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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2000
Extremely literate, well-constructed consideration of the history of warfare, which advances the argument that contrary to von Clausewitz's mis-quote, "War is the continuation of policy by other means", that war is actually culturally determined, often irrational, and the subsuming of it as an almost legal means of the advancement of global policy is not only undesirable but potentially terrifying.
Also fascinating were the insights into Oriental idioms of warfare, the role of technology in battle, and the consideration of the anthropology of war amongst so-called "primitive" peoples. Keegan speaks about "primitive" war without really examining the ideology behind calling the peoples involved "primitive", which is probably my single quibble.
In all respects, however, the scholarship has the vast breadth that a history of world warfare requires and the style is readable while being eminently authoritative.
I think any thoughtful person would find this book interesting.
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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.

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on 27 April 2016
John Keegan is a masterful historian with an excellent grasp of his subject matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this overview of warfare and would recommend it to anyone interested in the general subject of military history.
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on 25 October 2013
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.
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on 12 January 2010
He's very good on the technical side. I'm grateful to learn so much about fortifications, horses, chariots, armor and the like. But he is quite confused and slipshod about the one subject I know in some detail, Mesopotamian history, and this makes me wonder about the accuracy of his statements concerning other periods.

His worst mistake is ignoring, or being ignorant of, the entire Ur III Empire period, and the subsequent Isin-Larsa period, to which we owe what has survived of Sumerian records. There is a gap of 6 to 8 centuries in his account. He conflates the penetration into Mesopotamia of the Guti, around 2300 BCE, with the invasion of the Kassites, in the 1500's BCE. The former was a gradual incursion, which destabilized and eventually disintegrated the late Akkadian Empire. The Guti did not win any known pitched battles, but moved here and there and were chiefly interested in cattle-raiding. The Kassites poured into the gap left by the Hittite razzia of c. 1595 BCE when Mursilis II sacked Babylon and then hurried home to Asia Minor to squash a palace rebellion. The Kassites easily conquered the prostrate Amorites thereafter. The author thinks that Hammurabi founded the Amorite dynasty, whereas he was really a later figure in it. He also thinks that Hammurabi's chief difficulties were dealing with the Gutians and Elamites. We have already seen how far off he was with the former, whereas the latter sacked Ur around 2000 BCE, ending the UR III Empire. Hammurabi's chief problem was rivalry with Rim-Sin, the king of Larsa in southern Mesopotamia.

He also says that the Hurrians spoke an Indo-European tongue. Apparently he is ignorant of the symbiotic relationship that existed between the Hurrians, whose royal house and common people spoke an Asianic (that is, unknown) language, and their mounted military aristocracy the Mitanni, who spoke an Indo-European tongue akin to Sanskrit.

He lays too much emphasis on the effectiveness of chariots in riverine lands like Mesopotamia and Egypt, which were criss-crossed with numerous canals and therefore not amenable to wheeled traffic. Invaders would have had to operate either from horseback or on boats.

A remark on p. 136 is probably a typo, but it is a serious one. He states that chariots came into their own as field weapons at the end of the 2nd millenium. By then chariots were becoming obsolete; he obviously meant to write 'at the end of the 3rd millenium.'

There are numerous other more minor errors, but those listed give me grave misgivings over his accuracy in fields of which I am partially or wholly ignorant.


Ancient Mesopotamia, Portrait of a Dead Civilization, by A. Leo Oppenheim.
Ancient Iraq, by Georges Roux.
The Sumerians, by Samuel Noah Kramer.
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on 3 December 1998
The History of Warfare contains immensely more than it's simple title portends. The world's foremost military historian takes us on a stunning mental adventure in which the reader will find fascinating links between actual warfare, anthropology, geography, politics, agriculture, industry and more. Keegan does not present his book chronologically but weaves through time and the centuries to compare and contrast the profound differences between modern and past warfare- it' aim, methods and results. The results for the reader are intriguing and coherent, but different in that this is no chronological "coffee table" account of great generals and great armies. It is rather an investigation into the roots and history of conflict from the pre-historic to the atomic that will surprise and delight any person of general intellectual curiosity.
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on 22 September 1999
I can only echo the praise of the reviewer above. Keegan's history is by some distance the best single work of military history for the general reader. It's doesn't aim to be comprehensive (although it packs a surprising amount into its 300-or-so pages), but its strength is the consistency and human power of Keegan's writing, yet never descending into the sort of touchy-feely people's history style of narrative so fashionable among contemporary military historians. Just one reservation: like many of Keegan's books, it takes just a little bit too long to get going, kicking off with a rather indigestible wodge of Clausewitz. But persevere.
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on 23 September 2014
must read for all military historians ! no library is complete without it !!
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on 12 January 2016
This is a very nice addition to my library
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on 25 February 2016
Received the book in excellent condition.
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