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A History of Warfare Paperback – November 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his sweeping new study, Keegan ( The Face of Battle ) examines the origins and nature of warfare, the ethos of the primitive and modern warrior and the development of weapons and defenses from the battle of Megiddo (1469 B.C.) into the nuclear age. Keegan offers a refreshingly original and challenging perspective. He characterizes warriors as the protectors of civilization rather than as its enemy and maintains that warfare is "entirely a masculine activity." Though warfare has become an ingrained practice over the course of 4000 years, he argues, its manifestation in the primitive world was circumscribed by ritual and ceremony that often embodied restraint, diplomacy and negotiation. Peacekeepers, he suggests, would benefit from studying primitive warmaking--especially now, "a time when the war of all against all already confronts us." A masterwork. Photos. 40,000 first printing; History Book Club main selection; BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-Keegan begins his comprehensive but concise survey by debunking the classical tenet that war is an inevitable result of politics. In a well-developed and relatively easy-to-follow argument, he reexamines this previously inviolate theory. By following the progress of war and warriors from primitive societies to the post-Cold War era, and by detailing the concurrent development of weapons technology, he allows readers to see that warfare need not be an all-or-nothing event. He includes many interesting details in his survey, e.g., vivid descriptions of torture, of the development of horse-warriors and charioteers, and of the arrival and consequences of the atom bomb. While leading readers to the conclusion and hope that man is not necessarily a warrior, he canvasses the spread of "civilization" and the making of nation-states as we know them today. The book includes prints, diagrams, and photographs. This title will challenge interested readers and prove useful for research papers, philosophical discussions, debates, and anthropology and sociology classes. Even dedicated militarists will find food for thought in Keegan's theories and historical perspective.
Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679730826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679730828
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By T. Parry on August 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
The book deserves a place among Keegan's other classics, "The Face of Battle" and "The Mask of Command". He has proved once again that he is the preeminent military historian in the world today, perhaps of all time. Because of the book's daunting scope--covering warfare from prehistoric times to the nuclear age--it is not overly specific. However, Keegan weaves the story of war with the story of human civilization very nicely, and proves that for most of our history, war has been our primary occupation. He denounce's Clauswitz' theory that war is merely the continuation of politics by showing it is something much more basic. War, according to Keegan is cultural. Wars may be fought for political reasons he says, but the driving force behind them is a nation's/people's culture.
If you do not believe in this theory or are just a big fan of Clauswitz, this book is still a fascinating read because it connects the whole history of war in one relatively slim volume. This is a rare accomplishment, and it provides and excellent base of study for any time period of history.
As for presentation, the book is divided into four main parts with interludes between them, discussing the major advances in military technology. Titled Stone, Flesh, Iron, and Fire, he mainly discusses the advance of weapons from bronze, to iron, to gunpowder, the rise and fall of the horse, and the institution of national armies as major turning points. The book can drag at some points, but on the whole is a quick read, though you may want to read some parts twice just because there is a lot of information here. In short this is a must own for any history buff!
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Craig MACKINNON on July 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Like the best of Keegan's books, A History of Warfare starts with an overarching theme (Clausewitz's assertion that war is politics by another means) and then proceeds to frame his description of warfare from pre-history to present day. Those that see this book merely as a defutation of Clausewitz ignore the meat of the book, which is a smooth and lucid description of (past and current) methods and philosophy of warmaking.
Most interesting is probably the notion that the western (originally Greco-Roman) ideal of decisive battle is an abberation. In fact, natural (primitive) war involves many safeguards and rituals to prevent high casualties. That is not to say that conquest is not possible in primitive war - Aztecs, Monguls, and Turks all managed to set themselves up as permanent rulers in conquered lands. However, casualties are light and there is no shame in retreat in this type of warfare. Keegan then proceeds over ground well-travelled by military historians - how the evolution of European power has led to Western military hegemony since the 17th century. For my money, Hanson's Carnage and Culture (from which Keegan quotes) is a more interesting and provocative read, but Keegan is convincing and fresh in his slant on the same topic.
The only negative aspect of the book, for me, is the theme - that of debunking Clausewitzian theory. It seems to me that, in fact, Keegan has proven (not disproven, as he claims) that Clausewitz's basic assertion, "War is politics by other means" is true. It feels like Keegan is bending the definitions of war and politics to serve his philosophy, and that a Clausewitz apologist could fudge definitions of war and politics to re-prove Clausewitz's assertions.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Having finished my fourth reading of this outstanding book, I am again in awe of Keegan, who not only tackles a daunting subject --- nothing less than the entire history of armed conflict, from the dim mists of prehistory to the recent strife in the Balkans --- but manages to put it all into an impressively brief, insightful and readable narrative. Keegan does not debunk Clausewitz; rather, he shows him to have been a product of his age, his class and his nation, and his writings to have been suited to the post-Napoleonic era, but potentially disastrous in the Nuclear Age. (If international success is the same as military success today, than how can Saddam Hussein still be the leader of Iraq?) By approaching warfare as social and cultural anthropology (rather than from the far more narrow --- not to say blindered --- perspective of military theory alone), Keegan is able to show how each society's expression of warfare is both unique and has ramifications and consequences for all other societies, especially including our own. Buy and read this book. You'll be glad you did.
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57 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Gibby VINE VOICE on October 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is probably a polarizing work of military history. Either you will love or hate it. I applaud the author for his unique "chronology" of warfare, but his emphasis on themes and interrupting interludes (mini-chapters between main sections) breaks up all continuity. The themes also of necessity overlap each other, but he fails to draw the connections, the threads of continuity if you like.
What really devalues the work is this: the author engages in a philosophical/anthropological/social scientific debate with Clausewitz's sentence that war is the continuation of politics (he leaves out the rest of the statement, "by other means"). In fact, the author goes so far afield in his argument for "culture of war" as opposed to "nature of war" the reader is left wondering what all the fuss is about. Are not culture and politics two sides of the same coin? If not, then they certainly are members of the same currency. No one has proven that stateless societies lack "polity" though some have tried. Whenever two are gathered, someone gains "something" over the other. That is political.
Besides the failure to fully define terms such as culture, politics, warfare, he also misrepresents arguments and ignores the fact that Clausewitz's _On War_ was never completed by the author. All must recognize that he was in the process of revising and rewriting when he died. So, to avoid falling into the same trap the author did, I will leave the gallant Prussian and move on to my other objections.
There are some errors of interpretation (understandable) and fact (less so). The atomic bomb was NOT designed to end wars without commitment of manpower on the battlefield as the author contends.
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