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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history for the most part, but with glaring flaws
All academic writers should hope for the skills of Derek Leebaert, who takes what could be a dry subject in the hands of the lesser-skilled and turns it into a page-turner of the first rank. Despite its multiple flaws, "To Dare & To Conquer" is an absorbing history of what the author classifies as the "colossal impact that the commando has had at key junctures of...
Published on April 20, 2006 by Jerry Saperstein

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Attempt at a New Perspective
This book has an interesting and not altogether wrong take on unique tactics, units and situations throughout history. Like most history-type books, there is some value to be gained from reading it, despite it's flaws. It's also not altogether a dry read, as the author continually (over)dramatizes things.

Unfortunately, he continually uses as many terribly...
Published on June 13, 2008 by Somyunguy


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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history for the most part, but with glaring flaws, April 20, 2006
All academic writers should hope for the skills of Derek Leebaert, who takes what could be a dry subject in the hands of the lesser-skilled and turns it into a page-turner of the first rank. Despite its multiple flaws, "To Dare & To Conquer" is an absorbing history of what the author classifies as the "colossal impact that the commando has had at key junctures of history." Billed as a "groundbreaking exploration of war, politics, and power," Leebaert unfortunately applies the beliefs of 21st politically correct academia to his subject with less than salutory effect.

In 16 of the 19 chapters, Leebaert provides an overview of how small groups of determined men have acheived considerable military victories, the few prevailing over the many. Leebaert's scholarship is impressive: notes and bibliography consume 49 pages. The primary theme is that small groups, whether called commandos, special operators or whatever, can have a disproportionate impact. He cites examples beginning with the siege of Troy, Alexander's conquests, the bloody triumph of Cortes, Mosby's raiders through modern times. Leebaert does wonderfully well at describing brave, often aberrant, men who apparently unconcerned with the risk to their own lives challenged opposing forces many times their number. He is at his best in this history.

Leebaert shows how these small groups, often openly composed of brigands and sociopaths, have always been marginalized or abandoned by their leadership, such groups falling out of fashion after the immediate emergency has passed. This is not news. Most nations abandon their military in every aspect after whatever conflict is at hand is brought to an end.

It is in the last three chapters that Leebaert seems to lose his way. One of Leebaert's targets is the CIA: he lambasts them as an ineffective organization, which any careful student of history and the news already knows. Those lacking such knowledge may be unpleasantly surprised by the CIA's record of failed, truly stupid, adventures. Unfortunately, in detailing this history, Leebaert drifts from the objective to the subjective, allowing his own political biases to creep in. This is unsurprising, considering that Leebaert is described as "a professor at Georgetown University." (This may be a bit of hyperbole in that he is described as an adjunct Professor as recently as January, 2006.)

Leebaert, when describing contemporary efforts to combat the Soviet Union, its allies and the current crop of terrorists, becomes predictably shrill about the United States and its various "failures," as if the United States was wrong to even make the effort. He appears undecided, if not actively opposed, to United States policies in every aspect. Straying from his focus on "special operators" in the military, he criticizes political leadership as well. This would be acceptable if the criticisms weren't so one-sided, the side one hears all too often from the Marxist recidivists so common on college campuses.

Leebaert is at his worst when he attempts to sum up his belief that special forces have become so institutionalized that they have lost their way (probably true); that political leadership is incapable of consistently using special forces productively (undoubtedly true); and that the terrorist few can topple all industrialized nations (not necessarily true). Here, Leebaert might have been well advised to quit while he was ahead. He comes off sounding like one of those Park Avenue liberals from the 1960s who always rooted for the alleged underdog, the purportedly repressed whom, as history has shown, were really after nothing more than power for themselves. In short, Leebaert strays into an area where he seems to be lionizing the very people who would happily kill him, me and you without a second thought.

Leebaert also pays homage to the political correctness gods. He is at pains to repeatedly point out perceived "racism" in various commando efforts, an easy thing to do when reviewing the past through the distorting lenses of 21st Century reality. Oddly, Leebaert demonstrates his own biases when he twice uses the word "fat" to deprecate a subject whom he obviously doesn't like. Of course, claims of an "obesity" epidemic are big among the politically-correct these days, so maybe that's just another manifestation.

It is in these last three chapters that Leebaert drifts from a stunningly good military history into political discourse. Leebaert is correct in pointing out that increasingly technological societies provide a richer target pool for terrorists of any stripe. But I gained the impression that he advocates placating by undisclosed means terrorists who wish to impose 7th Century beliefs on unwilling people. He appears to be arguing for some sort of toleration for those who would reduce women to ignorant chattels, stone homosexuals, annihilate Jews and reduce all over "infidels" to servitude. This is moral relativism at its worst. At the same time, he chastises the United States for attempting to deprive these oppressers of their sanctuaries. Leebaert also trots out some well worn urban myths, a departure from his otherwise fastidious research.

Overall, Leebaert is an excellent writer, though he could use a refresher course in sentence construction. Some of his sentences are so complex that they require repeated reading because Leebaert doesn't recognize where a period is more appropriate than a comma.

It's difficult to tell whether Leebaert sometimes lost his way or his editor failed, but the book has far too many clear lapses in this regard.

On the whole, "To Dare & To Conquer," is for sixteen chapters a wonderfully enriching military history. The last three chapters, however, should be approached with caution and a critical attitude.

Jerry
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read!, March 29, 2006
By 
Through the mists of time comes a compendium of special operations that will take you through the most dramatic and vividly described "special operations" in the last three thousand years.

Derek Leebaert has done his research. In To Dare and To Conquer he re-paints for us the infamous and not so famous stories from our world's history of daring operations, by small forces of highly motivated combatants.

Few people realize how dramatically our world is shaped by the daring and extremely dangerous gambles that have been attempted and against all hope succeeded, by those very few courageous personalities from our world's history. Many are outwardly normal people, placed in unique positions, which have with their actions forced what may have seemed inconsequential events at the time, into the stuff of legends.

This history would not be complete without the story of Odysseus and the Trojan horse, the unbelievable feats of Alexander, and French Knights playing havoc behind Saladin's lines during the first crusade. What we get as a bonus is a timeline, describing the thoughts and politics and policies at play during the last three millennia that clarify what people were thinking and what external influences drive them to attempt the forlorn hope.

To Dare and To Conquer shows that at times in history, there are those that will stand up and take the bold chance, and hit where they are least expected and most likely to fail. Certainly history has not changed as a result of such bold moves that faltered, but for the ones that succeeded, the world became a different place.

I was tantalized by the desperate operations of Cortez and Pizarro, enraptured by the efforts put forth during our own revolutionary heroes: Rogers, Arnold, Jones.

Leebaert also detailed the very special operations of other heroic souls that I was previously unaware from our own Civil and Spanish American Wars. Here, I say shame on my history professors, these people contributed significantly to the path our nation has taken, and should be commended, for without their bravery, ingenuity, and fearless hearts, our nation and our lives would be significantly different.

This work should be required reading for any first-year college history class, and mandatory reading at West Point, Annapolis, and the Army War College.

Armchair Interviews says: If you appreciate research and military history, this book is for you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Over-dramatic but Still Quite Good, December 16, 2006
Derek Leebaert has given us a very well-written history of Special Operations and their impact on the culture in which they form. It is a chicken-or-egg debate perhaps whether such military units affect their culture or if the culture shapes the kind of special operations that develop within it. I tend to agree with the latter view more but Mr. Leebaert makes his point well that special operations have changed the way a people views the outside world.

Mr. Leebaert organizes his work into four sections or parts: Part I covers ancient history from the Trojan war to the fall of the western Roman empire. It is my favorite part of the book but does seem to overlook a great deal of Byzantine history giving it a bit of that western-bias in my view - but western bias that overlooks Byzantine history is not new. Part II covers the period of the 14th-late 18th centuries in a broad look at special operations around the globe at the time. A very well-done portion filling in a lot of gaps for this period. Part II begins with the American revolution through the first world war; it is rather American-centric though it does touch a bit on the French revolution. Part IV attemps to cover the post-first world war period to the present/future. In it Mr. Leebaert attempts to gleen lessons learned in the cold war. One reviewer thought the author focused too much on the failures while I would say he spent too little time on them.

In the conclusions Mr. Leebaert seems overly sensitive to making recommendations and chooses instead to identify the problems of who will select, train, and manager special operations forces. Special operations are not easily boxed into a particular category and are intended to be mavericks of sorts who think outside the box while beauracracies tend to favor keeping their charges inside boxes. It makes for difficult planning and control when the people one hopes to control tend to be the kind of people who chafe at micromanagement so prevalent in the American military leadership (military and civilian alike). Overall, the conclusions, or rather problems identified, are a sound assessment.

For a good introduction to a history of special operations/unconventional warfare, this is a solid start. I especially liked the ancient history portions that fill a void too long ignored. Very highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Attempt at a New Perspective, June 13, 2008
This book has an interesting and not altogether wrong take on unique tactics, units and situations throughout history. Like most history-type books, there is some value to be gained from reading it, despite it's flaws. It's also not altogether a dry read, as the author continually (over)dramatizes things.

Unfortunately, he continually uses as many terribly bad, inaccurate references as often as good ones, and his phrasing is consistently awkward. He contradicts himself quite often. He constantly twists, phrases, and exaggerates things throughout the book to bring historical undertakings into line with a modern view of special forces. Dragging all such things into the category of modern special operations, though not entirely wrong, is a skewed perspective, and by his logic, again not entirely wrong, would bring every modern terrorist cell and other undesirables under the definition of "special forces."

The major low point of the book is the chapter on the Conquistadores, which he also counts as special operations units. He has proven himself to be particulary susceptible to the Black Legend of Spain, constantly underestimating, degrading and deriding the conquistadores while playing up their native opponents, using completely erroneous sources, and constantly contradicting himself with other evidence in the process. In particular, he has no knowledge of Spanish military doctrine and skills of the time, chalking it up (again, constantly contradicting himself) to luck and intuition on their part. He also constantly downplays Spanish technological advantage to reinforce his view that they succeeded not due to skills, steel, or political guile, but solely because they were operating like modern special forces units. The only part he truly correctly downplays is the Spanish use of guns and the effect of disease.

Altogether, it's worth a read if it's in line with your interests, but it's an interesting, if flawed attempt at a new perspective.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Dare & To Conquer, April 3, 2007
Derek Leebaert has written a wonderful compendium of the achievement of special forces throughout the ages, starting from the times of Homer to the present day. Staggeringly researched and elegantly told, these efforts have changed the course of history through the conquistadors' and commandos' incisive thrusts in ways often thought impossible. But Professor Leebart is not content merely to relate these stories of remarkable heroism (and often unbelievable recklessness); he gleans the consistent patterns of what can create success and what forebodes disaster. Perhaps most interesting to the reader are the often wayward attributes of the most successful proponents of special forces.

What then are the lessons for today? Must a nation that prides itself on its openness and democratic way of life become more security conscious and constrictive in the traditional liberties afforded its citizens? Can America rely on its intelligence apparatus to perform the duties that the 21st century requires? Will the religious (or national) zeal for self-immolation of others, where fingerprintless midnight raids are replaced by more visible suicide bombers, ultimately be extraordinarily difficult to defeat? These are among the natural topics that Professor Leebaert starts to address in his last chapters; perhaps a follow-on book would allow him the scope to pull all the relevant strands together.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview of the Special Operator in History, January 10, 2007
By 
David W. Southworth (Alexandria, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Derek Leebaert has provided a timely and well researched overview of how the special operator has been utilized and leveraged throughout history. Leebaert begins in ancient times, including citing the biblical story of Gideon, through the near future to depict how exactly special forces have fit into national policy making

Leebaert has provided many great examples of SF teams achieving the nearly impossible. The lists include Alexander and hi men, Benedict Arnold's unit outside Montreal, the attacks on the South American Empires on the mid 15th and 16th centuries, on through to more modern wars in Europe in 1915 and all over the world 20 Years later. Along the way he provides biographical sketches of some forgotten men in history who have done the particularly incredible.

I highly recommend this book as a place to start to understand the uses and capabilities of special operators; especially as US foreign policy now highlights the utility of Special Forces in the global war on terrorism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense but Worth the Read, December 16, 2008
By 
This book spans the activity of military "special operations" in Western civilization, from the Biblical times of Gideon to the present day post-9/11 world. As such, it covers quite a bit of epochs and individuals.

I felt that the earlier chapters of the book were the most engaging, while it seems to bog down a bit after the introduction of gunpowder, piracy, and conquest of North America, as we look into the minutiae of certain notable individuals and how their stories illustrate evolving concepts of "special operations" (those which are qualitatively different from the traditional military approaches of the time). As such, the innovators are often the "special operators" who are able to apply audacity, technique or technology in innovative ways, to gain an edge on their contemporaries.

The book seems to bog down even more in the concluding chapters closer to the modern day, although there are interesting passages regarding notable indiviuals like Otto Skorzeny.

I felt that the book would have benefited from closer editing. There are unwieldy sentences and phrasing throughout. Also, I felt that the author was not completely clear regarding the point he was making, or what principles he was illustrating with particular examples.

In general, the overall theme seems to be that special operators do not necessarily need to be trained in military discipline, and in fact many innovators of the past were untutored mavericks who applied unique or original insights into contemporary tactical situations, so as to apply new weapons or approaches that others have not anticipated. In addition, the qualities of a special operations innovator frequently involve a borderline audacity, confidence, or mentality that might be considered unsuited to traditional military discipline. Today's milieu of special forces "professionalization," with ongoing credentialing, training, education, etc. in military doctrine, may stifle that quality in the future. As a result, special operators of the future may develop tactics and strategies once again which traditional military doctrine does not anticipate, as "war" finds new venues in the online world, economic, biological, nuclear, etc. Since modern technology and interdependence provides ever-growing potential for rapid and sweeping devastation or disruption, we are moving into a very dangerous future in which the "lever" of the determined minority may exert great force upon the inertia of the large majority. And this may be inevitable.

While this book was somewhat dense and "dry" like a textbook, I nevertheless found it an interesting read for the various descriptions of historical individuals. The target audience is probably those with a strong interest in military doctrine, particularly that surrounding special forces, rather than the casual reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is The Book I've Always Wanted Someone To Write, February 13, 2008
By 
Scott Bane (Northwest Indiana) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Chapter One lays the foundation for Leebaert's approach to the topic of special operations. If I understand him correctly, the author's purpose is not so much the analytical retelling of world-altering missions as much as it is the exposing of the common thread that is laced throughout the history of daring, "special" missions. And this is what I love about the book. In my opinion Leebaert captures the special operations paradigm. He is able to show us the common thinking that unites these warriors throughout history.

TO DARE AND TO CONQUER is history at it's best. The writing style makes the book fun to read. When Leebaert talks about the warriors of Sparta or of Alexander the Great, he is able to reveal the parallels between those warriors and modern special operators, bringing the readers back and forth from their time and ours. It has all the academic quality of a text book, but all the enjoyment of pleasure reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dare to Conquer, May 6, 2007
By 
George Thornally "Author" (Palm Springs, California) - See all my reviews
Leebaert has produced a complete study of what we now call "special operations." His work is supported with exhaustive references. As such it stands as "the bible" on the subject and will be used as a textbook at the War College, Annapolis, Westpoint, and elsewhere when consideration needs to be given to special operations.

The thesis of the book as I understand it is this: A few highly trained soldiers with a creative plan of attack, can accomplish nearly anything. Furthermore, we live in times when, in the absence of all-out conventional war, sneak attacks will become the norm by each side in any controversy.

Historically we in the US are familiar with such tactics. Consider Washington's crossing of the Delaware to effectuate a very successful surprise attack on German mercenaries. The "Minute Men" (farmers actually) from behind trees picked off the English soldiers marching in formation.

Not all such plans prevail, e.g. "The Bay of Pigs."

Have we lost sight of what works in our rush to do old fashioned battle in Viet Nam, Korea, and Iraq? How can the US change its tactics to meet the realities of a sea change in doing warfare?

Unfortunately, at present, as the author points out, each branch of the service including the intelligence branches has special ops forces, but they don't share; don't talk to each other; don't coordinate. How prepared are we under the circumstances?

Perhaps Derek LeeBaert's extraordinary and well written book will be a wake up call. Let us hope so.

George Thornally, Author

"AOL by GEORGE! The Inside Story of America Online"

And, soon to be published: "VIRGIN: The Mystery of Amos Virgin"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An analysis of the impact of the commando force on history, August 19, 2006
TO DARE AND TO CONQUER: SPECIAL OPERATIONS ND THE DESTINY OF NATIONS, FROM ACHILLES TO AL QAEDA describes not just modern-day special forces operations but the history of special ops around the world, focusing on teams of soldiers who have created and destroyed nations and empires and examining how these events have taken place. From sparks to war to politics underlying special forces both internally and internationally, chapters provide an analysis of the impact of the commando force on history, and the strategies which made special forces strong.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, from Achilles to Al Qaeda
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