. I finally decided that there is nothing wrong with making a case for getting smarter by reading the right kind of books. I’ve found that most police officers — and believe me I was no exception — have a tendency to read only those books that deal with police work itself. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is quite a bit of wisdom hidden in other books that can make your life as a police officer much better.

What do I mean by that? Simply put, by reading a wide array of subjects, you will be able to navigate through some of life’s tougher moments much easier. Also, some of these books enable you to develop strategies that can help you develop winning techniques both on and off the job. So, in no particular order, here is a list of eight books that I believe every officer should take the time to read.

“The Art of War”  by Sun Tzu
Probably the best book on strategy ever written. Not only can these strategies help in daily life, but a smart police officer will take some time to think about how to employ some of the thoughts in this book as creative tactics out on the street. As an example, the chapter on spies could just as easily apply to confidential informants.

“The Prince”  by Machiavelli
Police work is, unfortunately, tied to politics. We are usually run by governmental agencies in some form or another. If there is one book that virtually every politician has read, it is this one. There is nothing more important than knowing how an opponent might think, and this primer on how to gain (and keep) political power does just that. Get a modern English translation — take my word for it when I tell you that version is easier to follow.

“Rules for Radicals”  by Saul Alinsky
Saul Alinsky was an organizer in Chicago during the ‘50s and ‘60s. He tended to lean toward the socialist viewpoint but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an excellent primer on how to go about dealing with governments and getting them to change their ways. He offers step-by-step instructions in this book — these are invaluable if you have to deal with your local power structure as a contract negotiator or something similar. To show how much I like this book, I still have the copy I bought when I was in college. It cost seventy five cents back then.

“The Book of Five Rings”  by Miyamoto Musashi
Probably Japan’s greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi was never defeated in something like 46 sword fights. Like the “Art of War,” take the tactics and techniques presented and see how they can be applied in life and on the street.

“The Mafia Manager”  by “V”
This was supposedly written by a capo in organized crime. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t. I just know that it is one of the best books I’ve ever read on how to conduct yourself in an office environment. Additionally, in three places in the book there are pages with a series of proverbs. Some of them are the best to get you thinking. Two examples are; “If you want to pull a snake from its hole, use another man’s hand” and, my personal favorite, “All who snore are not sleeping”.

“On Killing”  by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
This book examines, in detail, how an individual reacts to the necessity of killing and how this affects society. It also, if you think in reverse, explains why the civilian population views us as it does. Heavy reading but worth it.

“Verbal Judo”  by George Thompson
I wish this book was around back when I was a young rookie officer. I used to think the best way through a door was with a sledge hammer or a solid shoulder hit. However, as I got older and healed slower, I began to realize that it might be smarter to simply get the guy on the other side of the door to open it. This is what this book does. It shows you how to get people to do what you want them to do without knowing they’re doing it.

“How To Win Friends and Influence People”  by Dale Carnegie
Like Verbal Judo, this book explains (almost in a step-by-step fashion) how to make other people like being around you and how to get them to do what you want. I don’t know about any of you, but I think this is a valuable skill to develop. You need to work on it but once developed, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to read people and get them to change their mind, and therefore change their behaviors.

There you have it, eight books that, for the most part, are easy reading but full of good ideas, tips, and strategies if you take your time and think a little. Also, they are all available as used books on Amazon.com and other places, so you can get them as a reduced price if you want.

I’ve always believed that you should explore every avenue that is available if you want to increase your smarts and your chances of survival. I think these books can do just that. There’s nothing wrong with books specifically about police work. As a matter of fact you’d be foolish to not read Chuck Remsberg’s Tactical Edge or any number of others available to you, but wisdom comes in all shapes and packages. Never overlook or forsake one because its relationship to your success and your survival is not “obvious.”

Stay safe.

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