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on 27 May 2008
In 'Generals' Mark Urban describes in his typically lucid, easy-to-read style the lives of 'ten British commanders who shaped the world' (which is the subtitle of the book). For your information, these ten men are:
- George Monck (1608-1670)
- John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722)
- William Howe (1729-1814)
- Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1763-1827)
- Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)
- Charles George Gordon (1833-1885)
- Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916)
- Edmund Allenby (1861-1936)
- JFC Fuller (1878-1966)
- Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1975)

Now any selection is of course to some degree arbitrary (and Urban freely admits so himself in his introduction), and although one might question whether all of these men really 'shaped the world' it still is undoubtedly a formidable collection, and Urban does each of these men justice in their respective chapters.

Don't expect full-blown biographies (each general gets a chapter of about 30 to 40 pages) but rather short but very incisive descriptions of each of these men's characters, and their unique contribution to British (or in some cases indeed world) history. All in all I found this a very entertaining and illuminating book, with a fresh outlook on each of these men (not all of whom were military geniuses either, some were fatally flawed). It definitely freshened my appetite to read more!
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on 17 September 2007
Although 'Generals' is not a long book, it provides concise, beautifully written accounts of ten distinctive and different military men, some household names, others not. Urban writes with concise clarity, and each of the portraits leaves the reader with a sense of understanding of the personalities behind these military men, as well as sketching their careers. For example, Allenby was to me the successful, detached general, immortal in the image of the conquerer riding into Jerusalem. Now this is tempered by the sympathetic description of how distraught he became during the campaign on hearing of his son's death on the western front. For a reader with a general, non-academic interest in British history, this book is a terrific read.
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on 16 November 2008
Mark Urban's Generals is currently one of my best reads of 2008. It is well written, in simple English, therefore making it an easy read. His selection of Generals are excellent and his analysis of their impact certainly deepened my knowledge of how the British Army has developed over the centuries.

Finally, I find his comments about the relationship between the top of the British Army i.e. CGS and his interaction with the Politicians very good in understanding why our current CGS's act the way they do...they are the umbrella that allows more tactical gifted officers to operate without interference from the Politician who in the current era do not understand what it means to sacrifice one's life for Queen and Country.

A highly recommend book!
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on 20 June 2012
Much though we might wish it otherwise, history has always been written by the men of war. In this book, Mark Urban selects ten British generals from the years between 1650 and 1945 who left, in his opinion, the deepest impression on British (and, indeed, World) history. His selection is, as he himself notes, personal. He ignores Britain's naval heritage (you won't find Nelson or Jervis or Rodney - perhaps a follow-up book might be in order), and I found it strange that he omitted Wolfe and Clive.

But then, the limit of ten generals meant that some had to be left out; and he does include men who have lapsed into obscurity but who ought to be better known. It was a revelation to me, for instance, that the British Army was effectively created in a ceremony on 14th January 1661; and though as a child I sang a song about the Grand old Duke of York and his ten thousand men, his later career was news.

This is no excercise in hero-worship. Each man's flaws are examined frankly and fairly. William Howe only made a mark on history at all through his poor grasp of strategy (though he could be tactically astute); Montgomery's ego upset a veritable roll-call of the Good and the Great; and George Gordon, whilst undeniably brave, was a foolhardy idiot.

For reasons of space, there is a limit to the depth of each portrait - each subject gets about thirty pages. But much information gets packed into those pages; and if you don't read this book and come away with a desire to find out more about at least one of the men it covers, then you're simply not into history.

Urban writes lucidly and well; but I do have one major criticism of this book. The maps are dreadful. Either they're banal (I can picture for myself the route of an army marching from Scotland to London via York, thanks), or frustratingly incomplete. I do get very annoyed when a particular location is mentioned with emphasis in the text, but not designated on the relevant map - even when the map is on the facing page. This is probably the fault of the editor rather than the author - but even so I dock one star for the failing.
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on 9 July 2010
Much respected as the Diplomatic Editor of BBC2's "Newsnight", Mark Urban has earned similar-ranking kudos as a military historian. Here, in "Generals", he provides ten essays on those he has presented as the most influential British military commanders - as he explains in his introduction, not necessarily the BEST military commanders, but those whose actions have left the widest legacy. Each subject - George Monck, John Churchill, William Howe, the Dukes of York and Wellington, Charles Gordon, Herbert Kitchener, Edmund Allenby, John Fuller and Bernard Montgomery - receives a crisp, lucid analysis of character, motivation, record and impact, each one providing the blocks of a quick guide to the history of the British Army and, to an extent, Britain itself. Of his subjects, Urban has his opinions, from which he does not shy, but the reader has plenty of room with which to make up their own mind, and to initiate an armchair strategists' pub discussion - if you were to nominate the most influential general, you might go for Fuller, the great theorist and tactician, but as for the greatest impact upon the world, there seems little to stand in the way of Howe, whose strategic ineptitude (in spite of his tactical flair) gave us the United States of America. Here we see how the best generals are not always the most important. Is the core judgement on Montgomery that which is based on his battlefield acheivement at El Alamein or that which looks at his political and diplomatic abilities when working with Eisenhower and holding together a coalition? Might 21st Century Britain give thanks for a latter-day Monck? These are the debates you can have - "Generals" won't give you the answers but it will provide you with the arguments. A superb work that joins academic study with a journalist's regard for the layman.
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on 2 September 2006
Mark Urban, an ex-British Army officer, writes an interesting book about 10 generals right from the start of the history of the British Army up to the Second World War. He talks about the personalities of the officers and their motivations, as well as their developement and influence. It is also good to see him cover the careers of the famous generals from before they were famous - and after they were famous. In several cases he covers the careers of individuals who acted poorly in their early years before turning themselves around (or reaching a rank to which they were suited) later on. There are also those who peak early in their careers and go from excellent battalion commanders to mediocre generals!

In all an absorbing read that fills in some of the gaps in the common knowledge of some Britain's more famous military sons.
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on 30 January 2012
If you have read Mark Urban, you will know what you are getting, easy accessible military history, written as a gripping read.

If you like military history and have not read any of MArk Urbans books, then you need to!
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VINE VOICEon 28 August 2013
Ten essays on British soldiers who "shaped the world."

Shaping the world might seem a high bar but Britain's military history means that all of Urban's choices are genuinely influential figures. Possibly there is a more legitimate claim for some of them (George Monck say, or the Duke of York) were of more national than international importance, but Britain became such a massive world power that this distinction is, at least arguably, not really meaningful.

Some of the Generals Mark Urban selects in these pithy and opinionated, but, as far as possible, balanced essays are still very well known , Wellington, Montgomery, Kitchener; Others have fallen from the public consciousness a little, Howe, Gordon; A few are perhaps obscure figures, Fuller and Allenby were new names to me, for example. The ten together make a continous story of the rise and rise of Britain as a world military power. A surprisingly coherent tale.

Odd to read a military history of Britain that virtually does not mention the navy, but this is the aim of the book.

For someone (like me) taught history in the 70s in England, the general thrust of the book, world history as it relates to GB's position in it, will be familiar. An ocassionaly slangy tone stops the essays being too stuffy.
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on 4 August 2006
This is the second book I have read by Mark urban,the first being his story of the 95th rifles under wellingtons command.

The book reviews ten generals starting from the 17th century with George monck,right through to the last proper war,ie WW2,

and Montgomery.

The author just seems to be able to write a book about history and not make it boring.

Each of the ten stories in this book are just long enough to give you a good insite into the persons lifestyle and ways of command.And if you didnt find any perticular general that interesting it does matter because at least you havent gone and wasted money on a entire book about them.

It also works the opposite way,that if you did find them interesting then you know you can go and splash out on a book and you will be interested in it.

All in all I found this book to be well written,and it keeps your interest.

Im off now to buy another of his books.
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on 20 January 2012
Generals by Mark Urban is a good book analysing 10 figures from the history of the British Army. The book provides potted biographies of each individual and then assesses their impact on not just the Army or Britain but also the wider world. It is well-written and informative and certainly brings to light the careers and achievements of some forgotten and/or marginalised figures. Overall, a very good book and in my opinion would be an excellent companion to Andrew Lambert's similar work on British Admirals.
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