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The Invention of Peace
by Michael Howard

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The Invention of Peace is, as the author notes early in his text, an "essay" of around 20,000 words, the same size as the average MA dissertation. Yet the term 'essay' seems almost demeaning when describing a book which, whether you agree with the analysis or not, presents a marvelously incisive sweep of European History over 1200 years. The work isn't a debate, and the author doesn't examine the position of other modern commentators; instead it's the author's own thoughts and conclusions laid out in a simple manner. As the historian in question is the highly respected Michael Howard, the 'thoughts and conclusions' represent a lifetime of reading and rumination.

Readers may initially think the book's subtitle - 'Reflections on War and International Order' - is deceptive, despite an excellent introduction foreshadowing many later themes, because much of the text is broader in subject matter. Howard traces the many and changing roles of war alongside the evolution of European society and government, showing how both have been responsible for conflict and order. Moreover, Howard doesn't just illustrate how conflict, society, economics, politics and order are all intimately related, for he also provides a brisk sweep through the development of Europe as a whole across a period which begins with Charlemagne and ends just before the "War Against Terrorism". (I assume Howard is already working on a postscript to tackle this latter development.)

Consequently, The Invention of Peace is exhilarating to read, as entire epochs of history pass by in a concise discussion that is sometimes witty, sometimes sharp, but always thought-provoking. This style does has its problems, as Howard's descriptions are so stripped down he has risked distortion simply by using too few words. All the clarifications and safety guards of modern historiography have been excised, and if people wish to take issue with individual statements rather than the broader argument they may find plenty to argue about. Of course, that is also a point in the book's favour: The Invention of Peace is both challenging and familiar.

In addition to the relationship between conflict and order, Howard also reflects on the relevant theologies and ideologies, as well as the emerging notion of peace, making as good a case as any that Immanuel Kant was responsible for our modern understanding of the term. Crucially, Howard never preaches, and he certainly never treats any of the philosophies or conflicts in anything other than the unbiased manner expected of all historians.

A basic knowledge of broader European history is helpful, but not necessary, in order to understand this book (which further emphasis how well written it is), and the argument swiftly flows past any specific events. Equally, Howard is - as we would expect - very well read, and his book is full of references that the less experienced may not fully understand. However, and provided you don't mind doing so, you can easily read past these incidents without damaging the book's impact, although you may want to visit some learned friends afterwards!

Overall, The Invention of Peace is an excellent rumination on the nature and interplay of war and order, be it local or national, social or economic. The book isn't for everyone - and it certainly isn't an introduction to European history - as the content is more theoretical than practical, more ideas than dates, and Howard has written for an educated and intelligent audience who do their own thinking. It is left - quite rightly - to the reader to digest the author's thoughts and form their own conclusions.

Indeed, The Invention of Peace is essential reading, not just for those interested in history, but for anyone interested in modern, and future, world affairs. The discussion on whether intervention in a state's internal affairs by a foreign power reinforces or erodes the balance of peace, which occupies only two of the 133 pages, is still entirely relevant, and growing more so by the day.

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