Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Why Don't We Learn from History?

Rate this book
"A must read for both the people & the leaders of ALL the dictatorial regimes around the world (democracies would also surely benefit). A book for all times to come. His understanding & explanation of where the real power lies is outstanding. What s breathtaking is how relevent his arguments are today & how strikingly similar the working of all governments turn out to be (as generalized by Hart). He deals with issues such as 'patterns & psychology of dictatorship', 'power politics in a democracy' & lastly the the 'desire for power' & 'War'."--Ali S. Burki.


Part 1: History & truth
Part 2: Government & freedom
Part 3: War & peace

68 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1944

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

B.H. Liddell Hart

121 books232 followers
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart usually known before his knighthood as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart was an English soldier, military historian and leading inter-war theorist.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
203 (27%)
4 stars
301 (40%)
3 stars
184 (24%)
2 stars
42 (5%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 66 reviews
Profile Image for Mike.
83 reviews
August 23, 2016
I give it around 3.5 stars. This book is about why we don't learn from the history of war. Liddell argues that the history of war is the most important of all history and should be studied more in depth by universities. It is easy to see as the world would be very different if someone else had won or lost a war. I have to admit it's not an easy read, but what I did understand I liked a lot. I will definitely read it again and my rating will most likely go up when I do. Even though the book is decades old you can see things coming to fruition that he mentions in his book. Things like dictators, and the strategies they use and the loyalty of the people that give them their power. The entire book is only 95 pages.
Profile Image for Mylove4book.
220 reviews12 followers
October 10, 2022
我把這本隨手扔在客廳的時候, 家人被它聳動的標題嚇到了...說來微妙, 其實原文書名超平淡的 (Why Don’t We Learn from History?) 中譯版不知道為何延伸成這麼一長串......
這本跟它平淡的原文書名一樣, 性質上偏散文雜記, 記錄了李德哈特在戰史研究過程中, 一些瑣碎的思考. 軍事的部分還沒有政治(和外交等)的成份多, 有點像是茶餘飯後、老人家邊看電視新聞邊碎念的閒談。書本身沒有明確的口號, 更遑論激情的宣示, 但並不表示它缺乏深度. 相反的, 文句中可以看出由漫長的戰史研究、情感與現實面的搏鬥,帶出的或多或少妥協的滄桑感。
本書出版於1972年,但有點意外又不太意外的,書中描述的戰前/戰時的一些狀態,包含獨裁的模式、民粹與民主的困境、乃至戰爭途中雙方沒有台階下的窘迫,50年後的現在來看居然還是各種符合。科技是進步了, 但戰爭的本質也許,從來都沒甚麼改變吧。
Profile Image for Ajay.
267 reviews16 followers
November 26, 2016
The first.... 85% of this book maybe, is worthy of five starts, the rest is rather.... odd. Nonetheless, I do recommend the first 85% to most most people, especially after the events of this year (2016). We need a refresher on what Hart set out to teach us in this book.
Profile Image for Eat.Sleep.Lift.Read..
156 reviews34 followers
December 19, 2019
Even tho it's short as feck it does ramble on a bit towards the end.

Fantastic first half of the book though.
Profile Image for Simon Howard.
624 reviews14 followers
February 2, 2021
I was lucky enough to read this famous essay in an original 1944 edition.

It starts off well: Liddell Hart gives a lot of interesting theories for why we seem not to learn from history, with a central tenet being that we aren’t very good at truthfully recording events in the first place.

He then lost me for the second half of the essay by going into some detail about the Second World War and perceived problems with the Christian church, which I’m sure would be interesting to many people, but don’t seem obviously related to the titular question.

It’s only short—58 pages in my edition—so I got my effort’s worth from it anyway.

Some quotes, almost all from the first half:

While in common with the great majority I have had to earn a living, I have had the rare good luck of being able to earn it by trying to discover the truth of events, instead of to cover it up, as so many are compelled, against their inclination, by the conditions of their job.

Nothing can deceive like a document.

After twenty years' experience of such work, pure documentary history seems to me akin to mythology. To those academic historians who still repose faith on it, I have often told a short story with a moral. When the British front was broken in March 1918, and French reinforcements came to help in filling the gap, an eminent French general arrived at a certain army corps headquarters, and there majestically dictated orders giving the line on which the troops would stand that night and start their counter-attack in the morning. After reading it, with some perplexity, the corps commander exclaimed: "But that line is behind the German front. You lost it yesterday." The great commander, with a knowing smile, thereupon remarked: "C'est pour l'histoire." It may be added that for a great part of the war he had held a high staff position where the archives on which much official history would later depend had been under his control.

If a man reads or hears a criticism of anything in which he has an interest, watch whether his first question is as to its fairness and truth. If he reacts to any such criticism with strong emotion; if he bases his complaint on the ground that it is not in "good taste," or that it will have a bad effect-in short, if he shows concern with any question except "Is it true?" he thereby reveals that his own attitude is unscientific. Likewise if in his turn he judges an idea not on its merits but with reference to the author of it; if he criticizes it as "heresy"; if he argues that authority, must be right because it is authority; if he takes a particular criticism as a general depreciation; if he confuses opinion with facts; if he claims that any expression of opinion is "unquestionable"; if he declares that something will "never" come about, or is "certain" that any view is right. The path of truth is paved with critical doubt, and lighted by the spirit of objective enquiry. To view any question subjectively is self-blinding.

Deep is the gulf between works of history as written and the truth of history.

One would like to see a political movement that would offer a really original programme-which instead of announcing to the ever-credulous voter the wonderful things it would give him if elected to power, would tell him what checks it had designed on its own abuse of power.
Profile Image for Tyler Tidwell.
101 reviews10 followers
April 18, 2020
The title is a little misleading. This short book is really just Hart editorializing on a wide array of subjects, the study and methodologies of history being just one of them. That being said, he writes well and has some interesting (though not overblown) opinions that have proved relatively prescient when one examines world events over the last 50 years. It’s not feasible to summarize the book due to its ranging nature, but here are a few of his more interesting points:

-Any honest, experienced historian knows not to believe what he reads in most history books (irony intended). This is doubly so if the book is military history, and triply so if it’s “official” military history.

-The military officer only rarely practices his profession in the real world. Doctors regularly perform surgeries and lawyers regularly defend clients, but the military officer is rarely engaged in actual combat. Additionally, whereas one kidney surgery may be all but identical to another, every conflict will invariably have some grossly unique elements. What we should preeminently value in the military officer then is creative thinking. Unfortunately the hierarchical, disciplinary nature of the military often undermines this virtue.

-No matter how well founded or intended, compulsion is almost always an ineffective long-term vehicle for implementing successful, durable changes in the political, cultural, or societal realms.

-The keenest leaders and thinkers are those who follow the dictates of reason without ever forgetting about or underestimating the incredible power and influence wielded by unreasonable human emotions.
Profile Image for Jorė.
189 reviews11 followers
February 6, 2017
Wars have always been part of history that disinterested me most, but this book gives good points of why they are worth more attention. I've enjoyed the topics on loyalty, obedience and tradition of faking history in the military but some parts didn't hold my attention at all. Maybe because names of the generals and references to famous fights just don't ring the bell - due to my lack of education, probably.
I'm not sure if he gives a clear answer of "why don't we learn from history", but he clearly communicates all the reasons why we should. And in 2017, it somehow sounds as a very relevant advice.
Profile Image for Joshua Hunt.
30 reviews
May 23, 2020
“It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.” — p. 125


First book of its kind that I’ve read in my adult life. Just... fascinating. This fairly small read (126 pages in my 2019 Edition) was slow going and challenging at several parts given the varying subject matter, but worth the trip in the end. I feel better for it, like having just finished a solid long distance run.

Recommend to the discerning and experienced reader.

From page 93:
“Whoever habitually suppresses the truth... will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.”
9 reviews
March 9, 2023
این کتاب رو همراه با blueclub عزیزم خوندیم در اسفند ۱۴۰۱. داغ داغ ترجمه شده بود و رسید به دست ما. کتابی بود که هنوز حس‌ام راجبش متناقضه. هم پر شد از خط کشی و هایلایت هام، و هم پر بود از صفحاتی که فقط به زور میخوندم که تموم بشه.
موضوع مهمی بود و نویسنده آدمی پر از اطلاعات تاریخی و دیدی جالب، اما پراکندگی بین موضوعات زیاد بود. در جاهایی بنظرم میشد بیشتر صحبت بشه که نشد و در جاهایی بنظرم میشد پرداخت نشه زیاد اما خیلی صحبت شده بود.
خیلی از بخش های کتاب برام گنگ بود؛ احتمالا یک دلیلش بخاطر اطلاعات کمی هست که از تاریخ جنگ های اروپا و آمریکا دارم، اما بخشی‌اش هم بخاطر پرداختن نویسنده به جزئیات ریزی بود که شاید برای خواننده عوام تا حدی مطلع از تاریخچه جنگ ها هم، ناآشنا و خسته کننده میشد.
بخش دوم کتاب و اواخر بخش سوم برام محبوب ترین بخش های کتاب بودند. نکات جالبی زیادی در متن گفته میشد که با دنیای امروز ما تطابق زیادی داشت(باوجود نوشته شدن این کتاب در حدود ۵۰ سال پیش)، که باعث میشه این کتاب قطعا ارزش وقت گذاشتن رو داشته باشه اما باید آمادگی داشته باشیم که شاید گاهی نیاز باشه خودمون رو هل بدیم تا کتاب رو به پایان برسونیم.
فک میکنم بعدا هم به بخش های زیادی از کتاب رجوع میکنم و مرورش میکنم، و با اشارات زیادی که به تاریخ جنگ های اروپا شده بود، حتما سری به تاریخ جنگ های قدیم اروپا بویژه حکومت ناپلئون خواهم زد.
Profile Image for Hamid K..
14 reviews
August 18, 2021
"Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level..."

"...Ascending the spiral, it can be seen that individual security increases with the growth of society, that local security increases when linked to a wider organization, that national security increases when nationalism decreases and would become much greater if each nation's claim to sovereignty were merged in a super-national body."

Outstanding! Hard not to relate to the current world events.
The book is about the history of warfare, how humankind are repeating the same actions from centuries ago, and by the book. The author examines dictatorship, peace, subordination, conscription, democracy and warfare evolution into being more humane.
Very short and interesting read.
Profile Image for Eduardo Garcia-Gaspar.
288 reviews10 followers
March 12, 2019
Tome usted a un autor, a un historiador especializado en historia militar y solicítele que escriba un largo ensayo acerca de las lecciones que en su opinión ilustra la historia, entonces obtendrá este libro. Una colección de lecciones que muestra la historia política y militar y que, al parecer, no han sido asimiladas. Una lectura agradable, ilustrativa y un tanto informal, que añade sabiduría que el lector tiene ahora a su disposición. Muy recomendable.
Profile Image for Ties.
471 reviews24 followers
February 7, 2021
Picked this up based on a recommendation and was very pleasantly surprised. It's a book about history from the perspective of someone who was actually involved in both world wars. The author shares some remarkable insights into state craft and politics and is able to expand this practical view into philosophy. Very interesting book that is 'very readable'.
Profile Image for JP.
118 reviews
January 9, 2017
An incisive look back from a guy who saw a lot and thought it might help to jot down a some notes that might help people in the future. Insightful and pithy on subjects as diverse as lunch, religion, and nonconformity, but follows a common thread in its intense interest in human nature - which is Hart's dismal answer to the question his title poses. He hopes his readers, at least, can learn.
Profile Image for Mark Clackum.
85 reviews3 followers
May 26, 2022
The rise & fall pattern of despotic goverments through history:

*(Ennumeration is mine, not the author's but is my interpretation of the stages of rise & fall)


Inflame people’s existing prejudices and frustrations to stir up resentment and hostility... blame the existing power structures & motivate the proletariat to rise up against the phantom enemy.

future dictators claim a positionof favor among the mislead & uneducated, by listing , over-simplifying & exaggerating the common complaints to blame it on the existing regime.

Claim only they can fix it.  Proclaim overly-simple solutions (therefore non-viable) , but gain popularity because of their overly-simple nature.

Dictators steal control with an abundance of rosy but empty promises always rooted in some future that will never come.

Dismantle all over-watch agencies. Silence all critics. Flood the minds of the citizenry with propaganda. Attempt to usurp any competing entities.


    6. There may even be a brief period of productivity while brainwashed masses are fueled by the fervor, but this wanes as those empty promises are never fulfilled.

     7. Eventually the lies are exposed. Eventually the laboring masses realize all their labor only serves a few elite. The laboring masses realize the quality of their life is worse, not better.

     8. The gluttony of power-avarice inebriates the authoritarians and they seek to give the people a common enemy to deflect their frustration and unify them while trying to seize neighboring resources and thereby expand their power. But the longer the dictator is in power, the more detached from reality they become. Only some of the people will half-heartedly comply.

      9. The 1 tool of dictators is force, so the dictator will enacting conscription: forcing citizens into the military against their will. But history shows that this strategy is also doomed to fail. People only give their all when they choose to. And the neighboring defenders are fighting by choice. The guerillas win all through history even against the mightiest of militaries.

The autocratic regime crumbles from within.

Notice any current parallels?

A summary of Sun Tzu's ideas to prevent or at least minimize the destruction of conflict :

--Nations should build internal strength and stability.

--Leaders should maintain a calm and collected demeanor.

--Countries in conflict should leave their opponents a graceful way to surrender.

-- And, last but not least, armies should work to narrow the scope of acceptable violence.
Profile Image for Ted Tyler.
178 reviews
June 4, 2022
"If you wish for peace, understand war."

"History has limitations as a guiding signpost, however, for although it can show us the right direction, it does not give detailed information about the road conditions. But its negative value as a warning sign is more definite. History can show us what to avoid, even if it does not teach us what to do, by the showing the most common mistakes that mankind is apt to make and to repeat."

"History is the record of man's steps and slips. It shows us that the steps have been slow and slight; the slips, quick and abounding. It provides us with the opportunity to profit by the stumbles and tumbles of our forerunners. Awareness of our limitations should make us chary of condemning those who made mistakes, but we condemn ourselves if we fail to recognize mistakes."

I enjoyed reading Captain Liddell Hart's musings on the value of history: the necessity to seek out truth, no matter the cost, and how a common knowledge of history is foundational for societal prosperity. In addressing war, Liddell Hart laments that soldiers often lack the economic, political, and philosophical frames of reference for understanding conflict. Conversely, governing authorities tend to have almost no knowledge of military affairs (unless the officials have prior service). This creates major problems in understanding the wider implications of war, making it hard to learn from history. A romance of war infected people like Napoleon, giving him illusions about the lust of glory. Contrast that with Wellington, who defeated the French and then immediately pressed for peace.

"To take the opinion of generals, admirals, or air marshals on the deeper problems of war, as distinct from its executive technique, is like consulting your local pharmacist about the treatment of a deep-seated disease. However skilled in compounding drugs, it is not their concern to study the causes and consequences of the disease, nor the psychology of the sufferers."
Profile Image for Tony Dib.
181 reviews15 followers
September 27, 2021
توصل المؤرخ اليوناني بوليبيوس، قبل أكثر من 2000 عام، إلى أنَّ أفضل طريقة للتغلب على مشاكل المجتمع الحالية هي أن «نسترجع إلى الذهن الكوارث التي حلّت بالآخرين». وها نحن، بعد آلاف السنين، ما زالنا نتجاهل دروس الماضي. أوتو فون بسمارك مثلاً، أحد أبرز رجال الدولة في القرن التاسع عشر، الذي وحّد بذكائه الدبلوماسي وحسمه العسكري في غضون بضعة عقود قصيرة العشرات من الإمارات المتناحرة في إمبراطورية ألمانية واحدة، كان نفسه يقول إن خبرته لم تأت بالصدفة ولم تكن مبنية على موهبة طبيعية، بل من خلال دراسة التاريخ. وصرّح أنّ الحمقى وحدهم من يتعلمون فقط من تجاربهم. القادة ذوو الرؤية الحقيقية - وفقًا لبسمارك - يستمدون الإلهام والبصيرة من تجارب الآخرين.
لكن التاريخ أكثر من مجرد مسعى أكاديمي. فهو يساعد على اتخاذ قرارات أفضل ويمنح المعرفة والحكمة التي لا يمكن الحصول عليها من الحياة اليومية. قد يملك من يبلغ من العمر 80 عاماً دروساً حياتية لعقود من الزمن تمكّنه من توجيه أفعاله، لكن لدى القارئ في التاريخ مئات أو آلاف السنين من البيانات للاستفادة منها. من المهم بشكل خاص دراسة التاريخ العسكري. فقد يركز المؤرخون عادةً على التحولات البطيئة والدقيقة في المجتمع الناجمة عن التغيرات الاقتصادية والاجتماعية. ومع ذلك، غالباً ما يكون النزاع المسلح هو محرّك الأحداث. كم كان العالم ليكون مختلفاً لو سارت المعارك الحاسمة في الاتجاه الآخر. ماذا لو غزا الفرس اليونان؟ ماذا لو سُحق نابليون في تولون؟ أو انتصر هتلر على الحلفاء؟ من المهم أثناء التفكير في هذه الأسئلة الحفاظ على رؤية واسعة للصورة. فالانغماس كثيراً في التفاصيل أو في مصدر واحد فقط يعني تشويه فهم الأحداث، فعملية التأريخ لا تخلو من التحيز، سواء تحيز من كتب هذا التاريخ أو الباحث فيه.

يقوم الكتاب على تأملات المؤرخ العسكري ليدل هارت، موضحاً سبب صعوبة فهم أحداث الماضي، وكيف يتم تشويه وتحريف السجلات التاريخية، ولماذا ما يزال بلاء الحروب مرافقاً للبشرية. كتيب صغير لكن هام ومفيد. يدخل في صلب الموضوع مباشرةً، مقدماً عدة أمثلة ومقارنات مع التركيز على فترة الحرب العالمية الأولى.
Profile Image for Daniel Taylor.
Author 4 books82 followers
September 2, 2022
I started this book because Ryan Holiday assigned it as a reading in his Read to Lead course. To my surprise, I found it was already on my want to read list. This is not surprising. I enjoy books about war.

It was also handy timing that I finished this book after reading The Common Sense of Politics by Mortimer J. Adler. Adler argued for the need of a world government, especially since we're all global citizens because of technological revolutions.

Hart also says that a world government would lead to global peace. But, he concludes, "the idea of world federation has no practical chance of acceptance in the near future [p. 109]."

I appreciate this difference of opinion because for me to consider what I think about the idea, I need to research all sides of the argument.
Profile Image for Steven.
Author 2 books10 followers
May 10, 2018
And insightful little book about the lessons we often fail to learn from military and political history.

I feel the book made some unwarranted leaps (based on his personal views which, however much I agree with them, were largely unsupported by the text). In general, I thought he could've spent a bit more time on specific examples and especially on the 'what is to be done?' aspect, which gets scant treatment beyond the idea of a super-national body (like the UN). It could've been 150 pages or 200 and had more impact than it did as a shorter work.

Still, very good points made throughout, and it was an easy read, assuming one knows enough of the relevant history (which ties back into my only real criticism).
Profile Image for Nick.
212 reviews1 follower
July 14, 2021
Hart presents several conclusions that stand the test of time and offer insight to why bureaucratic organizations fail to learn from their past. Notably, he dismisses the notions that people should defer to generals and admirals for their understanding of war, pointing out that simply because people in the military can execute operations they are not necessarily as well-equipped to understand how to prevent, start, or end wars. There is a PhD thesis waiting to be written on the deference of US politicians to us military officers regarding military operations in Afghanistan from 2001 onward illustrating this point and the corollary that politicians (Rumsfeld) do not necessarily understand how to employ military force to achieve long-term objectives regarding security and stability.
Profile Image for Vladimir Boronenko.
52 reviews4 followers
October 16, 2017
Really enjoyed it, great stuff. An extremely thoughtful book, and very readable, neatly divided into short easy-to-digest chapters. The subject matter is "the art of war", the author being a historian of war. He took a practical part in historical events, and saw how history was made - as well as how it was falsified. Many remarks of his - on compulsion in world affairs, on democracy and dictatorship, on irregular warfare, for example - are quite relevant and timely now (written over 50 years ago). Maybe sometimes uneven in style and presentation, but that can be attributed to the genre of free-style reflections.
Profile Image for Jon Nguyen.
102 reviews28 followers
May 8, 2020
This was a decent read, though not exactly what I was expecting. It turns out that the title is more of a lamentation, rather than a question that the author makes any attempt at answering.

The first part of the book is about why it's important to learn from history, something that you probably will agree with if you're reading it in the first place. Most of the rest of the book talking about specific lessons from history, which are useful, and make it a worthwhile read.

Towards the end of the book, it gets a little weird. He takes a position on religion which just seems...ahistorical?
Profile Image for Matthew Kuhlman.
15 reviews1 follower
July 13, 2019
A quick and interesting read from a well known historian of warfare and strategy. BH Liddell Hart makes a few points based on the idea that too often we ignore the lessons of history. If nation's were to stick to values, morals, and collective instead of individual interests, in theory, the world would get a long better. Liddell Hart doesn't bother to dispell tht conflict is entirely avoidable, but it could be more 'limited' in scale. Initially written in 1944, it remains relevant today. Will likely re-read in the future.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
477 reviews5 followers
March 20, 2020
This is mostly a discussion of military history, which isn’t particularly interesting to me, but the core philosophy of it, which basically boils down to please endeavor to be decent to each other and stand up for the truth rather than national and historical myths, is lovely. There are some digressions about the American Civil War that’s grossly leave out the question of race and the language is gendered in a way that is strange to a modern ear, but obviously it’s a relic of its time.
Profile Image for MacKenzie Green.
114 reviews17 followers
February 16, 2021
I picked this book up because it was one of Ryan Holiday’s recommended reads for 2021, and I see why, it feels like it was written last week.
If you are overwhelmed by current events and trying to untangle familiar themes of the past from the now, then pick this book up.
To quote Polybius, “the most instructive, indeed the only method of learning to bear with dignity the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the catastrophes of others.”
Profile Image for Henry.
508 reviews9 followers
April 13, 2021
- "Only fool would learn from his own experience" (instead of history)

- Even primary sources could be riddled with lies: ask if there's propaganda?

- History happens behind the scenes - what people hear from the news is mostly wrong, as closed door events would not be broadcasted

- History always rhymes. There's no way to eliminate suffering but by studying history one could diminish the harm
Profile Image for Jung.
947 reviews17 followers
April 23, 2021
Studying history provides us with a fountain of wisdom unattainable through mere personal experience. By studying the triumphs and mistakes of others in the past, we can learn how to avoid catastrophes in the future. While much of popular history is distorted by mythmaking and deceit, careful observation and analysis can help us see the truth. Lessons from the past can even help us prevent the worst of war and conflict. 
Profile Image for toni.
70 reviews
May 23, 2023
"Inherent in all wars, he knew, was a miscalculation; by their nature it had to exist. That’s because when a war starts both sides believe that they will win." - 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

The book is laden with references and reflections on military history, particularly the two world wars. But a misguided study of past experiences should not have been the primary cause of false confidence and diplomatic missteps during those two or any wars. And I am somehow led to believe that the conclusion sheds more light on the subject than all the preceding chapters combined. I wish Hart would talk more.

The Illusion of Victory and The Importance of Moderation helps place the Russo-Ukrainian War into perspective.
Profile Image for Rob.
222 reviews7 followers
July 25, 2017
Fascinating book. Mainly written in the aftermath of WW2, it offers an enlightening look at history and how wars have successively taught us nothing.

What's also striking is how pertinent a lot of the writer's observations are based on the current political climate.

Hard going at times, but I enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Isaac.
71 reviews
March 25, 2018
Excellent look behind the dates and locations of history to motivating factors and root causes. An illustration of what the study of historical events is meant to bestow on the student, not a list of dates, places, and names but an understanding of why, and whether or not the outcome was worthy of pursuit.
November 14, 2018
Eliminating and thought provoking

I liked the flow of information and the in-depth knowledge of the subject. Very thought provoking.
The writing is intricate and for most might be a challenge to take in.
This book requires general reading for any serious reader who would like to learn deeper meaning of historical dogma
Displaying 1 - 30 of 66 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.