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The Pursuit of Power

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  188 ratings  ·  13 reviews
s/t: Technology, Armed Force & Society since AD 1000
In this magnificent synthesis of military, technological, and social history, William H. McNeill explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us. McNeill moves with equal mastery from the crossbow—banned by the Church in 1139 a
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 15th 1984 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1982)
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Excellent piece on military history. I was "forced" to read McNeil as I was Keegan and Horne as an essential piece to commissioning as an U.S. Army Officer. This should be essential reading for every NATO officer. It provided a rebirth for my interest in military history and sparked my interest in graduate research. This should be essential reading for every commissioned officer in NATO. Exquisite detail from the birth of gunpowder in western Europe until the present day.
Randall Wallace
Nation states substitute taxation for plunder. Finance increases it’s power over politics in Europe while in China the opposite happened. In China capital accumulation was considered immoral because of it’s historical connection with unfair advantage. Christian Theology was of course also very opposed to capital accumulation however corrupted Christian Theology had and still has no problem with it. Interesting to learn the development from Bombards to Cannon. 1690 is when the bayonet is develope ...more
Nate Huston
This book is exhaustingly exhaustive. Perhaps I just need more time to chew on it, but the first paragraph of the preface paints a more direct picture than I personally experienced. "Alterations in armaments resemble genetic mutations of microorganisms in the sens that they may, from time to time, open new geographic zones for exploitation, or break down older limits upon the exercise of force within the host society itself." (vii) From this note I expected to read about cases where the developm ...more
An excellent book covering military history the way I feel it should be; not as a tiresome list of battles and tactics, but as the evolution of armed force as the interaction of technology, economics and culture.

Like many histories, I feel it becomes less effective the closer it comes to the time it was written. The chapter devoted to post-WWII is I believe the weakest. I will need to check and see if the author has written anything to better cover that area since it has been 30 years since publ
Sep 08, 2013 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This book presented a compelling argument about the decline and rise of "command" in technological development and military mobilization. It was also very interesting to get McNeill's take on the latter stages of the Cold War (the book was published in 1982), so there was like a second history hidden in the last chapter--that of intellectual responses to the challenges of the nuclear age and the Cold War.

Still, I only give this (enjoyable) book 4 stars because of how Eurocentric the latter chapt
If Machiavelli wrote the how-to book, this is the story of its use.

McNeil takes a long view of history, describing the growth of the modern military-industrial machine (sorry, no conspiracy theories here) through the development of military, social, and technological history. Anyone who likens war to a parasite of human existence is worth reading (even if the writing can be a little dense at times).

The last chapter itself is an interesting look at late cold war thinking (the book was originally
Epic and important. Dense, prepare for many notes if of interest. Blends an impossibly broad scope of time with incredibly rich detail on the role of military technology and organization in shaping the sweep of history and society. Last chapters leave the historical for contemporary analysis as written in Cold War times, a nice freeze frame of (intelligent) thinking at the time if more speculative postulating than the prior chapters' more detached analysis. Related: Power and Plenty.
Michael Burnam-fink
Do you think exploring all of military history might be a little ambitious? Yeah, but McNeill pulls it off, explaining how technology, markets, and command authority have combined again and again to win wars, and create modern society. If there's any weakness in the book, it's that it skims WW2 and the Cold War, and treats innovation and technology as an autonomous force, but for a comprehensive military history, it's amazing.
Alexander Polsky
So smart it makes you hurt with envy. McNeill is always smart, but this is the top of his game, breathtaking knowledge and a thesis that's worth the candle. Its very "Chicago", an examination of how military competition drove technological and social change across civilizations, it goes on your list of "desert island books"
to read again: mcneill is one of those guys who knows just about everything. even the part after WWII where he translated the effects of the counterculture movement to technology and military forces was great.
Denise DeRocher
I recommend this book to anyone and everyone!! A must'read for all who are interested in warfare, politics, sociology, etc... An amazing endeavor.
Cameron Willis
Not a review per se: my first history book, from 2002, given to me as a gift by my history teacher when I went to university.
Arguably better than _Guns, Germs, and Steel_.
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