77 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2013
First, this was an interesting and original idea for a book. Boot takes a previously undefined form of warfare and gives us over 2000 years of its history and allows the reader to decide how he wants to define its evolution.
Many of these historical episodes have been reviewed before while others are less well known but all are a fascinating look at how warfare has not always been thousands of soldiers staring each other in the eye and using a weapon until one falls as most history leads us to believe that it was until the American Civil War. As a matter of fact this book makes you realize that guerilla warfare has throughout time been the rule rather than an exception.
Boot formats the book to be read as a series of short histories on each period or battle or to be read straight through from beginning to end. The format is reader friendly for someone who is going to read a few pages and come back for a few more the next day. If a reader is only interested in one period of history it is set for that reader as well.
Boot also shows us that while guerilla warfare has changed over the centuries it has always been there in some form and certainly wasn't originated by modern terrorists. This book shows us that warfare evolved and changed along with the human race. We also realize that this type of warfare has been a great equalizer over the centuries for forces of good and evil.
The maps and illustrations are helpful and Boot does a good job of not going into technical jargon but just telling us the stories as they happened. He does so in a way that makes the reading interesting, thought provoking, and adding to the readers knowledge of this form a warfare.
An excellent addition to anyone's history library.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2013
Let me tell you from the very beginning of my words that this book is a masterpiece and will surely become a classic of its kind in a very short time. Max Boot has the rare gift of writing in a vivid manner about extremely complicated themes by offering the reader a panoramic view of the topics he focuses on and also by offering a deep and penetrating analysis of the many chapters he writes about.
To be more precise, there are 64 of them. Each chapter is a mini-history, starting from the ancient times to our days. They include the naration of thirty centuries of unconventional warfare and the whole volume is divided into eight parts. He starts analyzing various episodes from antiquity, looking at the origins of the oldest form of warfare in Mesopotamia, Rome and China. Then he moves to the eighteenth century and beyond, discussing guerrilla campaigns that resulted from the liberal revolutions that swept the world from the 1770s to the 1870s. Here he excells, in my view, in describing the way the Spanish struggled against Napoleon.
Another part of the book is about terrorists and its growth. The initial focus is on one of the first terrorist campaigns ever, waged by the Assassins in the medieval Middle East.
In Mr. Boot's view, John Brown's famous attacks on proslavery interests and the KKK's efforts to undermine Reconstruction are two of the most neglected terrorist campaigns.
He then goes on writing about the European anarchist movement, which, in his view, achieved almost nothing and then moves on chronologically, talking about WW1 and WW2 irregular fighters, concluding with the rise of Islam militants.
Another very interesting chapter is about the ways the terrorist mind works and its causes, although Walter Laqueuer dismissed the notion of a "terrorist mentality". Indeed, Mr. Boot is extremely careful here as well. He mentions that there are those who claim that terrorists tend to be drawn from well-educated, middle-class or high-income families. The suppression of civil rights is another motive.
And, according to others, many terrorists are drawn to the path of terrorism because of a frustrated, unsuccessful youth to become a glamorous celebrity, someone who engages in a life-and-death struggle with the establishment, who wants to get a lionized picture of himself. This is, of course, a generalization which can equally apply to the 19th century and even to the Assassins of the Middle Ages.
Were guerrillas successful? It depends. In the case of Vietnam, they were. Ditto for Cuba under Castro's command or the Afghanis who fought the Russians. In the case of the Palestinian Intifada, the answer in the negative.
In his conclusion, Max Boot writes that guerrilla warfare is here to stay, that it is a form of combat which has been immanent in all cultures, at all times, whenever "one side was too weak to face another in a battle". He then adds another gloomy afterthought stating that "There's no reason that this method of warfare will be outdated anytime soon, rather there is cause to fear that it could assume terrifying proportions in the future", and this might happen, "should some group of insurgents obtain weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons".
This part is followed by a list of 12 implications about guerrilla warfare. To quote T.E. Lawrence, "the printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander, and in our times, the same would go with the Internet.
The book is meticulously researched and includes many endnotes. It is definitely the most comprehensive work on one of the most tragic yet important issues concerning humanity and should be on any person's library shelf.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2013
I am on the fence about this book. If you are a novice, i highly recommend it. if you are advanced in your understanding of insurgency, then this is a potential desk reference and quick guide. Other books such as Robert B Asprey, War in the Shadows, Vo I and II; and Ian F.W. Beckett, Modern Insurgencies and Counter-insurgencies offer as good, if not better look at the use of terror and guerrila war.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2013
I very much enjoyed Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. In that work, Boot shows how small conflicts, like the suppression of the Filipino insurrection following the Spanish American war, had an influence far beyond the relatively small nature of the conflict. Boot is very good at taking aspects of war, often forgotten or relegated to a `sideshow' and making them instrumental to an historical understanding of wider conflicts.
Boot very much takes this notion and drags it by the scruff in his monumental Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare. As the subtitle suggests, Boot wants to create an epic history, a milestone work that will become the reference point for people who want to learn about guerrilla war, terrorism, insurgency, counterinsurgency and asymmetrical conflicts of all kinds. Boot does this, and to great effect.
At first I was put off by the self-conscious effort of this book to assert itself as the reference work on this topic. Boot has become an important person in his field, and far more important people in policy and security will read this book. So, the work comes across as deeply conscious of being important, and that tone can be off putting.
There is also the danger of its wide scope. In 567 pages of text, Boot handles nearly every guerrilla conflict in the historical record. Like all books that take a global approach, one has to wonder if Boot is trying to fit wide and often divergent phenomenon into one form. I am not qualified to say if he is doing so here; I am only pointing out that this is a danger with a book with such wide goals and far flung material.
That said it is hard not to be impressed by Max Boot's accomplishment. In an age dominated by asymmetrical wars of all kinds, Invisible Armies reads like a primer for our age. And more importantly, he shows both the successes and failures of counter-insurgency strategies and techniques, which will no doubt become even more important in the near future than they already are.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I very much enjoyed Boot's previous book, 'War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World', but 'Invisible Armies' seems to be a rehashing of anecdotal stories with little to connect one to another. It's understandable that in taking on the amount of breadth that 'Invisible Armies' attempts to encompass much will have to be left out. Unfortunately, what's left out is often incredibly important context that showcases why various guerrilla operations/wars were successful while others were not. In general Boot offers a superficial account of numerous engagements, battles, and clashes that have little in common aside from in some way fitting the general definition of 'guerrilla' warfare or 'terrorist' action. While the information is interesting, especially for those who are new to the topic, the reader will not come away with a new appreciation for what Guerrilla warfare is capable of, how it has developed, and what its greater implications are for the future. What you might come away with are a few anecdotes about Wingate and Lawrence of Arabia. I could see recommending this text for those unfamiliar with military history, but if you've had some exposure to said topic, you will undoubtedly be underwhelmed with the information presented here.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The title of this review came from page 533: "This was a striking example of the importance of studying military history and of not relying on historical myths." The reason that plans don't survive enemy contact is lack of reality in the planning process.
I give Max Boot's "Invisible Armies" five stars because it is well-organized and well written; there are flaws, but I believe that the author gave me an honest effort and the flaws don't really matter much.
One flaw (Page 502) was calling the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beruit 0n 23 October 1983 "one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts.." Not even in the top 130--check Wikipedia for a list of the largest non-nuclear artificial explosions. The Beruit suicide truck bomb was a big one, but a mere six ton TNT equivalent explosion is dwarfed by the Black Tom explosion of 30 July 1916.
Misidentifying German paratroopers as "Brandenburgers" at Eben Emael is a minor glitch (P288)
Like many contemporary authors, Boot mentions Custer leaving behind Gatling guns--and neglects to mention that Custer also left behind the 7th Cavalry Regiment's sabers. (Page 150) Splitting his columns may have been a mistake--or it may have saved just under half of the regiment. Because today's USMC has swapped M249 light machine guns for M27 automatic rifles in its rifle squads I'll address this in a separate comment below.
Despite these rather minor and easily repaired glitches, Boot packs a lot into 750 pages. At the end of the book he tabulates irregular war over a period of 235 years and scores wins and losses. In the post-1945 era Boot records the insurgents losing half the time, winning about 40% of their campaigns. These last a decade on average--some longer, some shorter.
Booth examines why the insurgents win--or lose. He uses the US State Department definition of terrorism and defines "guerrilla" and offers solutions. Twelve lessons from 5000 years of irregular warfare history are explained from Page 557 to Page 567.
What motivates terrorists? The 'three R's" are revenge, renown and reaction (Page 523).
I recommend "Invisible Armies" to everybody--but the people needing it most are our national leaders waging "war" on "terror, drugs, poverty, ignorance, crime" and a laundry list of America's shortcomings. Fortunately nobody in Congress has introduced a bill to launch missile strikes on high schools with students scoring low on standardized math tests--but we do have SWAT teams conducting commando raids when serving search warrants on non-violent suspects. Boot explains how this is counter-productive in countering rebellion and suggests solutions.
I have been studying irregular warfare for over 45 years--some of it professionally. Irregular warfare is the normal human condition. The "Big Wars" are aberrations--even if all too frequent.
29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2013
In my mind a guerrilla war would consist mostly of a group of small or irregular, indigenous forces (often with the aid of outside powers) who had the intention of overthrowing a current government but were too small to confront the existing power in open conflict. Because of this, they would use many methods of indirect or small group combat techniques. I was interested in learning more about this and what techniques and historical examples had been successful, and what not.
However, I found the author's definition of guerrilla warfare to be so broad as to become useless. For example, he discussed raids by the English on the French countryside during the 100 Years War as falling into this category. To me, those raids were not so much intent on the long term goal of capturing and holding a large territory, but more for immediate financial gain. Any combat outside that of direct, large scale conflict, fell into his definition.
I could certainly be wrong in this understanding, but this book did nothing to discuss what the actual goals were if I am wrong.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2014
This is a great read and very informative. Max Boot provides a history of non-conventional warfare and examines wars fought by guerillas and terrorists over the last few thousand years. Boot views guerilla warfare as a tactic of last resort used by the weak. His key insight is that countries facing strong conventional armies wars often have no choice but to use hit-and-run tactics.
Boot writes about all the major conflicts to feature irregular warfare and includes chapters on the American War of Independence, Mao, Castro, Michael Collins, John Brown, Lawrence of Arabia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Garibaldi, Al Qaeda, Algeria, Robert the Bruce, Arafat, Hezbollah, the American Indians and lots of other conflicts. There are 64 chapters and at 784 pages, the book is comprehensive.
Many commanders have often made the mistake of using conventional tactics against guerillas. In Vietnam, most of the Army's leaders started their careers in WW2. Generals like Westmoreland were unable to adapt their tactics to deal with an opponent who would not stand and fight. Because North Vietnam avoided major set-piece battles the US got dragged into fighting a counterinsurgency, which it was not trained to fight.
In Boot's opinion the US has too much firepower for any future adversary to try and take it on in a conventional conflict. Given its role as global policemen the US is more likely to be drawn into small messy wars in emerging countries with enemies who don't have tanks and fighter aircraft. The military will, more often than not, have to fight conflicts that resemble its experiences in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Boot is concerned that the US is ignoring this reality and is still focused on training for large conventional wars against sophisticated opponents.
Boot illustrates that fighting insurgencies is not new. Fabius Maximus, a Roman general, is widely regarded as the father of guerrilla warfare. After Hannibal humiliated the Romans in three major set-piece battles. Fabius avoided meeting Hannibal in battle. Instead, he tried to exhaust him in a long war of attrition by attacking his supply lines.
Boot stresses that it is important for occupiers to retain the support of local people. Scorched earth tactics and reprisals against the civilian population rarely work and are usually counter-productive. They just encourage the locals to join the guerillas. Boot claims that the North Vietnamese treated the peasants in the south with respect. In Boot's view US tactics in Iraq, before General David Petraeus took control, provide an example of how not to fight an insurgency. Boot believes the Army needs to produce more leaders like Petraeus who are prepared to challenge conventional thinking.
The best guerrilla leaders are also good at publicity. Boot believes that propaganda and public opinion are important tools in modern warfare and it is necessary for occupiers to win the communications war. The use of the term "hearts and minds" was first used by the British during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. The British prevailed because they successfully maintained the trust of the native Malayans and this discouraged the local population from siding with the communists. The public in Western democracies usually gets tired of conflicts that drag on too long, especially if they are not clear about the objectives. The terrorists often don't have to win militarily, they just need to do enough to change public opinion. Boot uses Vietnam and the French experience in Algeria to illustrate this point.
This is a great book and surprisingly easy to read. If you are interested in military history you will probably enjoy it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
It's hard to judge the merits of this book. You won't become an expert on any particular wars that Boot describes and if you're reading critically you won't be entirely convinced of his conclusions about general rules of success and failure in fighting guerillas. How could you, when each individual description is so brief? Are these fair conclusions from Boot's more in-depth reading, or is he presenting the evidence in such a way as to bolster his thesis?
I don't know. But I am glad to have been exposed to the ideas and provided with references to read more deeply. Recommended to lay readers who want a broad exposure, but don't assume Boot is telling you everything you need to know.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2013
The book is a brief and superficial analysis of guerrilla warfare, directed towards an average reader. It contains a short summary of multiple conflicts where some type of guerrilla warfare was used. The author's definition of guerrilla warfare is pretty lax, therefore the book includes some no-classical examples. He elaborates pretty well some notions (i.e, the need of external support), but he focuses maybe too much in characters and anecdotes. In a more personal note, I do not understand why he decided to elaborate on sieges for the Peninsular War and Vietnam, and almost ignored actual guerrilla operations. Anyhow it is a good read if you have a general interest in this.