19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I just received this book, and have skimmed to locate items in my particular field of interest -- I am a military historian for fun and (very little) profit.
As I peruse favorite topics, I find it quite impressive. It's pretty comprehensive considering it has to include some trendy topics such as gender and war, as well as more traditional subjects such as battles, campaigns & leaders. There are a number of surprisingly complete and helpful articles on more obscure battles (most run about 300-600 words) and good overviews on campaigns and wars. The length of each essay, or blurb seems appopriate to the complexity or importance of the particular topic.
Comparisons with other compendia are appropriate. Brassey's published a two-volume encyclopedia of military knowledge in the mid-90s, each containing about 1200 pages, the first covering biography and history, the second military theory, concepts and weapons systems. The Trevor Dupuy "Encyclopedia of Military History", whose fourth edition appeared in 1993, is set up in a chronological and geographical scheme and runs over 1600 pages. At 1048 pages the Oxford Companion embraces the themes contained in all those volumes plus sociological matters, literature, journalism, humor, and pop cultural topics.
An impressive group of contributors, all prominent in their specialties, provide ample information both for the novice and the professional wishing to jog his or her memory. Sidebar treatments (some running several pages) on Artillery, armored warfare, airpower, seapower,uniforms, rank and insignia, signals, etc. are very handy reviews of these topics.
I have a few quibbles with the suggestions for further reading. Perhaps some out of print classics focusing narrowly on their subject might have been more appropriate than the suggested recent books that covered the person, battle or campaign as a minor part of a general history; but this is a very minor drawback.
Thhis is a very handy reference indeed, and most importantly, a pleasure to browse.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
As a writer, I am often interested in selecting a military example for a point I am making about business. Invariably, I have a hard time locating the facts to see if the examples I have in mind work for my purposes. Weeks of fruitless research have often followed from wanting a fairly minor example. Then, in editing, much rewriting occurs because the details were slightly off in the draft. With the Oxford Companion to Military History, those problems are now all behind me.
I began my investigation of the book by checking out every military history question I could ever remember having had for my writing. Sure enough, this volume contained enough information to have answered each and every one of my questions more than adquately. That was very impressive to me, and it made me decide to add this volume to my reference library. One of the many nice features of this book is that each listing also refers to the best full-length works on that subject, for those who want to get a lot of detail.
The book has more than 1300 entries, written by more than 150 specialists in these military subjects. The subjects are elaborated on by more than 70 detailed maps and 15 pages of diagrams. Each entry is in alphabetical order, with cross-references to more general and more specific topics.
The book focuses on land warfare, so air and naval warfare are in the book primarily to round out the picture on land. So you will find Billy Mitchell, but not the air raids on Ploesti during World War II.
As the editor points out, "There are dictionaries of battles, of military leaders, and even of military history. This is none of those things, although, in its way, it subsumes them all." The purpose is to provide "dependable information and thoughtful assessment for intelligent readers of many kinds . . . ." The book is also designed to be a "reliable and quick reference for scholars . . . ." The limit is that "no companion can claim to be comprehensive."
The subjects include battles, individuals, campaigns, wars, military concepts, weapons, uniforms, equipment, and wider issues (like the military in politics, gender in war, and casualties). I was impressed with the fineness of the detail for many fairly obscure references. Anyone but a military historian would rapidly add new knowledge from just scanning the listings.
Here are some sample listings I found while searching for answers to my old questions: Gulf War, battle of Thermopylae, Alexander the Great, essay on Strategy, Clausewitz, battle of Shiloh, battle of Stalingrad (with maps), Mau Mau uprising, Hundred Years War, siege of the Alamo, and diagrams of how to construct nuclear devices.
After you have a chance to become familiar with this important reference work, I suggest that you think about questions that we should ask about what humanity has learned from warfare. What lessons can be drawn from military examples?
Turn the history of swords into visions of better plowshares!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2005
This book is very thorough for the type of history it covers, but it has biases that detract it from receiving the highest rating.
Students from high school to college will find background information in this volume that will assist them in their research papers and projects, but serius military historians will be somewhat disappointed. The book covers very well modern, Western conflicts and personalities. The US Civil War, World Wars One and Two, Western European warfare, and major conflicts from around the world are all accounted for. What is lacking are some of the more unfamiliar conflicts such as biblical battles and African and Asian warfare from pre-Western contact. These pro-Western biases do not detract greatly from the book, but do make an impact.
Otherwise the efforts in the book are outstanding. A wide variety of scholars contributed and each knows their subject well. This book will inevitably need to be revised as we move into the 21st century (it was published prior to the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars) but such is the nature of history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2005
This is a real encyclopedia of war. Includes many aspect of war that never shown in other books, and cross-references for everything. Still, I wish Holmes added time line of history so that the book can be more usefull.
I think this book is a standard companion for every home. Useful for everyone.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2005
War is both bloody and chaotic, yet if one wishes to understand it then one must not be so. In THE OXFORD COMPANION TO MILITARY HISTORY, editor Richard Holmes gathers the expertise of dozens of experts in military history to produce a massive text (more than 1,000 pages) on the entire spectrum of military history. When readers think of this topic they tend to think of battles and wars, and this text lists all the important ones and some that are known only to specialists. You want to know a one or two page summary of the battle of Stalingrad in 1942? Battles like this are discussed in detail and with clarity, often with surprisingly detailed illustrations and maps. Yet, this history includes far more than battles fought. Battles are not just set piece encounters of troop movements; they include the human element of both rank and file grunt and their respective commander. Further, battles are often won and lost solely on the basis of the technological superiority of one side over the other. Holmes' text includes all that and more. So for whom is this history intended? It it not for one who has no interest in matters of killing and strategy. It is for one who has a previous interest in a battle, a soldier, or a weapon. It is for one who has seen the film PEARL HARBOR and wishes to separate celluloid fantasy from historical fact. It is for the high school or college student who needs to know more than what is normally contained in a general history. And finally, it is for those who wish to have a handy one volume text of military arcana as the next step on a personal project or quest that involves using what Holmes' experts have to say. TOCMH is a superb gift to anyone who falls into any of the above categories.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2006
I really love a book I just got, called the "Encyclopedia of Battles: From 1479 B.C. to Present"...that's a great book, not because it gives super large descriptions of battles, but because it HAS every battle and war in history. It also includes wars, and lists battles in order of these wars. I do not mind the lack of information, since I am merely using this book to look things up online in detail at wikipedia.com, so I'll be an expert on war and battles in history.
Now, onto this book, Oxford's Companion to Military History. Flipping through it, the first you notice (after reading part of the book above and playing a bunch of WWII shooter games) is that the Battle of Aachen is not present. Well, this can't be good, since that important battle was the first American victory over a German town. I have been searching to see if it tells anywhere about this book, because I am starting to wonder if it is biased and only tells British views and ignores other wars a lot.
The Golden Horde's battles, the Hundred Years War, the Crusades, and many famous wars in history are not even discussed, yet women fighting in war is discussed over two pages....pathetic. I am interested in learning about ALL history, but mainly World War II and medieval battles, and this book lacks both of those heavily, though it DOES excel in listing people, things, etc. and not ONLY battles, and this is a good thing. I love reading and seeing Generals and Captains and ranks and weapons! Refreshing! So, if you love wars, get this AS WELL AS "The Encyclopedia of Battles: From 1479 B.C. to Present", and use your internet to read up on battles up close, and also manage to check out some books on JUST that particular battle, and you'll do fine. For only 600 pages, the Encyclopedia of Battles beats Oxford's 1000.
I recently got World War II: Day By Day, and it's by far the best World War II book ever written, in the fashion of newspaper clippings from each day since the war began! Go get this book, it has 700 or so pages in it! Great read!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2007
In this incisive powerful reference book you can pick your date and time. It's a learn-as-you-go or pick-and-hunt adventure, whatever may be your fancy at the time. I found it lucid and compelling. My only regret with my newest book is that I didn't take the time to research more. If details are a must, you'll enjoy Holmes' effort here.