Tim's Reviews > A History of Warfare

A History of Warfare by John Keegan
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May 06, 09

Read in April, 2009

Keegan's history of warfare is a thick tome, full of wonderful detail and history that ranges beyond warfare (where sometimes Keegan's footing is less firm). It was never a slog, but certainly a book that requires more attention than the drowsiness just before sleep. Keegan begins with Clausewitz's dictum that war is just politics pursued by other means and takes it apart and takes it to task. It seems the west has fought differently from the rest of the world for millenia - Keegan does not make moral judgments until faced with the horror of WWI, where it is entirely appropriate. It is good that a book about warfare is not entirely descriptive but attempts to make some normative claims. He notes that to escape Clausewitz'a claim "all that we need to accept is that, over the course of 4000 years of experiment and repetition, warmaking has become a habit. In the primitive world, this habit was circumscribed by ritual and ceremony. In the post-primitive world, human ingenuity ripped ritual and ceremony, and the restraints they imposed on warmaking...." (385) You might not agree with all his conclusions or all the massive details he wields, piling up history from primitive cultures through Vietnam, but you do appreciate this stunning work and its huge amount of research.
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