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Acts of War: The Behaviour of Men in Battle (CASSELL MILITARY PAPERBACKS) Paperback – 2 Sep 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (2 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0304367001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0304367009
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.8 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

... a powerful, thought-provoking picture of how the conditions of war affect a man. His sources are several centuries of warfare and the personal recollections of veterans of conflicts across the world. Holmes presents the results of his ambitious and exhaustive research in a very readable form, carefully balancing fact and emotion, detachment and compassion which adds considerable depth to the wisdom expressed. (ARMOUR (Nov/Dec '03))

Mr Holmes makes a convincing case that the human being remains the central weapon of military conflict, technology notwithstanding. What emerges is a compelling and very human portrait of war. (THE ECONOMIST (21/2/04)) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The reality of what it is to be a soldier, by Britain's foremost military historian.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellently well thought out and impeccibly researched book from Prof Holmes. He deals with the effects of war on the individual from what motivates prople to fight and forms the cclose bonds of soldiers,as well as dealing with their feelings on and after battle.It is a very revealing book and one that certainly stands up to re-reading and is as relevant (if not more so if considering Prof Holmes conclusions and updated intorduction) in late 2005 as it was when written in 1983. Excellent
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Format: Paperback
This is a very impressive read. Thoughtful, moving, intensely engaging, one must read on, even when the subject is so dreadfully, urgently, distressing.

Very early Holmes points out that other species generally possess some mechanism for avoiding serious aggression within the species, although he goes on to also point out that war is an aberration, in a sense the opposite of politics rather than its continuation. The psychology of ‘Groups’ plays a large part in Holmes’ examination of warfare. He points out that: “The narcissistic image of ones own group is raised to its highest point, while the devaluation of the opposing group sinks to its lowest. One’s own group becomes a defender of human dignity, decency, morality and right. Devilish qualities are ascribed to the other group; it is treacherous, ruthless and basically inhuman.”

Combat is neither pervasive nor orderly – long stretches of time may be spent with waiting for things to kick off, and the following day may be spent in the exact opposite. Continuous shelling and bombardment, no opportunity to rest, sleepless nights, the continual shoring up of the trenches. “For much of the First World War large sections of the Western Front lapsed into unofficial truce, while on all fronts during the Second World War there were lengthy periods in which sporadic shelling, mortaring and low-level patrol activity were the rule while battle was the exception.” Soldiers, meanwhile suffered appalling conditions. Sleep deprivation, rats, lice, nervous exhaustion, a monotonous diet, food shortages, lack of medical attention, in many cases. And above all, fear. Fear that when it came to it, you might run, you might desert your post, that you would not be equal to what you might have to bear.
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Format: Paperback
You may well have seen Richard Holmes presenting a history programme on TV, and his urbane, measured, somewhat earnest style is on display here again in an attempt to capture "the soldier's experience" from training to battle and on into what sustains morale or causes it to collapse. The book is arranged around ten chapters covering these different themes (among others) and the style is general introduction, followed by more specific points backed up by quotes or examples from memoirs or survey questionnaires. But is it any good?

At its best it is very interesting, notably when it is uncovering things not reported in official histories or in most memoirs. The statistics on desertion or how many men admitted to losing control of their bladders or bowels in acute stress was new to me but too much was familiar. Yet despite being generally very easy reading I also found it unsatisfying.

Why? In part, while Holmes communicates clearly, the message isn't always memorable. Each chapter is probably written around 7-8 themes or issues if I think hard about it but these are not clearly drawn out (e.g. by giving each a section heading). Holmes doesn't volunteer any hypotheses to be tested or advance a different line of argument, nor does any section reach any striking conclusions.

This makes for an undemanding read but this narrative style, the tendency to take an example and draw a generalisation from it, starts to come unstuck as the examples begin to contradict each other.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Holmes has done it again, another fascinating and absorbing read from start to finish. This was one of those books you devour in a couple of sittings (much to the chagrin of my unhappy wife and children as I zone out completely) and immerse yourself in varied and amazing anecdotes. More more more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read any and all Richard Holmes books, I was suprised to find this is a copy/reprint/reissue of Firing Line.
Don't buy both.
Fantastic read - brilliant author.
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