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123 of 131 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable Lessons for the 21st Century
This is a remarkable book that Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics (reviewed earlier) led me to read. Kaplan begins his book with a glowing description of the River War and argues that those of us trying to deal with 21st century Afghanistan, Africa, Bosnia, etc., would do well to study the lessons in Churchill's report.
Churchill was a British officer who wrangled his...
Published on July 22, 2002 by Newt Gingrich

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Warning!! No maps included in this edition
Warning!!! Don't buy the edition of 'The River War' published by Wildside Press (ISBN 1592246109). It has NO MAPS OF ANY KIND. NONE. This book is primarily a description of a military campaigns, and large parts of the text, including almost all of the discussion of strategy and tactics, are almost incomprehensible without a map. Unless you already know where Korti and...
Published on December 11, 2007 by A Reader


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123 of 131 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable Lessons for the 21st Century, July 22, 2002
By 
Newt Gingrich (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
("THE")   
This is a remarkable book that Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics (reviewed earlier) led me to read. Kaplan begins his book with a glowing description of the River War and argues that those of us trying to deal with 21st century Afghanistan, Africa, Bosnia, etc., would do well to study the lessons in Churchill's report.
Churchill was a British officer who wrangled his way into Kitchener's campaign up the Nile through connections in high places and against Kitchener's wishes. Kitchener was angry that a journalist-officer of Churchill's age (early 20s) would even presume to render judgment on the Generals and the government.
Churchill recounts the rise of the Mahdi, the defeat of Gordon at Khartoum, the decision of the government to retake the Sudan, and the careful preparations by Kitchener (in some ways a forerunner to Schwarzkopf's massing overwhelming force against Iraq in 1991).
There are a number of lessons in this book. Churchill talks constantly of "scientific warfare" and the inability of the Mahdist forces to cope with it. By "scientific warfare" he meant the telegraph, the railroad, the armored steamboat with cannon, the Maxim gun (an early machine gun), and the disciplined infantry squares. It is helpful to be reminded that predators, B-2s, and Special Forces on horseback with laser designators are simply our generation's version of the "scientific war".
Churchill also points out how few British troops were engaged in the campaign. The majority of the battalions were Egyptian and Sudanese with British officers. Only a minority was British. On the other hand, it was British communications, British logistics, British gunboats, and British firepower that made them dominant. These were Egyptian and Sudanese troops officered by the British and trained to British standards, a lesson for Afghanistan and elsewhere. In one expedition there were 1,300 men of whom only 7 were British.
This is a very useful book as we think about the complexities of the 21st century third world and its problems of poverty, violence, disorganization, and ruthless petty tyrants.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Early Churchill, December 18, 2001
By 
D. W. Casey (Sturbridge, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Winston Churchill is one of the greatest figures of world history; this book, written when Churchill was in his twenties, is a wonderful book that considers the reconquest of the Sudan both from a first person point of view (because Churchill was there), and from a broader historical perspective.
Churchill begins the work some 13 years before the war, with the killing of the legendary General Gordon in Khartoum at the hands of the fanatical Dervishes. Churchill lays out in detail the reaction in Britain, the political reasons for why no action was taken at the time, and then goes into a wonderful segue about the intervening years of the wars of the Mahdi and his successor, the Khalifa.
The book is painstakingly researched; and the young Churchill is obviously trying to "get it right"; interjecting his opinions where it is relevant and introducing facts and tables where it is necessary to make his case.
The military buildup, the logistical and technical feat of the railroad built to support the army, the manufacture and employment of river gunboats, and the precise orders of battle and description of equipment -- these are details that show Churchill's immense grasp not only of the broad strategic picture but also a consummate mastery of the details of nineteenth century soldiering. One can see at work the mind that made Churchill a valuable cabinet member in the following thirty years, and an invaluable Prime Minister in wartime.
The prose style is a bit heavy, and Churchill's writing is not at the same level that won him the Nobel Prize, but it is a fine early work about an interesting, if little known, war.
The book itself also caused a rift between Kitchener and Churchill that was never really mended; as a result, Churchill's fall from the Admiralty and the failure of Gallipoli may have had this book as a very small cause. But this is not the book's fault!
A very good work of military history, and an excellent insight into the incredible mind of Winston Churchill.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The stuff legends are made out of, April 1, 2000
By 
Owen Hughes (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
It's a fabulous story. What a piece of luck that Churchill was there. What a greater piece of luck that he happened to survive the charge of his brigade, which has been called the last genuine cavalry charge of the British Army. (In the Boer war which followed, the cavalry was almost never used in the same way, due to the sneaky Boer tactics. "Stand up and be charged like a man," meant nothing to those guys!) There is something splendid about the British army maintaining its traditions in the heat and dust of the Sudan. No wonder they were conquerors, for a time. If one could put up with conditions like that, one could do just about anything in the fighting way.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing to come out of this book, is the way Kitchener planned his laborious advance, building the railway as he went. It must have stood the future leader of Great Britain's War Cabinet in very good stead, to understand at first hand what logistics was all about. Certainly, when it came to Uncle Adolf's turn in 1940, Churchill (as stated in his later memoirs) knew that once the U.S. came on board with its unlimited industrial capacity, the war was as good as won. It was just a question of tonnage, U-boats or no U-boats, blitz or no blitz. So it was in the Sudan: the methodical Kitchener really never gave the tribes a chance.
This is a book which can be read as history or as a ripping good story. Fortunately for those of us who couldn't care a whit for W.S.C.'s talent as a politician (though one cares somewhat more for his talent as a statesman), his talent as a writer was never really in doubt, as this second published work amply proves. Although I don't think it's quite a five star book today, it would have been in 1896. Lastly, there are some interesting subplots here, including some insight into how this part of the world worked at all, up until the end of the last century. Even more interesting possibly, is the story of Gordon of Khartoum, which is an eccentric tale if ever there was one, and the relating of the Fashoda incident gives us much insight into the workings of the political mind at a time just prior to the formation of the various ententes, which were, in a way, to have such a deadly effect two decades later. Most enjoyable read.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Warning!! No maps included in this edition, December 11, 2007
By 
This review is from: The River War (Paperback)
Warning!!! Don't buy the edition of 'The River War' published by Wildside Press (ISBN 1592246109). It has NO MAPS OF ANY KIND. NONE. This book is primarily a description of a military campaigns, and large parts of the text, including almost all of the discussion of strategy and tactics, are almost incomprehensible without a map. Unless you already know where Korti and Metemma are, not to mention Suakin, Korosko, and Abu Hamed, get another edition.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Military History applicable to our times, December 27, 2003
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This review is from: The River War (Paperback)
This is a great history of an obscure little war that holds many lessons for the military today. I recommend it as a great read for any soldier or anyone linterested in military history or science. Churchill is a great writer and you can almost feel the heat and smell the gunsmoke in these pages.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charge It, February 22, 2001
By A Customer
This is the Churchill book with the account of the last war charge of British cavalry in the field. In which Churchill, always a little different, uses a pistol rather than a sword, due to his dislocated shoulder problem from way back in Bangalore days (prelude to his first War Book, The Malakand Field Force).
For such a young writer, there are surprisingly mature observations on the topic of war, to the effect that everyone on both sides is all for it before it starts, then generally eager to be done with it once it's underway. The tone of this book, though, mostly reflects eagerness.
This book is a good resource to better understand the events faithfully portrayed in the video "My Early Life" and this book can itself be better understood as a follow-on to watching Charleton Heston in the role of General "Chinese" Gordon getting killed at the end of the movie "Khartoum," which is the event that actuated the punitive expedition which forms the subject of The River War.
You won't find a better blend of action and theory, than this book written by a participant who at least lopped off the interesting parts of this campaign to form a part of his own, far more wide ranging life story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Young "Subaltern of the Empire" with a Destiny, March 21, 2006
By 
Mark J. Howell (Glendale, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The River War (Paperback)
Here we find a 20-something Churchill reporting on the British-Egyptian campaign against the Mahdists in the Sudan in the late 1890's. This is mostly told in the third person, although he was present for part of the action as a junior officer in the 21st Lancers (back when cavalry still rode horses).

The language is quite readable today, although there are many local and military terms and proper nouns that I had to look up. My edition of this work is paperback and has one ASCII art map at the front, but I would have liked more maps to illustrate the many dates and place names.

Despite some (now rather impolitic, at the very least) themes such as an intrinsic British and European military and cultural superiority, our narrator offers a surprisingly broad political perspective for someone so early in his career. We now know that this career would be long and storied.

I think this book is relevant today as background for the continuing conflicts of the Middle East and Central Asia, whether you see them as vestiges (and payback) for colonialism, or Islam vs. Infidel, or (fill in your own favorite reductionist slogan). The Story of the Malakand Field Force (Churchill's work on an action in what is now, I think, Pakistan and Afghanistan) is similarly relevant to this very contemporary topic, and should give pause to any power considering an occupation of a place like Afghanistan.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Early Word from the Old Master, June 12, 2008
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This review is from: The River War (Paperback)
Written by Churchill when he was a young Calvary Officer and on the way back from Campaigns in the Sudan, "The River War" shows the marks of greatness were with him early. This is a book well worth the time on several levels.

One. It is a good read.

Two. While penned in the early 20th Century, the geographical setting and the situational politics are as contemporary as today's news. The British were seeking to take revenge for the sacking of Khartoum which was under British control and the murder of the British General CG Gordon. The fanatic Muslim leader known as the Madhi lead the successful rebellion against the British and their surrogate Egypt.

Churchill records in his book, originally published in Two Volumes here abridged into one, the story of the British armies retaking Khartoum and crushing the Madhi's army.

Three. This is more than just the dry repetition of historical facts. The Churchill of words comes through the dust of history with the light of understanding on the life of the troops in the desert wildness and along the always difficult Nile River as they make their way to Khartoum. He fearlessly comments on the ability or lack thereof of the command staff. He describes in some detail a famous calvary charge which in the course of history was the last carried out by the British army.

Four. I found it exciting to see his style and thinking at this young age. Unknown to Churchill who took the occasion to record a piece of history and to pass judgment on decisions by command staff and politicians alike was the fact that he himself would be a part of such a command staff rising to the top of command and political leadership. This account would prove to be but the beginning of many volumes written over the course of very many years.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars honesty vs loyalty?, October 21, 2007
By 
Alexander T. Gafford "alex" (Midland, Ga United States) - See all my reviews
Winston Churchill had the opportunity to say many things and one of them was "I have not become the Queen's first minister in order to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire". Or was it the "... the King's first minister..."? I don't recall whether it was his first or second term as Prime Minister. In any case, history recalls WSC as a Imperialist in the grand tradition with all the baggage that may entail. However, before we join in that celebration or condemnation, let us read carefully some passages from The River War.

First we read "What enterprise that an enlightened community may attempt is more noble and more profitable than the reclamation from barbarism of fertile regions and large populations? To give peace to warring tribes, to administer justice where all was violence.....etc,etc" All very conventional late 19th stuff believed by the great majority of Europeans and North Americans of the time. But a few sentances later we find "Yet as the mind turns from the wonderful clouldland of aspirations to the ugly scaffolding of attempt and achievement, a succession of opposite ideas arises." Churchill then goes on to detail the struggle of those "tenacious of liberty" who oppose the imperial task and the "greedy trader","inopportune missionary","ambitious soldier" and "lying speculator" who dishonor the enterprise. Then he he says "...it hardly seems possible for us to believe that any fair prospsect is approached by so foul a path".

Much later in the book as WSC is describing the aftermath of the Battle of Omdurman and the flight of the Khalifa Abdullah. He points out that Abdullah flees after the defeat of his army alone and unarmed and joins the remnants of his army and "...found many disheartened friends; but the fact that, in this evil plight, he found any friends at all must be recorded in his favor and in that of his subjects." He goes on to point out that this "tyrant, oppressor,...scourge...embodiment, as he has been depicted to European eyes, of all the vices; the object, as he was believed in England, of his people's bitter hatred, found safety and welcome among his flying soldiers."

I am not ripping these statements from context. Churchill repeatedly pays tribute to the courage of his enemies, who indeed at one climactic moment were trying their personal best to turn his body into chopped meat, and clearly, as other reviewers have pointed out, gives tribute to Krupp, Maxim, Nordenfelt, Lee, Metford, Martini and Henry and their like contributers to the Machine Age civilization that enabled the reconquest of the Sudan. He never attributes any other motives to his Arab enemies than rational calculation of self interest, planning and thoughfulness, no condescension of uknowable savage impulses or fanatical behaviour, though great willingness to fight and die.

So where does this leave us? Winston Churchill was both a young man of his class and time and also possessor of some level of moral honesty that was with him at an early age. That made him tell the truth about what he saw. In June 1940, that individual moral honesty was all that prevented a long lasting German National Socialist State from taking root in Europe with incalculable consequences.

It is well to ponder all this as we read The River War. As other reviewers have pointed out, the stage of violence at the end of the 19th century is a stage of violence at the beginning of the 21st century. The facts and nature of war among human beings stays the same along with our inability to avoid it. Let us at least be with Winston Spencer Churchill in being honest about it.

Q
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WARNING: Do not buy the Kindle edition., April 5, 2012
By 
Bob Jarvis (San Salvador, El Salvador.) - See all my reviews
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This is Churchill writing and, even though it is an early example in his literary career, it is a lesson in the graceful use of the English Language. Beautifully descriptive phrases, pungent political comments, extraordinary attention to the details of numerous miltary campaigns and an underlying, cynical, humour throughout this account of a long forgotten war. Noticeable and laudible is Churchill's insistence in describing the bravery of the warriors of both sides with admirable equanimity. I loved the written word here but you must try to obtain this in book form.
The Kindle edition is truly awful! Badly formatted and with a complete absence of any maps, despite Churchill's reference to same. What is the matter with the people that prepare these Kindle books? I know that the Kindle can show maps, albeit they are generally on the small side & difficult to access. So why have some idiots released this version with no maps is beyond me. Needless to say the whole presentation, though lucidly described, is totally useless without maps.
Shame on Amazon & the publishers for allowing this rip-off to occur.
Three stars however for Churchill's writing, which compelled me to complete reading the book, whilst gnashing my teeth in frustration.
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The River War : An Account Of The Reconquest Of The Sudan
The River War : An Account Of The Reconquest Of The Sudan by Winston Churchill (Paperback - October 28, 2008)
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