"Lessons of History" is a 1991 collection of lectures delivered by distinguished British historian Sir Michael Howard at Oxford University between 1980 and 1989. In the lectures, Howard discusses some of the major events of the last 100 years and attempts to derive some lessons about history as a craft and as a guide to future human developments. His approach, not surprisingly, is somewhat Anglo-centric and influenced by the experiences of the First and Second World Wars. What stands out here is his willingness to take a remarkably clear-eyed, even politically incorrect look at the 20th Century and what it might mean.
The individual lectures can be quite interesting, addresssing, among other topics, the founding of Israel and the concept of nationality, the impact of a militarized Prussia and Germany on Europe, the idea of race as a motivation for empire, and the development of ideology as a motivation for war. Military history tends to be a connecting thread in the lectures, and Howard typically avoids the polite easy answer. A dissection of the naval arms race between Germany and Britain before the First World War is revealing of his approach.
It is no part of Howard's intent to provide comfort. He is realistic, even at times cynical in his evaluations of human behavior. However, he is ultimately a believer in the idea that political freedom generally leads to better outcomes, although it is not immune to mistakes, even horrible mistakes. Along the way, he describes the basis for the decline of Europe, the challenge of the social welfare state, and predicts the rise of Islamic militant fundamentalism as a global threat.
"The Lessons of History" is very highly recommended to students of history and to fans of the writing of Michael Howard.