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A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962: Algeria 1954-1962

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  1,476 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
Described by one of our editors as "the best book about the Iraq war that isn't about the Iraq war," Alistair Horne's stellar 1977 history of the Algerian revolution could not have been reissued at a more propitious time. Waged a half century ago, the war in Algeria served as a prototype for many modern conflicts. But nowhere does its bloody legacy echo more resoundingly t ...more
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Published January 1st 1977 by Blackstone Audiobooks
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When the New York Review of Books republished this in 2006, a lot was made of its relevance to modern US-led adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is kind of true, but also a bit irritating (because a well-told history like this shouldn't require modern parallels to be worth reading), and for that matter also overstated – the differences were really more striking to me than the similarities. America was fighting in a foreign country. France was not, and that was really the whole point. I don' ...more

All our so-called civilization is covered with a varnish. Scratch it and underneath you find fear. The French, even the Germans, are not torturers by nature. But when you see the throats of your copains slit, then the varnish disappears.
-Paul Teitgen, former French prefect of Algiers, to the author

Both on the front and back covers of the NYRB edition of this book are ringing endorsements by pundits and politicos, warning the reader about the total resemblance between this disaster and that of th
Jun 13, 2009 Buck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pro-patria-mori
Prior to reading A Savage War of Peace, I knew as much about Algeria as I do about Sanskrit morphology. A bit of Camus, a few memorable scenes from The Battle of Algiers, the puzzling lyrics to Rock the Casbah: that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I was dimly aware that France had fought a nasty colonial war there back in the 50s, but I had no idea just how terrible – and terribly momentous – the conflict was. I don’t think I can put it any more succinctly than the jacket copy of my ...more
This is an excellent book, but a book emotionally difficult to read. A book filled with detailed information. A challenging book.

It is thorough and well researched.

It is balanced. All warring combatants are fairly presented.

Details of the war atrocities, and they are numerable, are not excessive. This is what happened, and if you are going to read about this terrible war you need to be given all the facts, all the atrocities committed. Only then do you fully understand. Atrocities of war are co
Luís C.
On Page 194 to Page 197:

The death of Ben M’hidi left, alive and at liberty, only Belkacem Krim out of the original neuf historiques of the F.L.N. Like an unsightly molehill, it also threw up the whole ugly but hitherto largely subterranean issue of the maltreatment of rebel suspects, of torture and summary executions; or what, in another context and depending upon the point of view, might perhaps be termed “war crimes”, and what in France came simply to be known as la torture. From the Battle of
This is a subject that I only became interested in because of the film 'The Battle Of Algiers' The film is certainly a great film. The book is also a very good to great piece of history. Alistair Horne manages to fully interrogate a distressing and controversial world event in such a way as to be fair to all the parties concerned but also not be judgment free.

Horne is in control of his facts and with them tells the sordid, painful story of this conflict. To his credit it reads like a story, a co
Robert Morris
This is not a book about Algeria. The author makes clear that he was unable to access decent sources from the Algerian side, but anyone buying this book should be aware that this is French history more than anything else. The author makes some efforts to understand the Algerians, but it often comes back to the same comments about their "inscrutable" nature. If you are looking for insight into Algeria, the wikipedia page would probably be about as useful.

The treatment of the French, on the other
Jun 14, 2015 Sunny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit that this is one of the if not the best historical book I have read and that includes Roy Jenkin’s bio of Churchill. :) Not even going to try to summarize this one bit more than saying that it’s a book about the 8 year war of independence that Algeria fought with France and with themselves. Google / Wikipedia any of the following in the context of Algeria (in no particular order) and you get a jist of the shizzle: barricades week, battle of Algiers, harkis, Brazzaville, sakiet, m ...more
Mikey B.
I confess to not being very knowledgeable on the Algerian war for independence from France during the 1950’s to 1962. So there was much that was new to me in reading this book (particularly the plethora of characters introduced). It serves once more to emphasis the evils of the entire colonial system.

But there were some distinguishing features in France’s occupation of Algeria.

> There were over one million who settled in Algeria starting in the 1830’s when France first occupied it. Some were
This is one of the best history books I've read in a long while. Horne does a masterful job of juggling the numerous actors and acronyms that populate the War of Algerian Independence. Reading more like a textbool than many recent histories, the author does not try to string a common character through all the events, but takes instead a thorough approach to nearly every month of the eight year conflict. Horne offers a very balanced review, never favoring the Algerian French population, nor the i ...more
Jeremy Allan
This book, like all histories, has its biases and its imperfections. Despite that, A Savage War of Peace maintains a reasonable level of objectivity in relating the happenings of a war rarely described in neutral terms. For example, I say "a war," even though I was informed by a French colleague yesterday that many French historians prefer to avoid that word, choosing instead to refer to "the events" in Algeria. Such a position, I believe, illustrates clearly that even descriptions meant to appe ...more
Mar 10, 2015 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew almost nothing of the war of liberation in Algeria, and this was an enormous introduction (624 pages worth), bringing immense satisfaction at finishing it. It is brilliantly crafted history, slow going but fairly enthralling none the less, and a wonderful management of detail. It is as balanced and critical as the author can make it I think, exploring the critical events and the political machinations of the war on both sides. For an aerial view of everything that happened, explored with ...more
We failed to heed Lesson #2 as well. The setting is the mid-50's to the early 60's in another colonial possession. The colony is Algeria and the colonizer is France. Yet saying Algeria is a colony is a bit different from what springs to our minds. Algeria is not a British Colonial possession although it is fairly close to British India, A French Indochina, or a US Philippines. Algeria boasted a population of over 1 million French Europeans called Pied Noirs out of a population of 5 million. Alge ...more
Frank Kelly
Horne long ago established himself as one of the greatest historians and biographers of our generation (and, I would argue, many generations back). This book is exactly why he wears this crown on his august head -- it's an extraordinary story of a brutal war that much of the world ignored while France fought viciously and ultimately to a bitter defeat. Many pointed to this book as a case study of everything the US was doing in Iraq. Maybe that is correct, maybe not. But to confine this book as s ...more
Andrew Hill
Jan 20, 2011 Andrew Hill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alistair Horne's great chronicle of the Algerian war of independence returned to mainstream attention during the last decade when it was on the reading list of President Bush and many of his national security and military advisors. The implication was that France's experiences in Algeria might hold some lessons for the United States as it fought the Iraqi insurgency (at the time a greater concern than the war in Afghanistan).

I find this quite ironic, for the one great lesson of Horne's book is h
The Algerian War of Independence against France was, in many ways, the archetype of the "wars of liberation" of the 20th century as imperialism passed out of favor. It was also a precursor of the wars of resistance in Islamic societies against real or perceived Western aggression. Each stage of the struggle seems to be more brutal and bloody than the one before, and things were vastly complicated by the fact that France considered Algeria to be not a colony but rather an integral part of the Fre ...more
Nov 10, 2008 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: kate
Gruelling tough minded, balanced account of the war that is the classic on counter insurgency. Read by everyone from Petraeus, the Pentagon, the Israeli cabinet, Hamas, Bin Laden. In middle east peace talks, everyone has it in their briefcase. But not for the faint hearted and not good for your faith in human goodness: the atrocities on both sides are truly awful.
In A Savage War of Peace, Alistair Horne combines the disciplines of journalism and history to provide a broad, yet insightful account of the Algerian War of Independence. This synthesis allows him to step outside of the strict boundaries of history and frame his narrative around the idea of “turning points” in the history of the conflict, which enables him to speculate, particularly in the conclusion, about what the outcome might have been had the situation changed. Aside from this, however, hi ...more
Apr 10, 2016 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in history, colonialist conflicts, and Muslim movements
Algeria, "France's Viet Nam," is a conflict most people outside of France and Algeria don't know much about. You've probably heard it was one of the last anti-colonialist wars, and that it pitted Muslims against Westerners, and that there were atrocities on both sides. But the details are fuzzy for most Americans after half a century. It was a conflict happening in a part of the world we didn't care much about at the time, and even during the Cold War, neither the US nor the USSR was heavily inv ...more
Scott Whitmore
Apr 26, 2013 Scott Whitmore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solidly presented look at the conflict between Algeria and France leading to the former nation’s independence in 1962, in turns fascinating and frustrating — not because of the author’s efforts, although I will list a few quibbles below, but rather because of the lessons unlearned.

In the preface to the 2006 edition, Alistair Horne relates that, at his staff’s request a copy of "A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962" was sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield in 2005. This would be
To my best knowledge, there are very few books in english dealing with Algerian war of independence and 'A Savage War of Peace' seems to be regarded as THE book to read by an english-speaking person. Having just done that, I understand this opinion and support it to one hundred percent. It is indeed a superb single volume overview of an extremly complex conflict. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that it's one of the best works of such type that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

In a little o
Joseph Stieb
Jun 13, 2014 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coin
This is an intense read that will probably take you a while to get through. The narrative is pretty dense, and it's difficult to keep track of the stream of generals, politicians, and rebels that come and go. Leaving out some extra details could have made the book 1/5th shorter. The one towering figure over this period in history is Charles de Gaulle. He deserves significant credit for holding France together in this period in the face of military intransigence and rebellion. He also had the for ...more
Richard White
Apr 20, 2016 Richard White rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1952-1962 by Alistair Horn was recommended to me by a retired Army officer and professor of international studies in one of my undergraduate classes called “Small Wars” for good reason: the 20th Century French war is eminently relatable to the savage wars of peace involving Western powers and Arab states that continue today.

If you are ignorant of the French war in Algeria or French history in general (as I was or am; the extent of my exposure to the war was from a
Nov 19, 2008 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alistair Horne's "Savage War of Peace" has gotten a lot of recent attention as Army officers and US policymakers have been reading to find some some clues on how to handle Iraq. France did win its war in Algeria militarily but lost it politically, failing to come up with a solution that Algerians could live with (like liberte, egalite, fraternite). The French also lost the battle for public opinion at home, as those with recent memory of Nazi occupation were turned off by their army's use of tor ...more
Jamie Rinaldi
Jul 12, 2007 Jamie Rinaldi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in 3rd world independence struggles.
After recently been accused in the local press as having sympathies towards "Marxists and third world revolutionaries" (not me specifically, but my department), I thought it might be wise to begin bolstering my romantic ideas of guerilla struggle and popular insurrection with some cold hard facts.

In all seriousness, Savage War of Peace, Alasdair Horne's exhaustive history of the Algerian war for independence (1954-1962) lays waste to the simplistic and yet not uncommon tendency of scholars and
Lauren Albert
Not long ago, I wrote of "Mao's Last Revolution" that I "could not see the forest for the trees." Yet, Horne's book on Algeria was highly detailed and yet still gave me a sense of the forest. Algeria's story is a complex one and Horne tells it well and even handedly. I, surprising myself, wanted to start over when I finished it to get a better grasp of all of the complexity. I didn't only because it is so very long! The publisher makes a point of quoting Thomas Ricks on the cover, saying that "a ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Gspesh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, history
I've always wanted to read this but never got beyond the first chapter in the past. However, I recently read Embers of War abount the French War in Indochina which made me think about Algeria again. It turns out this book was a great bookend to Embers. Many of the same battle hardened officers, who incredibly saw action in the Resistance and Dien Bien Phu would play crucial roles in Algeria. Overall, this is a well balanced account of the war and Horne is a fair historian giving equal time to th ...more
May 29, 2008 Dale rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, nonfiction
A Savage War of Peace is the definitive history of the Algerian war of independence, fought from 1954 to 1962. This is a book that the neo-con overlords would have been well advised to have read before they embarked on their adventure in Iraq - but, sadly, none of the hard-won lessons of Algeria ever seeped into the feeble brains of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Rice. We've all paid the price of their fact-free theorizing.

If you want to know, in exacting detail, how Algeria won its inde
Peter Buren
Apr 07, 2011 Peter Buren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Horne’s book is a long, sad, brilliant look at the mistakes the French made in trying to subdue Algeria via torture, military power and hubris. Sound familiar? Our go-to guy Tom Ricks said this in his review of the book: “When Americans talk about the raging insurgency in Iraq, they often draw parallels with the Vietnam War, but a better analogy is probably the French war against nationalist rebels in Algeria from 1954 to 1962. That’s one reason why the landmark history of that conflict, Alistai ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After seeing Mesrine, I realized I knew very little about the French-Algerian war, so I hunted this book down. A big, meaty nonfiction of the type I love, I learned a lot but was frequently confused because this was one comlicated war. Not as simple as Algeria vs. France, there was also the OAS, French who didn't agree with DeGaulle's plan, and the French army, to let Algeria have their independence and were a paramilitary group. There were also Muslims who were cool with France continuing to ru ...more
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  • Street Without Joy
  • Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency
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  • The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879
  • The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power
  • The Boer War
  • The Army and Vietnam
  • The Centurions
  • This Kind of War
  • Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
  • The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871
  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
  • A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War
  • Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign
  • The Village
  • A Dying Colonialism
  • The Spanish Civil War
Alistair Horne is a preeminent historian, journalist and Oxford fellow who has written seventeen books, many of them on the military history of France.He has won the following awards: Hawthornden Prize, 1963, for The Price of Glory; Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Prize and Wolfson Literary Award, both 1978, both for A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962; French Légion d'Honneur, 1993, for work ...more
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“I would suddenly be seized with a desire to go down to the beach for a swim. And merely to have imagined the sound of ripples at my feet, and then the smooth feel of the water on my body as I struck out, and the wonderful sensation of relief it gave,” 2 likes
“peoples who have been waiting for their independence for a century, fighting for it for a generation, can afford to sit out a presidential term, or a year or two in the life of an old man in a hurry;” 2 likes
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