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The acclaimed author of The Face of Battle examines centures of conflict in a variety of diverse societies and cultures. "Keegan is at once the most readable and the most original of living military historians . . . A History of Warfare is perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."--The New York Times Book Review. The acclaimed author of The Face of Battle examines centures of conflict in a variety of diverse societies and cultures. "Keegan is at once the most readable and the most original of living military historians . . . A History of Warfare is perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."--The New York Times Book Review.


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The acclaimed author of The Face of Battle examines centures of conflict in a variety of diverse societies and cultures. "Keegan is at once the most readable and the most original of living military historians . . . A History of Warfare is perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."--The New York Times Book Review. The acclaimed author of The Face of Battle examines centures of conflict in a variety of diverse societies and cultures. "Keegan is at once the most readable and the most original of living military historians . . . A History of Warfare is perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."--The New York Times Book Review.

30 review for A History of Warfare

  1. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Brilliant. A cultural history of war from antiquity to the present day in a single volume. Keegan starts with the symbolic forms of war among the so called "primitives," including those from the neolithic, using much archaeological evidence to do so. He then moves on to the advent of the chariot by the ancient Thracians and Egyptians, and its eventual supersession by the compound-bow wielding horse peoples from the Eurasian steppes (Huns, Mongols, Magyars, et. al). Then the subsequent heyday of Brilliant. A cultural history of war from antiquity to the present day in a single volume. Keegan starts with the symbolic forms of war among the so called "primitives," including those from the neolithic, using much archaeological evidence to do so. He then moves on to the advent of the chariot by the ancient Thracians and Egyptians, and its eventual supersession by the compound-bow wielding horse peoples from the Eurasian steppes (Huns, Mongols, Magyars, et. al). Then the subsequent heyday of mounted cavalry whose hold over various cultures (Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, etc.) was so strong it meant their undoing once gunpowder arrived. That's a constant refrain here, warriors stuck in outdated modes of warfare that ensure their demise. For example, there's the discussion of fortification and its ability to sustain long seiges, and how this all changed in the gunpowder era and led to radically different designs. Much discussion too on the disposition of troops in the field (the Greek phalanx, the Napoleonic manouever, etc.), methods of logistics and supply, evolution of naval warfare (from the Greek trireme to the modern ironclad) etc. In the end the book constitutes a methodical disproving of Clausewitz. To wit, War is not the continuation of policy by other means. The world would be a simpler place to understand if this dictum of Clausewitz's were true. Clausewitz, a Prussian veteran of the Napoleonic wars who used his years of retirement to compose what was destined to become the most famous book on war—called On War—ever written, actually wrote that war is the continuation "of political intercourse" (des politischen Verkehrs) "with the intermixing of other means" (mit Einmischung anderer Mittel). The original German expresses a more subtle and complex idea than the English words in which it is so frequently quoted. In either form, however, Clausewitz's thought is incomplete. It implies the existence of states, of state interests and rational calculation about how they may be achieved. Yet war antedates the state, diplomacy and strategy by many millennia. Keegan's solution for moving beyond the culturally limited and blinkered view of Clausewitz is fascinating. I've read the book twice, which should be praise enough.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Clausewitzing: "A History of Warfare" by John Keegan (Original Review, 2002-06-10) There is easy rubbish and difficult trash. Of course, a lot of books with high literary merit will be more demanding for/ of the reader than, say, neckbiters, which are all fashioned by formula. But equalling the ease of a read with literary worthlessness would fail to acknowledge e.g., all those wonderful, amazing children's classics, which are as loved b If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Clausewitzing: "A History of Warfare" by John Keegan (Original Review, 2002-06-10) There is easy rubbish and difficult trash. Of course, a lot of books with high literary merit will be more demanding for/ of the reader than, say, neckbiters, which are all fashioned by formula. But equalling the ease of a read with literary worthlessness would fail to acknowledge e.g., all those wonderful, amazing children's classics, which are as loved by readers as they are praised by critics.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Wow. Do not go head-to-head with this erudite military historian. Sweeping in its range--from 6000 BC fertile crescent to Cold War mutually assured destruction; inclusive in its coverage--from the Manchu in North Korea to the Mamelukes in Egypt to the Yanomamo in Brazil; comprehensive in its topics--from stone to flesh to iron to fire. This is truly a history of warfare. As a member of the military, I was introduced, taught to memorize, encouraged to stress, and told to believe the tenants of the Wow. Do not go head-to-head with this erudite military historian. Sweeping in its range--from 6000 BC fertile crescent to Cold War mutually assured destruction; inclusive in its coverage--from the Manchu in North Korea to the Mamelukes in Egypt to the Yanomamo in Brazil; comprehensive in its topics--from stone to flesh to iron to fire. This is truly a history of warfare. As a member of the military, I was introduced, taught to memorize, encouraged to stress, and told to believe the tenants of the putative father of warfare, Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz argues that warfare is 'the extension of politics by other means,' and John Keegan begins his History of Warfare by laying out the tools by which he will utterly destroy that thesis. Modern western military treats Clausewitzian theory as hallowed and consecrated as the Shroud of Turin. However, I've always had the sneaking suspicion that a single theory of warfare, held unequivocally, had to be in error. Keegan simply gives me the arguments to defend this suspicion of mine. There's nothing incorrect about Clausewitz' theories. However, Keegan uses dozens of cultural examples of warfare to show that, instead of being universal, Clausewitz' theories are only appropriate to a certain time in history, specific to a particular kind of warfighter, and applicable to a unique set of resolves from the warring nations. Keegan makes a parting appeal to Western military not to fall victim to tenants of warfare that today seem immutable. These may merely be in favor to a Western way of warfare, but could change based on a number of events. The take-away from this book is Keegan's methodical progress through the turning points in the history of warfare. He underscores the warfare utility of animal domestication, the chariot, fortifications, the warhorse, the phalanx, and gunpowder. He discusses the unique implications of culture on warfare technique, tactics, and procedures. Each warfighting organization was dominant in its time and area based on a unique set of guiding, cultural principles. The Zulus, the Magyars--Vikings, Spartans, Huns; the Roman legions, the British navy--Samurai, Aztec, Ottomans; all practiced a kind of warfare that was born of a logical accumulation of regional technology, culture, and exposure to adjacent warfighters. Meanwhile, Keegan's encyclopedic knowledge of all things warfare allows him to effortlessly draw parallels between cultures separated by thousands of years, and to find worthwhile links in strategy embodied by militaries as diverse from one another as Mongols and the US Confederacy, conquistidores and the German luftwaffe. Keegan begins with an intriguing denial of Clausewitz, and seems to set this as his overall theme. However, he often writes for up to 50 pages without revisiting his theme. He offers a well written chronology of warfare, but rarely makes the connection between it and Clausewitz. I believe the book would have been more focused if Keegan's theme was mentioned within each chapter, or as he calls them, interludes. Instead, we have a history of warfare that begins and ends with a conversation about Clausewitz, but little reference in between. I'm left learning a lot about warfare, but without an overriding theme, the breadth of this book is too much for only 490+ pages. It ultimately reads as a glancing--though scholarly--review of the highlights of warfare. 4 stars for a balanced, skilled review of the fundamental movements of 8000 years of warfare. No more than 4 stars because this is the abridged Britannica of warfare, should have been longer or more focused, and could have been the seminal book to deny Clausewitz.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike Edwards

    A horrid book for two reasons. First, Keegen willfully misrepresents Clausewitz. Clausewitz argues that warfare takes place within a political context, and is, in fact completely defined by that political context: hence "war is a continuation of politics by another means". Keegan attacks Clausewitz for advocating warfare as a rational way for countries to settle their differences; a position that Clausewitz never takes, because Clausewitz is very clearly describing what is, no what should be. Fo A horrid book for two reasons. First, Keegen willfully misrepresents Clausewitz. Clausewitz argues that warfare takes place within a political context, and is, in fact completely defined by that political context: hence "war is a continuation of politics by another means". Keegan attacks Clausewitz for advocating warfare as a rational way for countries to settle their differences; a position that Clausewitz never takes, because Clausewitz is very clearly describing what is, no what should be. For Clausewitz, war is a tool of political leaders, albeit an especially dangerous and unpredictable one. Keegan's version of Clausewitz is incredibly skewed, which makes his frequent attacks on Clausewitz largely non-sensical. Second, Keegan's own analysis of warfare relies heavily on his belief that warfare is the result of an outpouring of passion and emotion. Certainly emotion plays a role in warfare, both in the progress of particular battles and in the decision to go to war in the first place. But Keegan overstates his case, so much so that he cannot explain why peace ever breaks out.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Miloș Dumbraci

    By no means a ”History of Warfare” (and that title is a cheating of the buyer), the book is also not even a book in itself, but just an overgrown academic pompous 400 pages essay with no structure or clear idea of what it wants and where it goes. It s just an obsessive ramble about how Clausewitz is wrong, but not exactly about what could be put instead of his ideas. And how could one call himself a military historian and write things like ”From whatever reasons - the subject is extremely comple By no means a ”History of Warfare” (and that title is a cheating of the buyer), the book is also not even a book in itself, but just an overgrown academic pompous 400 pages essay with no structure or clear idea of what it wants and where it goes. It s just an obsessive ramble about how Clausewitz is wrong, but not exactly about what could be put instead of his ideas. And how could one call himself a military historian and write things like ”From whatever reasons - the subject is extremely complex - the Revolutionary armies proved almost impossible to beat”? ”From whatever reason” and thats it, we just go on because it would take a few paragraphs to actually explain? And the reasons are in fact well-known and not mysterious at all. Shameful. And by the way, Clausewitz was NOT wrong. Just read some history, damn it...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I read this book back when it came out and picked it up again just to see if I'd find it as enlightening now, 20 years on, as I did when I first read it. As an overview of the world history of war and conflict, Keegan does an admirable job. By necessity in a book in which large swaths of history are being described, any number of details and conflicts will be ignored or given short shrift. The particulars of African warfare are dealt with by describing the Zulu under Shaka, which makes as much se I read this book back when it came out and picked it up again just to see if I'd find it as enlightening now, 20 years on, as I did when I first read it. As an overview of the world history of war and conflict, Keegan does an admirable job. By necessity in a book in which large swaths of history are being described, any number of details and conflicts will be ignored or given short shrift. The particulars of African warfare are dealt with by describing the Zulu under Shaka, which makes as much sense as any other of the war leaders used as the paradigms to describe the "war as culture" theme Keegan strives for with this over-arching summary of human history. In many ways, his text is more "An Anthropology of Warfare" than a history of it. The author takes pains to describe the cultural values that those leaders represent in broader terms, the exceptional military leaders of the past become the paradigms through which his premise is presented. As a result, the book has all of the merits and some of the failings to which "Big Man" history often succumbs. Though he masters the strengths of that focus, Keegan appears generally unaware or unable to address the weaknesses. His focus on Shaka as the stand-in for African cultural warfare means that the lower intensity warfare of the centuries that precede the rise of that leader and the decline of centralization that came after get little attention in this book, though—given the "war as culture" theme—they really should be recognized as the backbone of his premise. Keegan does not ignore them entirely, but they are less spectacular and simply get less attention. It's hard to conclude, therefore, that his premise (that the methods and means of war are a function of culture rather than politics) is entirely substantiated. Culture is broader than those leaders, even if we take them as the proverbial tip of the spear rather than—probably more accurately—aberrations produced by cultures in crisis. However, Keegan's real target is Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz and the dictum "War is a mere continuation of politics by other means." It is to refute that idea that the "war as culture" concept primarily functions in this book. Keegan acknowledges that his predecessor's thesis has been mistranslated from the original, often misinterpreted, and generally misapplied, but also holds von Clausewitz responsible for the extremes that those who used that term to justify their actions would go to in later centuries. How responsible von Clausewitz (or any theorist) actually is for those who used his language to justify their actions is highly debatable. The world is rife with philosophical constructs and pseudo-ethics that can be used to rationalize the full range of human behaviors. Nonetheless, Keegan is right in his assessment of the errors involved in both the original concept as von Clausewitz imagined it, and the thinking of those who took the idea to such absurd levels of intellectual depravity as to lead their nations into orgies of genocide, suicide and slaughter. In doing so, Keegan gives a substantial, if necessarily limited, view of the cultural origins of warfare going back to its tribal manifestation up to the first Gulf War. The book is well worth reading for those who want an introduction to the study of the history of war on that basis alone. Keegan does occasionally struggle with his own preconceptions, but I'd argue less so than many other working historians, and we as readers can be perhaps more forgiving of his intellectual limitations than he is of others—particularly von Clausewitz. Likewise, we should take some of the historians that he quotes and references with skepticism. Victor Hanson, for instance, figures prominently among those Keegan cites, and it's clear that he more often than not agrees with his colleague. Hanson is a controversial figure on a number of levels, and having read a few of his books in the years between first reading A History of Warfare and this re-read, I have many more reservations about his ideas than Keegan appears to have had. So, if one is inclined to take certain components of this book with a grain of salt, there are sections where the salt needs to be applied more thickly. In this reading, I'm less convinced that Keegan's reboot of "war is politics" into "war is culture" idea is substantially more valuable or less prone to twisting out of shape than von Clauswitz. Were the same powers of mistranslation, misinterpretation and rationalization applied to Keegan as he notes were applied to von Clauswitz, the results could very well be the same, and some future historian might pen a world history in which he presents a rival thesis to refute Keegan. Furthermore, in some respects the warnings that Keegan makes regarding the dangers of modern war, as well as his hopeful predictions for the future are problematic given the events in the years since this book was published. However, many of the fundamental ideas he expresses remain valid, and at the very least the idea that war is a product of the cultures that engage in it apply to his writing as well. Keegan is a product of his time—a brief hiatus after the fall of the Soviets and the constant state of low-grade conflict that is the post-9/11 international War on Terror. But those events don't necessarily invalidate his points. In fact, in many ways we can still see them as ideals that need to be expressed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Though ostensibly a refutation of Clausewitz's theory of war (policy by other means and all that) A History of Warfare does not get mired in theory, and treats the reader to an overview of war as it was practiced by various peoples at various times. In Clausewitz's view war is a practical violence, like a game of chess played with meat. Perhaps sometimes it is, but it is also otherwise — a practice at odds with the goals of those who would be its master, an anachronism preserved against innovati Though ostensibly a refutation of Clausewitz's theory of war (policy by other means and all that) A History of Warfare does not get mired in theory, and treats the reader to an overview of war as it was practiced by various peoples at various times. In Clausewitz's view war is a practical violence, like a game of chess played with meat. Perhaps sometimes it is, but it is also otherwise — a practice at odds with the goals of those who would be its master, an anachronism preserved against innovation in the ways we kill, and perhaps ultimately something mankind has perfected beyond suitability as means to any human goal. The technology of war is well accounted in this book, as are the intertwined attitudes and beliefs of the warriors that utilized the tech. Ways of thinking, how humans conjugate into the deploy of war, those are innovations as well.

  8. 4 out of 5

    notabattlechick

    Upon re-reading. This book still confounds me. One one hand, culture! Yes! On the other hand, the willful(?) misreading of Clausewitz and the insistence on going 12 rounds with the Prussian is problematic. There's room for both, you know. Clausewitz certainly must be contextualize - to quote John Lynn, "Clausewitz is culture!" Further, Keegan's conclusion that humans are moving from an “undoubtedly warlike past towards [a] potentially peaceful future” strikes me as ludicrous on the face of it. T Upon re-reading. This book still confounds me. One one hand, culture! Yes! On the other hand, the willful(?) misreading of Clausewitz and the insistence on going 12 rounds with the Prussian is problematic. There's room for both, you know. Clausewitz certainly must be contextualize - to quote John Lynn, "Clausewitz is culture!" Further, Keegan's conclusion that humans are moving from an “undoubtedly warlike past towards [a] potentially peaceful future” strikes me as ludicrous on the face of it. This doesn't seem to be the world I am living in. To claim that culture predates and thus has primacy over "politics" is wrongheaded and doesn't get us very far. Keegan's cooperativst view of human nature will also strike many as problematic - though at least this is a subject for serious debate. Military historians must be familiar with the work - it is an "Important." book, but I'd be wary of using it too heavily for theoretical foundation or scholarly citation (other than in a historiographical context). The work is synthetic - go to the original arguments and sources. I fear, though, that lay readers and non-specialists will be seduced by Keegan's arguments - 'tis a shame.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Ryan

    Renowned military historian John Keegan succeeds admirably in the difficult task of providing a coherent narrative for humanity's age-old proclivity for armed conflict. From Assyrian charioteers to the advent of the machine gun and the world destroying potential of the nuclear age, this is something of a must-read for anyone baffled as to why, in the 21st century, we seem to be fighting just as many wars as we always did. Renowned military historian John Keegan succeeds admirably in the difficult task of providing a coherent narrative for humanity's age-old proclivity for armed conflict. From Assyrian charioteers to the advent of the machine gun and the world destroying potential of the nuclear age, this is something of a must-read for anyone baffled as to why, in the 21st century, we seem to be fighting just as many wars as we always did.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris Chapman

    "Why do men fight?" I had picked this book up at random one day and opened it to find this question. Flicking through I saw that he delved into the debate about the Yanomamo, and Chagnon's extremely contested anthropological research in that community - concluding that this was an innately warlike people. This is an area that I find fascinating, so I put the book on my to-read list. Keegan tackles Clausewitz's dictum, that war is the continuation of politics by other means (a reductive translatio "Why do men fight?" I had picked this book up at random one day and opened it to find this question. Flicking through I saw that he delved into the debate about the Yanomamo, and Chagnon's extremely contested anthropological research in that community - concluding that this was an innately warlike people. This is an area that I find fascinating, so I put the book on my to-read list. Keegan tackles Clausewitz's dictum, that war is the continuation of politics by other means (a reductive translation, as it happens). Most of the GR reviews of the book either take issue or agree with this aspect of it. But I was disappointed. Keegan's main interest is in the tactics, weapons and defensive constructions that people bring to the game when they fight. How culture affects the choices of said tactics, weapons etc. So it's not really about why people fight, but what they do once they find themselves on the battlefield. How can you tackle Clausewitz if you are not actually dealing with the decision-making path that leads to war? Finally - gosh this is not an easy read. Really hard to pinpoint why. The prose is just dense and opaque. Most sentences are not as convuluted as this: The means that general staffs had convinced governments would ensure peace and, if war broke out, bring victory - ever wider recruitment of men, ever costlier purchases of arms - had cancelled each other out. But it gives an indication as to why you might get bogged down in his sentences (too bad I chose this as one of my "teach myself to speed read" books). And it suffers from compression. An overview of wars, across history, and across the world, in 400 pages? So you get a description of Alexander vs Darius at Gaugamela, with the decisive manoevre summed up in two sentences. I didn't get it. Maybe a more knowledgeable military historian would. But give the man his due. It is genuinely fascinating to learn about how war-making has developed over the centuries - most importantly, in overcoming soldiers' natural cowardice. It's not surprising that in pre-industrial times, as far back as we can trace in fact, people went into war not wanting to die, engaging tentatively then retreating if a decisive blow had not been struck, never fighting unto death. War was even ritualised to avoid excessive casualties. At some point soldiers were trained to throw themselves in overwhelming numbers against the enemy and fight until one or the other side won. Clearly a fearsome prospect to face on the battlefield and it's no surprise that this tactic became widely popular. Some peoples though were slower than others in adopting it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    bkwurm

    This should have properly been titled "The History of Western Warfare". Hardly any space is given to the wars fought in China and India, especially during the period of China's Warring States. I was also very disappointed by the author's attempt to attribute the "brave", "in your face" method of warfare as being uniquely Western while characterising the methods of war practised by non Westerners as being hit and run or ritualisitc or in some way, not daring to meet the enemy head on, unlike the This should have properly been titled "The History of Western Warfare". Hardly any space is given to the wars fought in China and India, especially during the period of China's Warring States. I was also very disappointed by the author's attempt to attribute the "brave", "in your face" method of warfare as being uniquely Western while characterising the methods of war practised by non Westerners as being hit and run or ritualisitc or in some way, not daring to meet the enemy head on, unlike the West. It seems the author ignores the fact that Rome, once it had become a stable empire, chose to pay off the barbarians at its borders, in the same way that China did. Similarly, he does not seem to consider that China, when it was divided into the Warring States, endured bloody warfare that culminated in Qin's conquest and unification of China. I expected better.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Justin Covey

    Some of the most obfuscating, impenetrable prose I've ever come across. I read it in high school, and I remember at the time being half of the opinion that it was my own fault as an inexperienced reader. It was a much delayed vindication when I read Steven Pinker's guide to clear writing, 'The Sense of Style', where he uses this book as an example of ferociously confusing writing. Some of the most obfuscating, impenetrable prose I've ever come across. I read it in high school, and I remember at the time being half of the opinion that it was my own fault as an inexperienced reader. It was a much delayed vindication when I read Steven Pinker's guide to clear writing, 'The Sense of Style', where he uses this book as an example of ferociously confusing writing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sud666

    Keegan's "A History of Warfare" is a superb book. It works well as a valuable addition for any military historian, as well as serving as a great "primer" to the vast scope of military history. Keegan traces war throughout human history. He seems to take particular affront to Clausewitzian theory which postulates "war is a continuation of policy by other means" and then goes on to show how a variety of societies and structures have taken to war for reasons outside of politics. As an aside, I find Keegan's "A History of Warfare" is a superb book. It works well as a valuable addition for any military historian, as well as serving as a great "primer" to the vast scope of military history. Keegan traces war throughout human history. He seems to take particular affront to Clausewitzian theory which postulates "war is a continuation of policy by other means" and then goes on to show how a variety of societies and structures have taken to war for reasons outside of politics. As an aside, I find it fair to point out the Clausweitz quote, though popular, is an ENGLISH translation. The actual words uttered by Clausewitz spoke of war as the continuation of "political intercourse" (des politischen Verkehrs) "with the intermixing of other means" (mit Einmischung anderer Mittel) and, IMHO, the original German gives the quote its deserved nuance and makes it a more subtle and complex idea than the far more frequently quoted English version. Keegan looks at war as a culture through analysis of the natives of Easter Island, The Zulus, the Mamelukes and the Samurai. An interesting aside is the commonality of conflict/war even in socieites leftist historians would promote as "peaceful" (ie, Easter Island). The book then look at various cultures of different military technology. He starts with the Stone Age technologies such as the Yanomamo of the Brazilian rainforest to the Maoris. The stone section also looks at the development of the pastoralist society vs nomadic. It is a great survey and a look at the different tech and how it evolves. Keegan goes on to look at military history and warfare as it develops throughout the various epochs. A great book that will introduce people to some very interesting ideas and give the basis for many concepts- such as the rise of Feudalism: "....Earlier Frankish kings, like the other barbarian rulers, had maintained as the military core of their retinues groups of chosen warriors who could be depended upon to fight bravely and on demand.....in the era of conquests the problem of how they were to be maintained did not arise......but once a kingdom acquired borders...the ruler's warriors required a steadier source of support than loot or temporary expropriation. The solution was to accomodate the members of the Germanic war band.....termed in the Latin comitatus..within the old Roman practice of the precarium, effectively the lease by which the cultivators tilled plots on the landowner's estate. In the days of the Roman empire's prosperity, a precarium had been held for money rent; as the disorders of the fifth and sixth centuries drove money out of circulation, the payment of rent gave way to the performance of services of various sorts.........gradually a ruler's followers, who already owed him a personal obligation and in return benefited from his patronage (patrocinium), to translate the relationship into one where military service was returned for patronal favour, but the patrocinium was expressed by the grant of a precarium. The relationship suited both parties: the vassal (from the Celtic word for dependant) received a means of livelihood; "the ruler was assured of his military services; and the bond between the two was sealed by the performance of an act of homage which, when Christianised by the intervention of the Church, became known as the oath of faithfulness or "fealty".....this arrangement became known as feudalism (from the beneficiary feudum, or fief, that the patron grants to the vassal)....." If that wasn't to your liking, then this is not the book for you. If, however, you were interested-then you will truly enjoy this book as it traces the development of warfare throughout the ages and the key technologies that changed them.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Keegan is still the preeminent military history, and in this grand and sprawling book he attempts a synthetic history of warfare from the pre-historic dawn to the atomic age. Boldly staking a claim that Clausewitz's famous epigram "war is the continuation of politics by other means" is substantially misguided, a parallel to Marx's misguided grand theory of history, he instead provides a tour through four different types of warfare that is a lot of fun, but on the whole not terribly convincing. Ke Keegan is still the preeminent military history, and in this grand and sprawling book he attempts a synthetic history of warfare from the pre-historic dawn to the atomic age. Boldly staking a claim that Clausewitz's famous epigram "war is the continuation of politics by other means" is substantially misguided, a parallel to Marx's misguided grand theory of history, he instead provides a tour through four different types of warfare that is a lot of fun, but on the whole not terribly convincing. Keegan begins in pre-history. Although the anthropological record makes it difficult to draw precise conclusions about prehistorical warfare, the extinction of North American megafauna provides clear evidence that mankind was a deadly killer, while ancient burials of people killed by flint points indicates that these tools were used against humans. Anthropological studies of hunter-gatherers in the Amazon and Papua New Guinea reveal that violence is endemic, though war is carefully circumscribed by rituals and taboos that describe how violence can be escalated, and where its limits are. This war is typically an arranged skirmish with relatively flimsy ranged weapons which can be easily dodged, and is fought to avenge an insult or for the sheer joy of it. The first military technology revolution was the combination of the composite bow and chariot, which along with bronze armor and weapons, made a small military elite truly invincible in combat, able to circle masses of foot-soldiers and pick them off at will. Cavalry replaced chariots, but the light missile cavalry solidified as one of the dominant military strategies on Earth, as waves of steppe nomads from the Scythians to the Mongols poured out from endless plains to raid settled lands, occasionally invading and supplanting the existing rulers. In Keegan's reading, steppe nomads fought war not to rule, but because they enjoyed war itself, and the plunder was more lucrative than trading. When they did conquer, as in Turkey, they set up microcosmic steppe camps in the center of their palaces. Against the Oriental style of the steppe nomads, Keegan puts the Western style of the Greek phalanx and Roman legion, where armored infantry (and later heavy cavalry) sought a decisive clash of arms. The Western style was not without it's mysticism. Keegan suggests the Greeks sought to limit wars to battles which could be resolved quickly, on prearranged flat spaces, rather than lengthy campaigns to despoil the countryside. Rome raised infantry to an imperial power, while the Dark Ages successors were caught between precepts of Christian pacifism and feudal notions of honor. Western and Oriental styles of war existed in uneasy equilibrium. Heavy infantry could not successful invade steppe lands, but nomadic forces required huge herds of remounts, and could not sustain themselves in settled territories. The fourth style of army, the gunpowder armies that developed from the mercenary companies of 15th central Europe into the royal regiments of new nation-states, were something different. Drill and technology combined the ranged firepower of nomads with the endurance of heavy infantry. Military discipline could be mastered in a matter of weeks, as opposed to a lifetime of training. Only in the Napoleonic Wars does Keegan see Clausewitz's unit of politics and warfare, as the French revolution mobilized the entire people for military purposes. The logic of mass mobilization reached its zenith in the total wars of the 20th century: the slaughter along the Western Front of WW1, the genocides and aerial bombings of WW2, and the atomic apocalypse of a future WW3. Written in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph of high-tech interventionism that the Gulf War, Keegan can't foresee the rise of terrorism and the endless 'hybrid wars' of the 21st century. And while the book is enjoyable, if so very Orientalist, Keegan's argument is weakened by the narrowness of his definition of politics, which seem to be something only states and ministers can engage in. Rather, a more expansive definition of politics (I like the "art of reconciling human aspirations") shows that organized violence, even in the absence of states, can be political, and that cannons speak when words cannot be reconciled. As much as he claims to banish a false 'grand theory', Keegan raises another one weakly grounded on culture, that does not bear much rigor.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Cutts

    I thought it was decent, but not exactly what I had hoped for/expected? The book is a bit less structured and chronological than I might have liked -- it mostly is, but it tends to jump around a fair bit. Also, he really needs to cool it with the Clausewitz stuff. I totally get that he doesn't agree with his premise, but it feels like he has made it his singular mission to refute Clausewitz's arguments. Felt like a weird vendetta. One thing in particular that bothered me about his focus on it was I thought it was decent, but not exactly what I had hoped for/expected? The book is a bit less structured and chronological than I might have liked -- it mostly is, but it tends to jump around a fair bit. Also, he really needs to cool it with the Clausewitz stuff. I totally get that he doesn't agree with his premise, but it feels like he has made it his singular mission to refute Clausewitz's arguments. Felt like a weird vendetta. One thing in particular that bothered me about his focus on it was that he seemed to just be focussed on refuting the core sentence of Clausewitz's argument (war is a continuation of politics by other means). I haven't read On War, but I assume that he elaborates quite a bit on what he means by that sentence, which is something that Keegan doesn't really dive into. I felt like it was 90% a good history of warfare, and 10% Keegan out to get Clausewitz. Not saying that he didn't make good points, but I feel like he should have just made that another book or something. For many people reading this book, like me, this is one of my first exposures to military history. I'm not particularly interested in arguments about theory, I just wanted to know about the evolutions in weapons, tactics, strategy, logistics, etc etc over time. The book mostly delivered that, but I think in a bit more muddled of a form than I would have liked. (less)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    Definitely not an easy book, Keegan did his work and he wants you to know that. He is not a fan of Clausewitz's ideas, and a large part of the book focuses on counterarguments to Clausewitz's ideas, Keegan draws on many counterexamples where war is not a continuation of politics with other means (ritualistic war - marauding war, the Zulu style where politics became the continuation of continuous warfare, etc., pp.). A large part of the beginning of the book is reserved to show how Clausewitz's Definitely not an easy book, Keegan did his work and he wants you to know that. He is not a fan of Clausewitz's ideas, and a large part of the book focuses on counterarguments to Clausewitz's ideas, Keegan draws on many counterexamples where war is not a continuation of politics with other means (ritualistic war - marauding war, the Zulu style where politics became the continuation of continuous warfare, etc., pp.). A large part of the beginning of the book is reserved to show how Clausewitz's ideas are not general and are much more a product of Clausewitz's upbringing and indoctrination from the Prussian military system (where war was, mostly, seen as a continuation of politics, which to Keegan is rather rare in human history). After that it becomes a proper straightforward history, starting with prehistoric societies, the Greeks, then the Roman empire etc. pp., over the World Wars to today's nuclear threat (nuclear war is also not Clausewitzian war as it is the end of politics). It is all tremendously well-researched and dense - the role of war in the creation of borders and nationstates is discussed (the invention of cannons made forts necessary, which is then where borders settled), there's an entire subchapter on the importance of transport and logistics in wartime, how the structure of armies changed over time, and so on. It's all here. His writing at times reminded me of German, very, very long sentences with many subordinate clauses: With an officer corps of the quality represented by Ligustinus, formed of men whose life was soldiering, who entertained no expectation of rising into the governing class, and whose ambitions were entirely limited to those of success within what could be perceived, for the first time in history, as an esteemed and self-sufficient profession, it is not surprising that Rome’s boundaries came to be extended from the Atlantic to the Caucasus; it succeeded, by whatever means, in transforming the warrior ethos of a small city state into a true military culture, an entirely novel Weltanschauung, one shared by the highest and the lowest levels of Roman society, but rooted in and expressed through the values of a separate and subordinate corporation of specialists. See? Not the stuff you read at the beach. Bonus-quote on 'non-white' Roman soldiers, which caused a bit of a fuss on the more boring parts of the Internet recently: In a remarkable survey that was made of the careers of ten Roman soldiers who died in the service of the empire during the first two centuries AD, as revealed by their gravestones, we find a cavalryman from Mauritania (modern Morocco) who died on Hadrian’s Wall; the standard-bearer of the II Legio Augusta, born at Lyon, who died in Wales; a centurion of the X Legio Gemina, born at Bologna, who was killed in Germany at the disaster of the Teutoburg forest; a veteran of the same legion born near the headwaters of the Rhine, who died on the Danube at modern Budapest; and a legionary of the II Legio Adiutrix, born in modern Austria, who died at Alexandria.57 Perhaps the most touching of funerary records that show how widely the legions were recruited comes from the gravestones of a wife and her soldier husband found at opposite ends of Hadrian’s Wall: she was a local girl; he had been born in Roman Syria.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Chester

    It all starts with the great Clausewitzian statement that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Keegan spends 500 exhaustive pages thoroughly and methodically demolishing that supposition. By exploring every form of warfare from ceremonial tribal forms of battle all the way through modern Mutually Assured Destruction, he argues that for most of human history, warfare is characterized by ritual, caution, aversion, and brevity. It is only the specifically modern, western forms of warfa It all starts with the great Clausewitzian statement that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Keegan spends 500 exhaustive pages thoroughly and methodically demolishing that supposition. By exploring every form of warfare from ceremonial tribal forms of battle all the way through modern Mutually Assured Destruction, he argues that for most of human history, warfare is characterized by ritual, caution, aversion, and brevity. It is only the specifically modern, western forms of warfare that inherit the especially toxic combination of ideologically-driven, face-to-face combat with the fruits of technological development. Modern western warfare is thus the lethal continuation of politics, total war, but it is peculiar for all that. While the work is interesting for its sweeping analysis of the forms of combat throughout history, it's difficult to stay engaged in the work when you don't have much investment in Clausewitz, as one imagines members of modern officer corps might.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Jasper

    This is a book to studied and to be read more than once. Keegan makes the case that we will eventually just plain, damn outgrow war much as children outgrow diapers. Keegan equates war with other infantile behavior like slavery and human sacrifice. Keegan takes his time coming to his conclusion. He first has to sail round the world and across the centuries to document the different types of warfare (it is likely that people from all societies are taken aback by the word "types") ; I believe that This is a book to studied and to be read more than once. Keegan makes the case that we will eventually just plain, damn outgrow war much as children outgrow diapers. Keegan equates war with other infantile behavior like slavery and human sacrifice. Keegan takes his time coming to his conclusion. He first has to sail round the world and across the centuries to document the different types of warfare (it is likely that people from all societies are taken aback by the word "types") ; I believe that he lists eight types. Although war IS childish and insane it is important and it has shaped our history. Keegan dissects war much like an anthropologist would analyze the various religions of the world. His argument is that it is not something that we HAVE to do or that has any basis in rationality, it is something that we have done and will continue until we, at last, outgrow it. I like John Keegan. I have read several of his books.

  19. 5 out of 5

    MT

    Well like everyone else I began reading A History of Warfare so I could point out the grievous errors of arms and tactics made in fantasy ("that's not how you swing a halberd!" etc.) but I came away with so much more. The base that Keegan works off is one of old warhorse Clauzwitz's sayings, and it's one he continually refers back to. Then we're taken on a grand adventure, back to the dawn of time and then ever forward, finding out the hows and whys of so many civilisations and how they settled Well like everyone else I began reading A History of Warfare so I could point out the grievous errors of arms and tactics made in fantasy ("that's not how you swing a halberd!" etc.) but I came away with so much more. The base that Keegan works off is one of old warhorse Clauzwitz's sayings, and it's one he continually refers back to. Then we're taken on a grand adventure, back to the dawn of time and then ever forward, finding out the hows and whys of so many civilisations and how they settled their disagreements. Of why chariots kicked the everloving piss out of everything, and why the mounted archer hordes eventually petered out after delivering beatdowns to half the globe. A fantastic read. And now, thus educated, I will watch the Conan the Barbarian to see if I can spot any historical errors.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tom Rowe

    This book tries to cover a lot of territory from ancient tribal warfare to the nuclear bomb and post colonial rebellions. The book looks at social and technological aspects of warfare. Its long chapters with titles such as Stone, Flesh, Iron, and Fire loosely center around those topics. It is nearly impossible to separate them from one another. The big takeaway from the book for me is how limited war really is. We put social limits on war such as not allowing women and children to participate. ( This book tries to cover a lot of territory from ancient tribal warfare to the nuclear bomb and post colonial rebellions. The book looks at social and technological aspects of warfare. Its long chapters with titles such as Stone, Flesh, Iron, and Fire loosely center around those topics. It is nearly impossible to separate them from one another. The big takeaway from the book for me is how limited war really is. We put social limits on war such as not allowing women and children to participate. (Yes, there are exceptions.) There are technological limits such as how accurate a firearm can be. And there are logistical limits based on how can an army keep its fighters supplied with food, water, and munitions. Of particular interest to me were the social and logistical limits. In primitive societies, it seems war is very ritualized and limited as to when, where, and how it is fought. Thus large scale death is avoided. Logistical limits seemed to limit the size of any fast growing, large scale empire such as the Huns or Alexander the Greats movement. It was also interesting to see how these limits can be somewhat thwarted, at least for a time, by the willingness of combatants to fight such as the Confederacy holding out against the United States in the American Civil War. The only problem I had with the book was largely my own expectations. I would expect it go to go one way, and it would go another. Therefore, I was struggling with the text. I normally embrace this kind of challenge to my thinking, but for some reason, it just irritated me. I think I felt as if I was missing some important information. This book could have easily been twice the length and still not have been comprehensive enough for me. Maybe that was the real challenge I had with the book. If you are interested in learning more about war, I would recommend this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Trisha

    Keegan is one of the very best warfare historians writing today. In this history, as the book jacket's summary succinctly puts it he attempts to, "offer a sweeping view of the place of warfare in human culture and a brilliant exposition of the human impulse towards violence." He begins by presenting a broad view of warfare throughout history from the Bronze Age forward, its styles, changes, etc. Then he takes on the idea that war is an extension of politics and controlled by politicians. He clai Keegan is one of the very best warfare historians writing today. In this history, as the book jacket's summary succinctly puts it he attempts to, "offer a sweeping view of the place of warfare in human culture and a brilliant exposition of the human impulse towards violence." He begins by presenting a broad view of warfare throughout history from the Bronze Age forward, its styles, changes, etc. Then he takes on the idea that war is an extension of politics and controlled by politicians. He claims the reverse that war and the existence and influence of armies and soldiers distorts the nature of culture and politics. He argues that war even at times shapes culture and politics in a way that results in disaster and the failure politics and diplomacy. The book unleashed great controversy. I do not agree with this assessment as a statement of fact, but would just note that he says "sometimes" war shapes culture and politics and results in failures of politics and diplomacy--not "always." In some cases I believe it does, such as in the Vietnam war. It depends...

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    Aldous Huxley said an intellectual was a person who had discovered something more interesting than sex. A civilised man, it might be said, is someone who has discovered something more satisfying than combat. – p. 227 I read about things I think I should know about, for example, quantum computing, the globalized market for fresh-cut flowers, and the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Warfare also seems to be something worth paying attention to, since it sadly isn't going away. So this book seeme Aldous Huxley said an intellectual was a person who had discovered something more interesting than sex. A civilised man, it might be said, is someone who has discovered something more satisfying than combat. – p. 227 I read about things I think I should know about, for example, quantum computing, the globalized market for fresh-cut flowers, and the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Warfare also seems to be something worth paying attention to, since it sadly isn't going away. So this book seemed to be a good fit, as the title promised a general survey and the writer was rumored to be far more readable for the lay person than the average for this field. I am sad to report that this is not a book to be read casually on the bus or at bedtime, as I do. It's just too damn profound. If you have just been assigned it in a course taught by a instructor as talented and learned, congratulations, you have just won the pedagogical equivalent of the lottery and are about it become a damn sight wiser than you were before. Under the guidance of a wise expert, this book would be life-changing. But for us poor casual readers, it's just too tough a slog when accompanied by the million distractions of normal life. For example, let's talk about the main thesis of the book, which is: When Clausewitz said “War is the continuation of politics by other means”, he was wrong. Since the Clausewitz quotes is one of those things you hear bloviating self-appointed expert invoking on television news every time the world mires itself down in another pointless conflict, I can see why this might deserve a book-length refutation. But, to fully appreciate the force and implications of this argument, and to intelligently agree or disagree, I would have actually read Clausewitz, his defenders, and his critics, which I haven't, because (see above) I'm a non-expert looking for an explanation about how warfare works and thought a book called A History of Warfare might fill the bill. But still, when a person can carve out a good chunk of time to really sit down and give this book the attention is deserves, it pays off. Keegan is just a great writer. He is excited by his topic and wants you to be too. Perhaps it's not right to say “Keegan can't write a dull sentence”, but my feeling was that, if you ever caught him at it, he'd be deeply ashamed. Try this great book but be aware it's a real commitment of your time and intellectual capital. And remember (p. 391): Politics must continue; war cannot.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Diamond

    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 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. 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.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    I decided to read this one after listening to a course on Military History from the Teaching Company. I've always had a fondness for military history, and figured that this would expand my knowledge and baseline. This book turned out to be a bit more than I expected, though not in a bad way. More than just a military history, Keegan's History of Warfare is an attack against the Clausewitzian notion that "war is a continuation of politics by other means". Instead, Keegan argues that war is a cultu I decided to read this one after listening to a course on Military History from the Teaching Company. I've always had a fondness for military history, and figured that this would expand my knowledge and baseline. This book turned out to be a bit more than I expected, though not in a bad way. More than just a military history, Keegan's History of Warfare is an attack against the Clausewitzian notion that "war is a continuation of politics by other means". Instead, Keegan argues that war is a cultural phenomenon, and that culture, not politics, is one of the driving forces behind warfare. The book itself is broken up into five main sections: War in Human History, Stone, Flesh, Iron, and Fire. These are separated by smaller sub-chapters, Limitations on War-making, Fortification, Armies, and Logistics and Supply. In each section, Keegan examines the history of warfare as it relates to a particular technology or development (the Flesh chapter, for example, focuses a great deal on the Steppe nomad cultures). The scope of this book is, not surprisingly, quite wide. Keegan is trying to cover the history of warfare throughout the globe, which necessitates a superficial look at any particular conflict. Readers interested in an in-depth look at any particular conflict would be better served by looking at something else. On the flip side, this book is intellectually rigorous enough to not quite qualify as "light reading". This book is not a "History Channel" summary of battles and conflicts; Keegan is seeking to illustrate a particular idea, and much of his discussion and writing is focused on that notion. If you're not into military history, or if you are simply looking for a quick and dirty summary of some battles, this book will not serve you well at all. Personally, I enjoyed the book and found reading it quite valuable. A very brief web search indicates that the book is a source of some controversy among historians, which means nothing except that it was published and some historians read it. Given Keegan's widespread popularity as a writer of military history, I think that anyone interested in the subject would find reading this worthwhile. Even if Keegan's argument does not convince you, the man is influential enough to be worth reading.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jaroslav Tuček

    Well-researched and skillfully delivered, A History of Warfare follows humanity's warmaking tendencies from the tribal times up to the nuclear-weapons realities of the Cold War. Keegan picks representative civilizations in each era and shows how their culture/environment shaped their concept of war and the way it was carried out (eg. the mobile cavalry of ancient steppe-nomads or the tight formations and the pitched battle to death of the classical Greeks). The approach has the downside of not of Well-researched and skillfully delivered, A History of Warfare follows humanity's warmaking tendencies from the tribal times up to the nuclear-weapons realities of the Cold War. Keegan picks representative civilizations in each era and shows how their culture/environment shaped their concept of war and the way it was carried out (eg. the mobile cavalry of ancient steppe-nomads or the tight formations and the pitched battle to death of the classical Greeks). The approach has the downside of not offering a truly comprehensive history - for example, of all the post-ancient African civilizations, the book covers the Zulus of Shaka only. However, it succeeds in demonstrating well the author's thesis that war is the natural extension of human culture. I wish however that Keegan had focused more on developing this thesis rather than on frequently attacking von Clausewitz (~war as the extension of politics), which got a bit tiring toward the end.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A small collection of essays on the history of warfare, starting with the beginning of recorded history and ending with Gulf War I (at which time this book was written). John Keegan brings an encyclopedic knowledge to bear, but this is not an encyclopedia of warfare. Rather, it is a handful of detailed but crisp and concise essays, taking as their central thesis the explosion of the famous quotation from Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means. This is a terrific book A small collection of essays on the history of warfare, starting with the beginning of recorded history and ending with Gulf War I (at which time this book was written). John Keegan brings an encyclopedic knowledge to bear, but this is not an encyclopedia of warfare. Rather, it is a handful of detailed but crisp and concise essays, taking as their central thesis the explosion of the famous quotation from Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means. This is a terrific book for anyone interested in the subject. These essays are filled with fascinating details and unexpected connections across millenia of history. Best of all, Kegan's writing is a great pleasure to read. His prose is erudite and crisp--there is no fat in it--but it flows elegantly and smoothly. I enjoyed it immensely.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karl Jorgenson

    Keegan is probably the best military historian and certainly the best military-history author for non-warriors. Here, he recounts in amazing detail the evolution of warfare from primitive tribes to present day. Plot spoiler: this is NOT a story of evolving technology, but rather a story of evolving cultures with ethics and rituals that shaped their approach to war and warriors. Technology plays its role: the composite bow, selective breeding of horses, fortified cities, gunpowder, but the societ Keegan is probably the best military historian and certainly the best military-history author for non-warriors. Here, he recounts in amazing detail the evolution of warfare from primitive tribes to present day. Plot spoiler: this is NOT a story of evolving technology, but rather a story of evolving cultures with ethics and rituals that shaped their approach to war and warriors. Technology plays its role: the composite bow, selective breeding of horses, fortified cities, gunpowder, but the societies that adopt or reject the changes do so for much more complex psychological and cultural reasons. Keegan's understanding of these cultures is unrivaled. His prose is dense and rich to the point where the book feels as though it could be twice as long; every sentence is packed with multiple ideas that take time to process. This is not a fast read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Huw Evans

    Keegan's writing style is very dry, almost dusty. However he writes with an eye for detail that has been well researched. He charts the way warfare has developed over the centuries with the advent of each technological leap from close quarters stabbing to the high tech video missile. He also outlines the way that armies have changed in their structure and complexity. In terms of its relevence to modern political and military history I would rate it alongside Sun Tsu and von Clausewitz. I don't t Keegan's writing style is very dry, almost dusty. However he writes with an eye for detail that has been well researched. He charts the way warfare has developed over the centuries with the advent of each technological leap from close quarters stabbing to the high tech video missile. He also outlines the way that armies have changed in their structure and complexity. In terms of its relevence to modern political and military history I would rate it alongside Sun Tsu and von Clausewitz. I don't think you can be a pacifist without understanding militarism and this is one of the best books on the subject that I have read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    RJ

    A very interesting book. Such an indepth look into the history of warfare, the ceremony, symbolism, the technological advances and what that meant for modern warfare. It's a shame John Keegan passed away, I would have loved a revised version that included gang warefare. The idea that small societies live in a warlike state, I think would have been an interesting study. In the end, I believe in his premise that war is not the continuation of policy by other means, like Clausewitz proposed, but as A very interesting book. Such an indepth look into the history of warfare, the ceremony, symbolism, the technological advances and what that meant for modern warfare. It's a shame John Keegan passed away, I would have loved a revised version that included gang warefare. The idea that small societies live in a warlike state, I think would have been an interesting study. In the end, I believe in his premise that war is not the continuation of policy by other means, like Clausewitz proposed, but as Sun Tzu wrote is a necessary component of governing. But I would hope one concludes that the primitive form of warfare was, at it's core, much more humane than the wanton destruction we wage now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Octavia Cade

    This is really not my field - not even remotely - so this book has essentially been acting as an introductory text on warfare for me. As such, I think it's a successful one. Keegan covers a range of times and cultures, but more importantly he does so accessibly. His is a very readable account, when very often academics tend to write more for their colleagues (and posterity) than the general public. It did take me a while to wade through it, but I feel as if I've understood what I've read, and fo This is really not my field - not even remotely - so this book has essentially been acting as an introductory text on warfare for me. As such, I think it's a successful one. Keegan covers a range of times and cultures, but more importantly he does so accessibly. His is a very readable account, when very often academics tend to write more for their colleagues (and posterity) than the general public. It did take me a while to wade through it, but I feel as if I've understood what I've read, and for the most part enjoyed the process. I am very sick of seeing the word "Clausewitzian", however.

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