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The Book of War Hardcover – October 25, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670888044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670888047
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.8 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this eclectic anthology of war writings, military historian John Keegan (author of The Face of Battle and The Second World War) has collected some of the best that has been thought and said about armed conflict over the course of 25 centuries. Keegan is especially interested in how war has evolved over time; his introduction is a brief history of this development, from the heroic age of individual combat to the horrific "total war" of the 20th century. He begins with a pair of 5th-century-B.C. excerpts from Thucydides and concludes with a British soldier's brief description of combat against Iraqi soldiers in the 1991 Gulf War. In between are selections by Julius Caesar, Davy Crockett, Victor Hugo, George Orwell, and many others. If there is a theme to this book, it may be the clash of cultures: what happens when different military traditions collide, such as when the Romans invaded Britain, the Muslim Turks besieged Malta, or General Custer and the 7th Cavalry faced the Sioux in Montana. He understandably gives only cursory attention to several wars--the U.S. Civil War, Korea, and Vietnam--and lingers a bit on his coverage of the First World War (which Keegan views as a key to interpreting the whole 20th century) and the Second World War. The selections themselves are continually exciting, and rarely predictable. There are even a few poems thrown in for good effect. The Book of War may focus on an awful subject ("The history of all forms of warfare is ... essentially inhumane," writes Keegan), but it is also full of awfully good writing. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Keegan (the bestselling The First World War) stands out among contemporary writers of military history for the literary sensibility he brings to the subject. In his introduction to this anthology, he writes that he organized his selections around contrasting military traditions: a "Western" way of war based on a code of behavior that includes mercy to the vanquished, and a more tribal approach observing few inhibitions. Thankfully, Keegan's literary sense overrides this artificial framework. He offers nearly 100 vignettes from around the world, selected with an artist's eye and a historian's judgment, that combine to show war's multiple faces. The authors are great captains like Julius Caesar and the Duke of Wellington, as well as front-line warriors such as Gulf War veteran Andy McNabb. Elizabeth Custer has her place, as do Davy Crockett and Rudyard Kipling. Some accounts capture the immediacy of war, like William Laurence's narratives on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Some voices are matter-of-fact, like George MacDonald Fraser's account of soldiers' stoic mourning of a comrade. Others, like Ernest Hemingway's 1918 letter from the Italian front, are self-consciously literary. Familiar settingsAthe trenches of the Great War; Russia in 1812Acontrast with Jesuit missionary Paul Ragueneau's account of an Iroquois Indian raid in 17th-century Canada. What the selections share is passion. All the men and women in these pages engage their experiences fully. Once again, Keegan has opened a door onto the human condition, showing that we are defined by warAat least in part. Major ad/promo. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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I would recommend this book to the student of military studies.
Tatiana Danger
The book is a great collection of some of the greatest war writings available, and that's the best way to describe them.
Mark A. Savage
One can easily read a section, put the book down for awhile, and then start again at a later date.
Mike Dillemuth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Savage on July 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I never thought of Julius Caesar as a good writer, or George Orwell as a soldier/fighter. Then I read this book, which at first I was a bit reluctant about. Guilt caused me to read it, but pleasure lead me to finish it, and I'm very glad I did.
The book is a great collection of some of the greatest war writings available, and that's the best way to describe them. Mr. Keegan introduces each "article" with short tellings of the background of each piece. These short intros are worth their weight in gold, as they are clear, honest, and detailed. Small gems for the reader, that's the best way to describe them.
Now, after each of these gems comes a tale, epic, letter, or poem, yes poem! "In Flanders fields the poppies grow.." or how about "Into the valley of death rode the 600..." How refreshing to revisit these childhood memories while exploring such dramatic tales of combat, fear, or war. Truly remarkable. I couldn't put the book down for fear of missing the next literary jewel.
Now let's talk about Victor Hugo (in War?) or George Orwell's terrible wound described by himself. There's also Davy Crockett, and my favorite, the stunning Julius Caesar. When Caesar writes an after-action report, he gets the point across. Also read about the soldier lost in the WWI trenches, the A-bomb aftermath, and Ernie Pyle's report from Normandie. The famous "Thin Red Line" of Balaclava is presented in 1st person reality that is awesome in it's readability.
So in other words, this is a termondous book. Mr. Keegan, you have done us all a great service by 1) your choice of the fine materials you included, and 2) by your excellent preparation of each for the reader. I'm a believer now, and my Keegan section will soon be growing...Thank you.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By omarbukka on July 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating anthology of war writings. I have read many of Keegan's books (all of them are superb), but this one has a quite different flavor, since Keegan just writes introductory text for the pieces. The excerpts are often quite short, so the book is admirable suited to readers who want to dip in and out for 5 minutes at a time.
The choices are excellent and some of the works are not easily accessible in other forms. I have tried (with no success) to obtain copies of the some of the original books, many of which are out of print. Many of the images are unforgettable.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Ingle on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent synopsis that traces war from the battles of Classical Greece and Rome up through the Persian Gulf War. Keegan has done an excellent job with this anthology of works. He gives a brief background history on the author and time of each particular work then gives the selected work from the original author. He has done an excellent job showing the evolution and adaptation of war and the attrocities that are committed during times of battle. Selected works include those from Thucydides, Xenophon, Julius Caesar, Josephus, Davy Crockett, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Custer, Hemingway, and many others. This is a very interesting and informative book and will greatly benefit any who are interested in military history, world history, or the regular arm-chair historian.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Alfier on August 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
In The Book of War, eminent military historian John Keegan assembles a masterful anthology recording the progress of Western warfare as told through the authentic and often unique voices of its participants. No dry narrative history, Keegan's work is characterized by diversity and depth. Through eighty-two essays and poems he gathers in a single volume some of Western history's most spectacular military writing. His introductions to each entry are superb: concise yet definitive. Outlined in three segments, Part I illustrates the various forms war takes, particularly highlighting the fact that what motivated men to war today did not necessarily provide the impetus to combat in the past. Tribal or personal honor, as well duty owed to gods formed as much a part of the causa belli as economic or political dictates. For the European, warfare served to create stable states and winning empires. Yet out of diverse and often marginalized cultures would arise alternative forms of warfare, employing methods at odds with centuries of Western warfighting traditions. Considering such cultural and methodological divergence, Keegan's aim is to exemplify these contrasting military traditions. In Part II, Keegan examines warfare among established European states of common military cultures and employing similar technologies. The dictates of empire would bring these powers into conflict with dissimilar cultures, specifically Africa and India. Finally, in Part III, Keegan examines war in the twentieth century. One salient feature Keegan explores is how primitive or less technological cultures often overcome the advantages of advanced enemies through ingenuity, evasion, and the perpetuation of 'warrior spirit.Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M on March 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Book of War" is an eclectic mix of war stories compiled by historian John Keegan. Most are excerpts from longer books. The range is amazing. Keegan chooses writers from different times and places, beginning with Thucydides describing warfare among the Ancients Greeks ending with a British Special Air Service trooper describing the Gulf War. It is mostly memoirs interspersed with poetry.
Keegan has a good sense of which stories to choose. They are full of emotion and tidbits of historical trivia. Keegan chooses to include the Crusades, but from the Turkish perspective. He includes a memoir of Erwin Rommel, but it was written as a young infantry officer in World War I and not as the famous tank general of WW II. Some stories are more interesting than others. Still each offers a unique, personal glimpse of war.
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