British military historian John Keegan, the author of such groundbreaking works as The Face of Battle, addresses some fundamental questions about war: Is man innately violent? Are soldiers like other men? Is a disciplined army essential for a civilization’s success? With interludes on such topics as fortifications, weaponry, and logistics, and interesting perspectives on some of history’s great military leaders, Keegan’s study offers an expansive, panoramic view of warfare.
©1993 John Keegan (P)1994 Recorded Books
Text Book Worm
This is a very well written, very well read history. I just can't give five stars to a book that spends so much energy disagreeing with the great war theorist Carl von Clausewitz.
A History of Warfare is probably one of the most interesting (and dense) nonfiction books I've read, even considering all the ones I read during my years in college. John Keegan is able to paint a fairly good picture of where aggression--warfare, as we call it now--came from by analyzing the findings of anthropologists studying tribal people. He is then able to move us forward by logically filling in the gaps between that stage and the point where recorded history begins. All of this is done in a very academic way, which makes for a very interesting read, but perhaps one that is a little over-complicated.
As I went through the book, there were a few flaws that I noticed, though. Most of these revolve around the overall Euro-centric viewpoint adopted by the author. Even though he refers to archaeology done in southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle-east and South America, he tends to skim over the intracacies of these cultures and focuses on how they relate to European war-making. This Euro-centricity is pervasive, but not necessarily surprising considering his background and the declared aims of the book. That aim is basically to refute the claim in Carl von Clausewitz's claim in On War that "War is a continuation of politics by other means." I was convinced by the time I finished the book, but it almost felt as though Keegan was beating the reader over the head with his point.
The second point I need to bring up is the use of language. This book is not for a casual reader. It is probably required reading in some universities, and the language reflects that level. I listened to the audiobook, and I probably listened to the entire book one and a half times, because I had to hit the rewind button so many times. It is interesting. It is a very good read. But it is very dense. Anyone who does not have a university degree might find themselves scratching their heads at some of the writing, unless the reader is very accustomed to heavy academic writing.
As for the narration, it moved along at a brisk pace (read: a little on the fast side.) Mr. Stuart reads as if he's a university professor giving a lecture, which is easy on the ears, but a little hard on the brain. If you can sit and listen with little to no distraction, you won't notice any issues. But if you're like me and your attention is grabbed by things on your commute, you might want to be careful about this one. It's written in such a way that if your mind wanders for a few seconds, you might have missed something important.
That being said, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It brought up a lot of points that I had never considered before, and conveyed a strong message about what warfare has become and why.
"More than just warfare..."
Perfect. Informative and incredibly interesting. What starts as a history of war becomes a history of human civilisation. I cannot recommend this book enough.
"What can I say?"
Well I'm prepared to try! A breathtakingly broad history and in depth research into warfare, this book literally contains everything you would ever want to know about method, tactics and strategy used in warfare from the old Stone Age right up to the modern day. Broken down into easy to absorb chapters this will still require more than the two listens I have given this just because of the amount of information it contains.
This is surely Mr Keegans Magnus Opus. I recommend this to any military history buff or anyone with a general interest in military history. I will probably give this a listen at least two or three times a year.
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