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Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700 Hardcover – January 15, 2013

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Unlucky were civilians of early modern Europe in the path of an army on the march or in a city under siege. No safer were soldiers, more apt to die from disease and starvation than battle. Vignettes of horror from the era’s maelstroms, grandly titled the Thirty Years’ War or the Dutch Revolt, abound in Martines’ treatment, which tries to raise ethical questions about panoramas of war. Discounting princes’ justifications for war, which come across as aristocratic brigandage in his text, Martines sets aside conventional military history of campaigns and leaders to show the hand of Mars on the peasants and villagers it touched. It coerced them into armies, but Mars’ royal sponsors failed to render promised pay and supplies. To square accounts, their generals instead let soldiers pillage the countryside and sack cities, examples Martines draws from eyewitnesses to plunder, arson, and killing. Ending by asking historians—he is a specialist on Renaissance Florence—to consider morality in their political and military works about the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Martines poises an agenda atop graphic historical envisioning of what he decries. --Gilbert Taylor


The misery of war is Mr. Martines's great theme. Rather than focusing on strategy and diplomatic maneuvers, he writes military history from the sharp end, from the victims' perspective. Whereas in our own day the constant focus on victims can be problematical, since it makes it hard for democracies to fight opponents who have no scruples, such an approach is entirely appropriate in dealing with the wars of past oppressors. (The Wall Street Journal)

A story that is as gripping as it is horrifying. (The Washington Times)

Lauro Martines's new book is a godsend…. made a pleasure to read by the author's nimble and darkly humorous prose, he has given us an unforgettable glimpse into a violent--and rarely seen--age. (Paul D. Lockhart, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History)

The book's descriptive power is due to its excellent case studies drawn from primary sources…. Highly reommended. (Rebekah Kati, Library Journal)

Martines, best known for his work on the Italian Renaissance, makes a major contribution in this survey of war in 'early modern Europe.' (Publishers Weekly)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608196097
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608196098
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #666,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Diaz Carrete on February 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a social history of war in Early Modern Europe, a time in which the continent was ravaged in succession by the Italian Wars, the French Wars of religion, the Eighty Years' War, the Thirty Years War, the Franco-Dutch War and the Nine Years' War, among others. However, the organization of the book is not chronological but thematic.

The focus is not in high-minded diplomacy or in battle tactics. In fact, the author maintains that too much emphasis has been traditionally given to these aspects of war. He notes that diplomacy is often just a flimsy facade over stark aggression and, interestingly, that none of the battles of the Thirty Years War was politically decisive.

Instead, the book centers on the plight of the common people. First the soldiers, which despite inflicting horrific suffering on civilians by way of plunder, requisitions, and sackings, and acting as a vector for the spread of infection and plague, often were victims as well, pressed in service against their will and going hungry, ragged and unpaid. The book also touches on the often neglected camp followers which accompanied the soldiers.

Armies tended to "live off the land" by extorting food and resources from the inhabitants of those villages unlucky enough to be located in their path. Due to their massive size and the limited agricultural productivity of the time, armies ended up emptying the countryside of anything edible, causing widespread starvation. This focus on the high-level logistical challenges of maintaining an army, combined with the untold suffering on the ground (vividly rendered thanks to quotes from diaries and primary sources) makes for an interesting, if harrowing, read.

Attention is also paid to the role of finance in war.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Anton Tomsinov on February 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I couldn't miss this new book on early modern wars because I try to read everything on that theme and author's backlog was respectable enough to make me first-day-buyer (I heartily recommend his April's Blood book about plot against Medicis).

The book is interesting and well written. The author had put some real emotions into the text, but kept it moderate, so the book is far from dry but is not too irksome in pushing of moral appraisals. However, I am subjective here, because I share most of author's thought on state, war and their effect on society.

That is not a truly new research, because most of the book is based on modern historical monographs and articles and most firsthand accounts are well-known to the connoiseur of early modern warfare. It not a systematical research but rather a collection of grim anecdotes. The fault of the book is that after description of some curious event the author usually doesn't tell whether is was a typical or a rare case. For example, he used Peter Wilson's book on Thirty Years' War (BTW, highly recommended) but failed to line up his conclusions against Wilson's who debunked several myths about that war.

Nevertheless, a rare perspective in assessing the information gives a lot of novelty to the book in proper elucidation of the chosen theme. The book is dedicated to taking "war and society" approach to the exteme. You won't find here anything about generals, weapons, tactics or battles. All that is left is the grizzly grizzliness of war: plunder, plague, mortality rate, hunger, sieges, sack, violence, fate of civilians and poor soldiers. As such, it is a wonderful overview, especially for those who still have illusions about Europe's past and European mentality.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Howard J. Herskovitz on February 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good book. To be honest, I expected something entirely different. I had read several books on warfare in early modern Europe and thought that this would be similar. Instead, the book looks at the underside of warfare during that period. It was an era in which a growing population dealt (or failed to deal with) an inelastic food supply and a growing inflation. These factors, among others, cheapened the life of soldiers and poor civilians in the eyes of aristocratic rulers and officers.

The author demonstrates, using gruesome but not uncommon examples, how rough and nasty the world of early modern warfare actually was. The thrill of battle is absent from this social history of war during the period. Instead there is an emphasis on death by disease, man-made starvation, collateral damage, and destruction of lives.

Martines emphasizes that there were hard fought battles and sieges during the period but few were decisive. Far more decisive were the epidemics and famines caused by stolen harvests or the population losses resulting from over-recruitment and the failure to keep armies in relative good health.

This book puts warfare of the period in much-needed perspective. It is necessary corrective to the romantic view of war in the pre-technological age. As such it is certainly worth a read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By K. Kennedy on July 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700" by Lauro Martines is the history of the nearly constant warfare on the European continent from the perspective of the average inhabitant (as opposed to the soldiers or the princes). The first-hand accounts he cites are fascinating (and largely from areas ignored by other historians), and really help the reader picture the horror and terror of the age...however...the author does not do a good job of stitching the accounts together in a way that would make this book an excellent history of the time. Instead, the accounts remain single, disjointed narratives--sadly, this book could have been much more.
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