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Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think Paperback – October 12, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385721943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385721943
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #477,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With this usefully idiosyncratic and provocative work, Hanson may succeed the late Stephen Ambrose as America's laureate of military history. But where Ambrose's tone is ultimately elegiac, reflecting on the deeds and character of a past "greatest generation," Hanson's is sharp edged and confrontational, linking past history and present policy. Even before the September 11 attacks brought him to national prominence as a commentator and analyst, Hanson's postulating of a "Western way of war" based on seeking decisive battle (not a given throughout the world) had gained wide attention. Ripples furthers this argument via three disparate battles, treated in reverse chronological order, taking the reader from more to less familiar territory to show its arc. On WWII Okinawa, the Japanese proved an inferior force could inflict significant damage by suicide tactics; U.S. forces responded by defining victory in the most extreme way possible: killing as many of the enemy as the could (rather than, say, seeking to gain a particular piece of ground). The Civil War's Shiloh set William T. Sherman on his path as a democratic war maker committed to both the defeat and the reconstruction of America's foes, while at the same time inaugurating the enduring Confederate myth of a "stolen victory" via Albert Sidney Johnston's death at the battle's climax. It also marked the beginning of Nathan Bedford Forrest's meteoric rise as symbol and avatar of the "unyielding South," which persisted long after 1865. The Battle of Delium, fought in 424 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, was the first defeat Athens suffered that involved high casualties at the hands of Theban/Boeotian opponents, and it directly affected large numbers of thinkers, writers and statesmen-including Socrates, one of the survivors. The severity of the battle shaped the Western "decisive" approach that survives to the present. Hanson's conclusions show the threads of these battles in the garments of the war on terror. Some of his last points may seem forced to some readers, but he makes them with conviction and a genuine sense of wanting history to provide valuable lessons.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Arguing for the primacy of military history and its crystallization around key moments of life and death, Hanson looks at three highly influential, yet often overlooked, battles in three highly influential wars. Moving backward, his narrative covers suicide bombers at Okinawa, the death of a key southern general at Shiloh, and the survival of Socrates in the battle of Delium in 424 B.C.; key ripples of these events include the use of the atom bomb, the popularity of Ben-Hur, and the definition of all western philosophy, respectively. In extrapolating the webs of causality and coincidence surrounding important moments and always asking "what if?" Hanson reveals surprising connections that many historical narratives miss, and that is this book's strength. Its weakness is its tendency to wear its politics on its bloodstained sleeve. Drawing explicit comparisons between the "Greatest Generation" at Okinawa and present-day suicide attacks, framed within an argument about greatness emerging through battle, the less-than-subtle justification for our current conflict may put off some readers. It's their loss; this is an illuminating and insightful work. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

He uses good source material and thoroughly explains and supports his thesis.
Joseph J. Oaster
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in history, military, or Western culture.
Amazon Customer
He does an excellent job of relating how battles of the past still influence American culture today.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on November 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hanson is an excellent writer with a vigorous style, and "Ripples of Battle" is a pleasure to read. The book explores the "ripples" that flowed from three battles--Okinawa, Shiloh, and Delium--and explains how those ripples changed the world.
Human history would have been very different had the Greek philosopher Socrates been killed at the otherwise obscure Battle of Delium in 424 BC. At the time, Socrates' most profound thinking was yet to come and Plato was only a child. If Socrates had fallen along with hundreds of other Athenians, "the entire course of Western philosophical and political thought would have been radically altered" (216).
The Battle of Shiloh was likewise a crack in time. Among other things, the fighting changed William Tecumseh Sherman from a failure to a hero and taught him that it was far less costly to wage war against civilian infrastructure than to fight a pitched battle against a modern army. The March to the Sea began with the hard lessons that Sherman learned at Shiloh.
And at Okinawa, America learned how difficult it would be to force Japan to surrender, enduring fanatical resistance and suicidal attacks that cost the lives of thousands Americans and tens of thousands of Japanese. Hanson argues that the experience yielded a cold American resolve and a willingness to use atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Whether you agree with Hanson's conclusions or not, the journey is worth the price of admission. History is often written is if key outcomes were inevitable, as if Socrates were ordained to lay the foundations of western philosphy or the north were bound to win the Civil War.
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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on September 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoyed "Carnage And Culture," I am sure you will also like "Ripples Of Battle." Mr. Hanson is an academic who knows how to write clearly, and in a style which can best be described as conversational: you feel as though you are in his classroom (a small classroom, not a lecture hall) and he's just chatting with you. Whether he's writing about the movements of hoplites and cavalry at the Battle of Delium, the plays of Euripides, Socratic philosophy, Japanese kamikaze pilots, or the miraculous feats of Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Shiloh, it is all explained so that the layperson can understand it (without being "dumbed down") and it is all fascinating. Mr. Hanson is a writer who has more ideas in one chapter than most authors have in an entire book. If you think I'm just blowing smoke, consider what's under discussion in the chapter on the Battle of Delium, which took place in Greece in 424 B.C. : there is the background to the battle (why it was fought); the strategy and tactics of the battle itself; Greek religious beliefs ( the victorious Boeotians wouldn't let the Athenians gather up their dead from the battlefield, so they could be buried quickly - before the bodies started to decay. This was to retaliate for the fact that the Athenians, after the battle, occupied a Boeotian temple); how the battle changed the way future battles were fought (the Boeotians introduced the concept of holding back a "strategic reserve," to be brought into the battle at the proper moment.Read more ›
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Henry Cate III on May 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Victor Davis Hanson explores some of the consequences and effects of three battles: Okinawa, Shiloh, and Delium. The book starts off with Okinawa in which the author lost an uncle. This provides a very personal touch as the author explains his efforts to find out more information about his Uncle.

In discussing all three battles the author covers some of the obvious consequences, like the lost of loved ones and how that affected families back home. He reviews some of the changes to military strategy after each battle and changes in politics. He also shows that there are many less obvious consequences to each battle.


In Okinawa, near the end of World War II, the Americans launched an invasion that was bigger than Normandy. The Americans saw it as a stepping stone to the invasion of the Japanese islands. The Japanese wanted to make the battle so bloody that they thought the Americans would decide Japan would be too hard and ask for peace. The Japanese lied to the civilians on Okinawa. The civilians were told that Americans would rape the women and kill the children. Many of the civilians helped in the defense of the island. The Japanese would do almost anything to kill an American solider. After awhile the marines decided that the Japanese didn't value their own lives.

The author traces the decision to use the Atomic bombs to the horrendous loses at Okinawa. Up until Okinawa the plan had been to use Okinawa as a base for close to 10,000 bombers to soften up the islands, followed by large invasion. After realizing just how expensive a normal invasion would be, the atomic bomb was more seriously considered.


The battle of Shiloh was the first battle in the United States Civil War to have a huge body count.
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More About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Greek and Director of the Classics Program at California State University, Fresno. He is the author or editor of many books, including Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (with John Heath, Free Press, 1998), and The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999). In 1992 he was named the most outstanding undergraduate teacher of classics in the nation.