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A History of Warfare by John Keegan

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The Bottom Line

Keegan's grasp of history - let alone warfare - is immense, and this study reaches into almost every aspect of human experience to tackle the key question: 'what is war?'
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Pros

  • A study of humanity, not just war.
  • Deep and skillful analysis
  • Covers all eras with equal deft.

Cons

  • Might be mistaken for a reference work.
  • Difficult to find specific details.

Description

  • 432 pages, including index.
  • 24 colour plates, plus maps and charts.
  • Published by Pimlico, ISBN: 0712698507.

Guide Review - A History of Warfare by John Keegan

There are innumerable histories of warfare on the market, mostly with the same format: a chronological narration of tactics and weapons, a series of changes from prehistoric times until the nuclear era. John Keegan's history of warfare is different, divided more thematically than chronologically ('Stone', 'Flesh'), and interested in all aspects of 'war'. Indeed, Keegan's great strength is the breadth of his text, which examines more than just swords and squares. The political and economic aspects of war - be they imperatives, facilitators or consequences - are examined, as is the mindset of soldiers (are they tribal?) and the interrelationship of different kinds of conflict with society and culture. Artillery, forts and firestorms are all present, but psychology, philosophy and empathy are just as important to this history of warfare than the theory behind firing four rounds a minute.

Readers looking for a quick summary of one or two eras might be disappointed, but the work is full of european - and worldwide - detail. Indeed, no course on military history will be complete without a discussion of Keegan's many points, ideas for which he argues persuasively and passionately, if not always successfully. The content is supported with a range of black & white plates and some excellent maps, but the select bibliography is lacking: given that Keegan is the foremost historian in his subject, I'd have liked a more discursive listing. However, fans of the author will be pleased to see his eloquent style, and another of his depreciating, almost apologetic, introductions, present.

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