The series of Cassell's History of Warfare, edited by John Keegan, started coming out a couple of years ago in an oversized hardback format encrusted with graphics and large type in the style of the age. Thank God that Cassell has reissued Victor Davis Hanson's excellent contribution in this new compact trade paperback format. Most of the illustrations are gone, the remaining ones are well chosen, and compared with the hardback version I believe that all of the maps have been retained. In addition, the book is really well bound and promises to hold up.
Hanson, for those who somehow have missed him until now, is a professor of Classics at California State and also is a part time farmer, both of which have contributed to his writing as a military historian. As a classicist, Hanson is well versed in the sources in their original Greek, and as a farmer he understands how agriculture affected the experience of the Greeks at war. For it was the farmers of the early Greek polis who developed modern western warfare. Unlike other cultures, the Greek farmers couldn't afford to support professional armies or hire mercenaries, and they couldn't spend a great deal of time away from their farms campaigning. The Greek way of war was to gather up the militia, which comprised all the able bodied men of property who could afford the armor and equipment of a hoplite, march out to a convenient flat field to meet the men of the polis they were warring with, and in a matter of hours, get it over with in quick, brutal, decisive battle. Expounded at greater length in Hanson's ground-breaking "The Western Way of War," Greek battle is covered well here, from its earliest heroic developments in the Bronze Age, through the classic Greek era of the democratic polis, the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars, and finishing with Alexander, the misnamed "Great." Important battles, including Marathon, Plataea, Delium and Gaugamela, are covered in depth.
Anyone interested in the ancient Greeks owes it to themselves to read this and, if possible, "The Western Way of War." It is utterly impossible to properly understand Hellenic culture without understanding how and why they fought. I recall with some hilarity the introduction to a book of poems by a well-known feminist writer who proclaimed that America must choose to be either Sparta or Athens, her obvious thesis being "Sparta - Warlike! Bad! Athens - Peaceful and Artistic! Good!" It's not that simple. Sparta admittedly was fascist, but pretty much stayed at home oppressing the helots, while Athens became a predatory imperialist democracy, bringing tragedy on itself and the Greeks in the process. It's also important to remember, as Hanson points out, that the great artists, writers, and philosphers were warriors at need. It may be hard to imagine Socrates or Aeschylus in the bronze panoply of a hoplite, but it happened.
This book is a great value in this format and at this price. It needs to be in the collection of anyone interested in military and/or classical history. And here's hoping that Cassell releases the rest of this series in this format!