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On War Hardcover – January 1, 1984

ISBN-13: 978-0691056579 ISBN-10: 0691056579 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 732 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691056579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691056579
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Undoubtedly one of the most useful books ever written."--The New Republic

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I consider this book to be excellent reading.
Lisa W
It is one of those very few works one can read at different times in life and get more and more out of.
J. E. Dyer
The best and standard translation is Howard and Paret's, Princeton U. Press, 1976 (rev.1984).
Hughfritz Cadwallader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

334 of 342 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Simmons on November 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"On War" is essential reading for the professional military and for historians, and is of great value to those with an interest in public policy.
That said, it is not easy to read. There are three primary reasons for this:
First, it is unfinished. The first chapter ("book" as Clausewitz called it) is sharp, well-organized and focused, other chapters are so-so, and still others are almost formless collections of notes.
Second, Clausewitz is thinking philosophically. Most people, including many or most in his target audience, are unaccustomed to thinking this way, and find it difficult to re-orient themselves.
Third, parts of it are firmly locked in a particular time and place. The reader must work to determine what (if any) lessons in those parts are of enduring value and must understand references that, however clear they would have been to his contemporaries, are today obscure.
So, given all of the above, it is fair for the reader to ask why he should bother. The reason is the power of Clausewitz's answers to:
(1) What is the nature of war itself?
(2) What is war's relation to the larger world in which it exists?
(3) How can success in war be achieved?
Clausewitz's answer to question (1) is that war in itself is a duel on a large scale, which unless acted on from the outside, tends towards the maximum possible amount of violence. This discussion of "pure war" has probably been responsible for more mis-interpretations of Clausewitz than anything else he wrote.
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101 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Hughfritz Cadwallader on December 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
Clausewitz's ON WAR is certainly the greatest exploration of the subject, but we are often misled by sloppy or hostile summaries--especially those by British military historians, who have evolved a truly sophisticated culture of misrepresenting it. E.g., Clausewitz supposedly preaches "total war." In fact, that phrase appears only twice in the book, once while discussing the "total war area," i.e., the geographic theater of war, and once noting that "total war, the pure element of enmity unleashed," would be "pointless and devoid of sense." Most such misconceptions would be cleared up if writers would bother to read past the abstract first half of the first chapter to see what Clausewitz, an immensely experienced practical soldier, really thought. And forget the absurd distinctions between Jomini's "chivalrous" wars and Clausewitz's alleged war on civilians--the two men experienced and described exactly the same wars.
Likewise, to say that Asian warfare differs in some fundamental way from Western war, or from war in general, is nonsense, as is the idea that Sun Tzu--whose all-knowing general controls events far more than either Clausewitz or historical experience would suggest is possible--somehow represents a "decentralized" approach. Sun Tzu is extremely valuable, but he and Clausewitz are best understood together. Read Michael Handel on that.
There are several English translations of ON WAR, in many editions, and these vary greatly in value. Amazon's listings often confuse the different versions, so be careful. The version edited by biologist/musician Anatol Rapoport is particularly worthless. His lengthy, lunatic, 1968 introduction is actually about Kissinger, not Clausewitz.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Dyer on September 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Clausewitz's aphorisms have been treated and mistreated for a century and a half, but On War remains a timeless classic. It is one of those very few works one can read at different times in life and get more and more out of.

Much of what Clausewitz concludes is intuitively obvious, and this above all things is what makes On War timeless. It is of the greatest importance, however, to read ALL of On War, and not merely Books One, Two, and Eight. Clausewitz wrote in the context of a military and geopolitical environment that still prized fortresses, depended on pitched battle, celebrated mobile artillery as a modern refinement, and lacked the techno-logistic sophistication to support expeditionary warfare on the scale envisioned by Napoleon.

Perhaps most important, the only experience of living Europeans at that time with rule by political terror was the brief "Reign of Terror" in post-Revolution France. Predatory Marxism and fascism of the kind that menaced millions in the 20th century, both politically and militarily, across national borders, was simply not a factor in Clausewitz's vision. War was a phenomenon bounded by time and place; battles were tactical events between like opponents that began and ended; decision could be achieved, with varying degrees of definiteness, by the deployment of military power combined with negotiation -- because all parties agreed as to how decisions were to be reached, and more fundamentally, as to what constituted decision.

Finally, the cost of losing, or failing to win decisively, in Clausewitz's European world was much lower for the average citizen than it became in the era of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.
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