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The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  258 ratings  ·  38 reviews
For five centuries, the State has evolved according to epoch-making cycles of war and peace. But now our world has changed irrevocably. What faces us in this era of fear and uncertainty? How do we protect ourselves against war machines that can penetrate the defenses of any state? Visionary and prophetic, The Shield of Achilles looks back at history, at the “Long War” of 1 ...more
Paperback, 960 pages
Published September 9th 2003 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2002)
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Reconstruction of the Shield of Achilles, by Dr. Raffaele D'Amato, and Giuseppe Rava, The Early Aegean Warrior, 5000-1450 BC.

when the famous crippled Smith had finished off
that grand array of armor, lifting it in his arms
he laid it all at the feet of Achilles' mother Thetis—
and down she flashed like a hawk from snowy Mount Olympus
bearing the brilliant gear, the god of fire's gift.

-Homer, The Iliad, lines 714-720, Robert Fagles translation.

This is a vast and sprawling book of IR theory, inter
Sherwood Smith
Dec 22, 2014 Sherwood Smith added it
Shelves: history
The perfect book to take on a long train ride. Bobbitt's strength is in his ability to paint the Big Picture, specifically the evolution of the state, and how we're now passing into the era of the market state.

He supports his thesis with a staggering mass of detail which I found somewhat problematical the farther back he went (Castlereagh the great visionary? Really? What about Kosciusko? Or for that matter, Talleyrand, and how a great deal of the face of modern Europe was proposed by him aroun
Pulled out 'The Shield' recently and re-read some sections - Bobbitt is an interesting character, a constitutional lawyer and historian. I heard him speak at the Stanford Law and Ethics Forum a few weeks ago on 'Terror and Consent' which is also the title of his new book. The 'Shield' is of door-stop dimensions, but it had (for me) great value. He traces the dynamic, evolutionary relationship between the internal, constitutional order of states and the external challenges of strategy and war, be ...more
Valentin Chirosca
Bobbitt the historian tells us the story of the modern state, while Bobbitt the expert in strategic planning links this story to changes in military technology which in turn were bound to change military strategy. So we learn how military requirements produced new kinds of state: the “princely state” (1494 – 1648), the “kingly state” that merged into the “territorial state” (1648 – 1776), the “state-nation” (1776 – 1914), and the “nation-state” in what Bobbitt calls the “Long War” (1914 – 1990). ...more
Well, I've finally finished this tome. I read this on the Amazon Kindle 3 (iPad and Touch as well) and this thing has 23,074 locations (get used to the new system it's the future...probably...because it is more accurate).

Achilles was a good book but not a great book. Problems for me were that it was over written, fractious, largely speculative, and somewhat dated (having mostly been written before 9/11).

Essentially it is two books rolled into one. Another of its problems. The first book is con
This is a remarkable work -- if only for its sheer ambition and the grace with which it is pursued. Setting into meaningful dialogue military/strategic history and political/constitutional history, Bobbitt traces the changing dominant forms of the "state" from its Renaissance founding (princely states) through to what he argues is the recent (or perhaps still occurring) demise of the 20th-century manifestation (nation states). So the historical narrative is not intended only to enrich our unders ...more
Sweeping . . . that's the best one-word review I can offer . . . just sweeping, as Dr. Bobbitt traces the basic history of the whole concept of the nation-state from inception to circa 2001. And he does so in prose that is as compelling as a novel in places, believe it or not. I started reading this book in 2004 in the midst of a horrible Floridian hurricane and found myself not wanting to put it down or leave my apartment. The chapter on Colonel House and his legacy in statecraft is worth the p ...more
The breadth and depth of this book is astonishing. Bobbitt explains why the 20th Century was one "Long War" fought between Fascism, Communism and Parliamentarism. The latter won.

But the more important point is the void created by the lack of the cold war, and how that confuses countries in terms of how to react to new problems of terror, dictators, food crises or even climate change.

Offers views on NATO, UN, EU etc.

Tough read with enormous detail in history from 1400's to now.
Jack Schweitzer
It has the potential to open and change your persepective if you can handle the scope and the depth of the work. One of the best books Ive ever picked up. If your interested in war and history give this book a try
Cool book. I'm currently reading about how the great treaties of the world have contributed our current international state: Augsburg, Westfallia, Peace of Paris, etc.
Matt Stearns
The Shield of Achilles is a tome. In that sense it reflects the source for it's title, Homer's elaborate and lengthy description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad. I read this book as part of my research on a paper in which I argued that transnational legal orders are facilitating a reorientation of individual identities and therefore political change. Because of this, I was reading for very specific information and my opinion may be skewed for that reason. Philip Bobbitt's analysis is incredible ...more
Perry Whitford
Certain world leaders over the last dozen years have been in thrall to the theories and arguments that historian and political adviser Phillip Bobbitt formed in this mammoth book, published in 2002.


There is only one way to find out - to read the thing, which is quite a challenge as, not only could you find an alternative use for it as a prop for the shortened leg on a large-sized table, you could actually use it for a small-sized table on its own.

In the Introduction, Bobbitt establishes his
I thought that this book might be my white whale, but I finally caught up to it. Purchased, 2002. Began reading, 2002, 2005, and 2012. Finished, 2012. Phew.

A dense examination of the interplay between law, war, and the constitutional ordering of the state. The first book focuses on the history of the modern state, and the periods of war and peace that led to paradigm shifts in way states were conceived of and behaved. Much attention is given to the Long War, Bobbit's name for the 75ish years of
Patrick McCoy
The Shield of Achilles by Philip Bobbit was an interesting look at the history and culture of war in western society. I basically focused on Book I: State of War. I didn’t have time to finish it since I was in SE Asia, and I haven’t decided whether or not to tackle Book II: States of Peace. Bobbit has an impressive knowledge of military innovation through strategy and technology. He is equally knowledgeable about constitutional law and its history. He presents an interesting analysis of what he ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Alan added it
A bit of a slog, but worth it. An eye-opener for me. It's distressing to read so persuasive a prediction of nuclear weapons proliferation and that states are evolving away from their objective of improving citizens' welfare. On the other hand, do-good initiatives informed by his analysis will be more like to actually do good. Right after finishing this, I read about Kroll Inc., a very profitable international fraud busting company that seems the kind of organization necessary for Bobbitt's more ...more
This is an excellent book. The author's thesis is that there is a dynamic relationship between strategic and legal development, such that changes in the strategic environment drive constitutional changes in states and the evolution of state's constitutions change the strategic environment. As a consequence history has moved through various stages which correspond to the development of modern states, with each stage centered on an "epochal war" (often a series of conflicts) which separates the su ...more
Paul Bard
Groundbreaking study, that eclipses previous modern views on international relation.

Remarkable book.
Terry Quirke
A tome of a read but well worth the effort, Bobbitt poses an intriguing link between the development of military strategy/technology and the development of legal states. The net is cast wide and covers an enormous amount of information, and generally Bobbitt manages to hold it all together and has a good writing style to keep the reader on the journey. Thought provoking and written before the events of 9/11 and recent Middle Eastern history, some of his possible future developments do seem to be ...more
Read this in college but has remained on my bookshelf ever since. Excellent reference!
If Schama's 'Citizens' is the best history book I've read with a narrow focus, this is the best one with a broader focus.

The weaknesses almost all lie in the 2nd half of the book, which is not as strong as the first. The chapter on House I felt could have been eliminated all together.

But the first half is so enriching and eye opening. So many things came together for me about the last 500 years of western history as I read this.
A wealth of knowledge to be sure, but being pre-9/11 material this is essentially a historical document giving insight into bobbit's thinking and research methods. While I wouldn't say Shield is obsolete, I expect most readers will be more interested in bobbit's more recent books "terror and consent" and/or "garments of court and state".
Dennis Fischman
The same things I liked most about this book were the things I ultimately liked least. The author's erudition leads to pedantry. His ambitious reach and sweep come at the cost of precision, and he pays not enough attention to theories that compete with his or facts that contradict his explanations.
If you think the 20th Century was basically a Long War that started in 1914 and ended in 1990, you will like this book. If you don't like history or law or legal history, you will hate this book. I read it will listening to "Gimme Shelter" over and over again. Seemed to fit.
Joshua Finnell
After 347 pages I gave up. Bobbitt weaves together patterns in the history of military strategy, technology, world wars, diplomacy and constitutional law for 900 pages. Unfortunately, this book was too heavy for me read before falling off to sleep every night.
B. Hallward
Although the author occasionally has some interesting ideas, he has the bad habit of mistaking assertion for argument, a chronic lack of evidence for his points and a rambling, badly-organized style of writing.
Sam Snideman
Long read about a number of long wars (Napoleonic Wars, the Cold War, etc.). Lays out an interesting vision for the society of states in a time when the nation-state is becoming weaker.
Rhett Talley
Breathtaking scope handled with confidence and clarity. Ambitious, erudite, persuasive. A tour de force historical narrative of state hegemonics. But with an agenda.
The scope of Bobbitt's work is as breathtaking as advertised, that the results aren't exactly revolutionary doesn't really mean this it isn't worth a read.
Dec 01, 2008 Michelle is currently reading it
I'm reading a couple of chapters for the GWU Hour radio show. I don't know how soon I will get around to reading the rest of the book . . .
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Philip Chase Bobbitt is an American author, academic, and public servant who has lectured in the United Kingdom. He is best known for work on military strategy and constitutional law and theory, and as the author of Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution (1982), The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) and Terror and Consent: the Wars for the Twenty-first Centur ...more
More about Philip Bobbitt...
Terror and Consent : The Wars for the Twenty-First Century The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution Machiavelli's The "Prince": A Biography U. S. Nuclear Strategy: A Reader

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