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Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle [Paperback]

by Richard Holmes
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 4, 1989 0029148510 978-0029148518 1
This ambitious, wide-ranging, exhaustively researched book is a compelling attempt to grasp the very nature of war. It takes us through the soldier's experience in its entirety - from the humiliation of basic training and the intense comradeship of army life, to the terror, isolation and exhaustion of battle. What does it feel like to be in the firing line? How does killing change a man? And what do the extreme conditions of war reveal about a man's basic instincts, his courage or his fear, his urge for self-preservation or self-sacrifice? Covering several centuries of warfare, and including the personal recollections of veterans from two World Wars, from Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, Richard Holmes gives us a powerful picture of what motivates the soldier and enables him to maintain the struggle in conditions of extreme degradation and danger.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle + "Daddy's Gone to War": The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children + The Vintage Book of War Fiction
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this useful and gripping study, an English military biographer examines the forces which operate upon fighting men in and out of battle. Holmes presents numerous well-organized anecdotes that range from Waterloo to the Falklands, often deliberately blurring the distinction between wars in order to show their common factors. Although the book is drawn exlusively from secondary sources, it contains a wealth of insights useful to professional students. His observations on the role of females in combat zones are timely, if unsurprising to most veterans. As a work of lay psychology, the book surpasses John Ellis's The Sharp End ( LJ 2/15/81). Recommended to most public libraries. History Book Club main selection. Raymond L. Puffer, U.S. Air Force History Prog., Los Angeles
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'... a powerful, thought-provoking picture of how the conditions of war affect a man. His sources are several centuries of warfare and the personal recollections of veterans of conflicts across the world. Holmes presents the results of his ambitious and exhaustive research in a very readable form, carefully balancing fact and emotion, detachment and compassion which adds considerable depth to the wisdom expressed.' ARMOUR (Nov/Dec '03) 'Mr Holmes makes a convincing case that the human being remains the central weapon of military conflict, technology notwithstanding. What emerges is a compelling and very human portrait of war.' THE ECONOMIST (21/2/04) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (August 4, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029148510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029148518
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Book About Facing Death and Killing in War October 13, 2005
Whether intentional or not, this book's audience is the former or current military member. But if you have read and enjoyed works such as the first two volumes of "Roots of Strategy", you should have no trouble following this book.

The author successfully shows that military personnel have mixed feelings about war. Although he addresses behavior in the midst of battle, the author seems more interested in the views about war held by those outside war itself, i.e., those who had not yet experienced it and those who were looking backward in retrospect. How those people felt in the midst of the madness is almost certainly different from how they anticipated or how they adjusted their feelings afterwards. I think this "flavor" derives from his personal-interview-and-historical-research approach. I do not see this as a negative but rather staying within his scope of knowledge and expertise.

The review titled "Flawed work of a historian with no sociological credibility" seems too harshly critical. Perhaps this reviewer expected a highly technical, in-depth psychological approach. As a note: page 58 cites S.L.A. Marshall as stating that only "some 15 per cent of American infantrymen fired." True, the subject of women in the military is barely broached. However, in all fairness, the author never pretends to have extensive knowledge about how women react in battle and simply doesn't go there. Perhaps that is a deficiency of character, but not of the book. I get the feeling that this review didn't find what he wanted and then "skimmed" the book without thinking into what was being presented.

Although now much more interested in peace studies, I enjoyed reading this book. I found a number of passages that shed light on where I have been and where I seek to go.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very revealing June 19, 1999
By A Customer
This book is a very revealing look at why the military does things the way it does. For example, many civilians do not understand the mindless brutality of basic training or the ultra-masculine culture of the military. This book puts everything into a real psychological perspective and explains why things are the way they are in the military. May be hard for civilians to relate to, but veterans will find this book very revealing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychology of Men in COMBAT April 2, 2012
This book's subtitle, "The Behavior of Men in Battle", is a misnomer, for it is really a wide-ranging and lengthy description of what happens to men from the time they are recruited until they are discharged as combat veterans. Holmes draws from interviews, written accounts, memoirs, psychological studies, and other varied sources to examine the experiences of the individual soldier. He discusses items as central to his subject as training, motivation, and casualties to those as remote as rituals, use of alcohol, and "Dear John" letters. The book is perhaps too focused on the Anglo-American experience, and ideas are often presented uncritically. Yet the scarcity of works covering war and military life from the individual perspective will make this one worthwhile for some time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Text Bookish July 12, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While it was a bit tedious at times, the book contains some great information on how soldiers have reacted in war just about since wars began. Seems while our weapons have changed over the years, how soldiers act and feel. when in cobat has remained the same, pretty much
Like the book jacket reads, it shoud be "must read" for all members of congress.
Tom Peters
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