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A History of Warfare [Hardcover]

John Keegan
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Sep 1993
This book argues that far from being "a continuation of politics by other means", war is the heart of human history and the main engine of change - political, economic, social and artistic - by which all societies have developed. In a narrative that stretches from Stone Age man to the Gulf War and covers human societies all over the globe.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 edition (16 Sep 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091745276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091745271
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 403,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Masterpiece...one of those rare books which could still be required reading in its field a hundred years from now." (The New Yorker)

"Our finest military historian has produced a book of breathtaking scope...A tour de force." (Niall Ferguson Daily Mail)

"The best book I read in 1993 was A History of Warfare...a dazzling display of historical pyrotechnics." (Paul Johnson Sunday Times, Books of the Year)

"Magnificent" (Sunday Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

WINNER OF THE DUFF COOPER PRIZE In this magisterial and brilliantly readable and controversial book, Britain's most distinguished and widely-read military historian provides not merely a history of warfare but an analysis of world history, and the role that man's impulse to war has played in it. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely Ambitious 13 Jan 2011
As the title suggests this is a hugely ambitious work. Strangely, it begins with Clausewitz and devotes the best part of the first chapter to the life and times of this admittedly highly influential writer and theorist. It then goes back to the beginning, to an account of warfare from the earliest `primitive' warfare of inter-tribal conflict (so far as it is known) and continues through to the atomic age. In the process, it describes the effects of socio-political and technical developments on the practices and consequences of war, and includes some graphic and gruesome examples of man's inhumanity to man. The book is primarily concerned with land warfare but also covers war at sea and, latterly, in the air. The logistics of warfare and the limitations they impose, are also covered; constraints such as - how far a man can march in day, how far he can march before he must be resupplied, the socio-economic impact of attempting to raise and then maintain a large citizen army, and, not least, the constraints that terrain, climate and regional resources impose on military ambition. A not insignificant portion of the book is devoted to a consideration of the causes of war, to its psychological and sociological underpinnings, to the motivations of those facing death on the battlefield, and to the psychology of face-to-face combat.

In areas of the topic where I have some knowledge, I spotted a few, albeit relatively minor, errors of fact. Assuming that the rest of the book contains no greater errors, the ambitious nature of the title would seem to have been broadly achieved.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, wide-ranging and thought provoking 18 Aug 2001
By A Customer
The book is structured around an examination of the Clausewitzian definition of war. Keegan compares forms of warfare from other cultures and across history in order to test the definition's validity.
We are treated to a wide-ranging and intelligent discussion of various forms of warfare written in an engaging and accessibl;e academic style (so no... it's not populist). I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it's a must for most students of warfare.
HOWEVER, Keegan, by trying to be accesible relies enormously on secondary texts which are often swiftly dealt with in passing. For serious academics this might be dissapointing but I am sure that the comments he makes on secondary sources are valid and insightful.
So it's a superb book but experts might find it a little light.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sustained brilliance 7 Dec 2010
By The Emperor TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Even though I didn't always agree with him I found this book to be fascinating.
It give a great rundown of warfare through history and he also studies how it stands alone as warfare for its own stake and also how it integrates into the rest of human life.

I think that possibly he exaggerates his disagreements with the work of Clausewitz but as he is such a great writer this book is always interesting and a pleasure to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A History of Warfare 15 Dec 2007
This is an interesting look at warfare throughout human history. It looks at the various developments from primitive ritualised warfare, the use of horses and chariots, the growth of iron weapons, the building and development of forts and the discovery and implementation of gunpowder and more besides. It is fascinating to read, but fairly dry in places (hence the 4 stars). It takes some perseverance, but the dividends from sticking with it are worth the extra work. Overall a good read with some interesting information to give you a deeper insight into human society and the development of warfare.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but fundamentally flawed. 7 Aug 2008
This book is not a history of warfare at all, but a political-military treatise, heavily biased to a single point of view. However, it is an interesting read and also thought-provoking - so I gave it 2-stars.

Keegan makes a range of claims in this book which are fundamentally incorrect. Three such lines of argument are discussed below, but there are many others and I wonder if Keegan has even misinterpreted some of the 'facts' he suggests about tribal warfare in South America.

1. He claims that there is no Clausewitzian way of interpreting, or applying, nuclear force. Nuclear force is applied to give weight to political and military bargaining. The threat of use provides its power. In the case of the Cold War, the East-West military balance in Germany was primarily ensured through the West's nuclear armament offsetting the East's conventional armament. The lack of use of a weapon does not make it irrelevant.

2. He over-simplifies the role of the castle. He contends that the use of gunpowder made the castle obsolete. This is again incorrect. The castle approach may be no substitute for mobility, but the principle has been applied widely (if poorly), even in the 20th Century. Further, his claim that it was impossible to take a castle prior to the arrival of the cannon is also flawed - as history shows a range of methods which were applied successfully (such as at the successful seige of the 'impenetrable' Rochester castle in 1215).

3. He denegrates the role of citizen armies. This flies in the face of 20th Century and 21st Century history and is, quite frankly, dangerous. The proof of history is that citizen armies are vastly more trustworthy and loyal to their homeland than their alternatives.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable History
The author has combined detailed knowledge of his subject with readability. Well worth reading. A clear insight into why and how mankind has developed warfare.
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars ...
This book is so detailed, that unless you're completely clued up on what he's talking about, it's extremely confusing - well, I found it to be anyway. Read more
Published on 16 April 2011 by geeee,
1.0 out of 5 stars Did not recieve product!
Just like to say that I was purchasing the book for a vital piece of coursework for university assignments but it never arrived and I was still charged! Read more
Published on 16 Jan 2011 by John Flynn
3.0 out of 5 stars Weak on Mesopotamia
He's very good on the technical side. I'm grateful to learn so much about fortifications, horses, chariots, armor and the like. Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2010 by Ian Elliott
1.0 out of 5 stars Gross misinterpretation of Clausewitz
Keegan sets out on a bold crusade to discredit Carl von Clausewitz and fails - miserably. Two major problems:

1) Keegan is oblivious of the fact that Clausewitz's phrase... Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2008 by Bjorn Hansson
1.0 out of 5 stars Gross misinterpretation of Clausewitz
Keegan sets out on a bold crusade to discredit Carl von Clausewitz and fails - miserably. Two major problems:

1) Keegan is oblivious of the fact that Clausewitz's phrase... Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2008 by Bjorn Hansson
5.0 out of 5 stars A readable history of warfare!
This is simply excellent. The narrative is well-written, never stuffy and pitched for a level above beginner. Read more
Published on 1 Sep 2006 by Bugs
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious in scope, engaging in style
Few books in the market provide a better general overview of the history of warfare since the dawn of war-making. Read more
Published on 19 May 2006 by T. P. Ang
1.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Keegans best works
Although i enjoyed reading 'A History of Warfare' i was somewhat dissapointed with certain aspects of his book. Read more
Published on 30 April 2002
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