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The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World First Edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307265623
ISBN-10: 0307265625
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In his opening remarks, Smith provocatively states, "war no longer exists." Of course, he does not mean that mass organized violence has ended; rather, he refers to the end of large-scale industrialized warfare characterized by the use of massive tank columns supported by the application of intensive air power. Smith, who spent 40 years in the British army, including service in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland, maintains the development of nuclear weapons has essentially made such warfare obsolete. Current and especially future wars fought by Western powers are likely to be low-intensity conflicts, often waged against stateless opponents. Because it is not practical or even possible to win these struggles through the application of purely military force, Smith insists a revolution, or new paradigm, must occur in our conception of these struggles. As a start, we must understand the political context in which our adversaries act. Once identified, political objectives must always drive the military efforts, Smith insists, even at the expense of "sound" military strategy. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Smith has written one of the most important books on modern warfare in the last decade. We would be better off if the United States had a few more generals like him."
--Eliot A. Cohen, The Washington Post Book World

"An impressive and absorbing work of military analysis . . . If, in the end, he does not quite solve the riddle of how to win the small wars of our time, he brilliantly lays bare the newfound limits of Western military power. The more Iraq looks like Bosnia on the Tigris . . . the more prescient his book will seem."
--Niall Ferguson, The New York Times Book Review

"Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force remains the seminal work on this subject. While others have added invaluable data . . . they fail to understand as Smith does that we live in a new era."
--Stephen Graubard, Financial Times

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307265625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Avellanet VINE VOICE on March 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are 3 things you need to know about this book:

1. There are parts where it's repetitive and he could've used an editor.

2. If you agree with his main premise - that we will no longer (and haven't been for decades) fight nation-state to nation-state (ala WWII) and that it's all going to be battles for what he calls "will of the people" (aka "hearts and minds") - then you can probably skip this book completely unless you want all the detailed why's and how's we got to this point from Napoleon to 2006.

3. The last third of the book is devoted to his approach to start resolving these issues:
- stop building industrial-complex level machines and technology; focus money on information-gathering, intelligence gathering and analysis and building force flexibility
- the military should be used to achieve military goals only; and then the rest of the "hearts and minds" battle turned over to agencies that train for that (in the US, that'd be AID, State dept, Commerce, etc.)
- the only time that the small level non-state enemies we face (insurgents, terrorists, warlords, etc.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
General Rupert Smith's "The Utility of Force" is an excellent book that explains how modern "war" has evolved from full-scale "industrial war" to modern "war amongst the people." General Smith drew on his long and distinguished military career in the British Army and his own experiences in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Ireland to produce this book. In "The Utility of Force," he brings Clausewitz to the 21st century and attempts to explain why the Western militaries are not always successful.

After an excellent discussion of Clausewitz, the Napoleonic era, and the development of the general staff, Smith traces the evolution of warfare through the 19th century through WWII, tracing the gradual transformation of conflict into total "industrial war." General Smith argues that, although nations still prepared for total war during the Cold War, the "industrial war" that culminated in WWII was made obsolete by the development of nuclear weapons. Smith's overview of military history is solid, but although he interjects Clausewitzian insights and begins to develop his concept of "war amongst the people," at times it is a bit mundane.

The post-WWII world has seen the emergence of "war amongst the people," and this is what Smith argues too many current leaders - political and military - have not adapted to. Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and now Iraq are all examples of war amongst the people.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hindsight is always going to be more clear than trying to predict the future, and in this book where General Smith traces the history of war from the Napoleonic to the current age it is no surprise that he is far more clear and insightful looking backward than he is in looking forward.

The major thesis of his book is that war has shifted from what he calls "War Between the People," typified by separate nation-states fighting till decisive victory on a distinct battlefield, to what he calls "War Amongst the People" which will feature conflict including non nation states, waged indefinitely and indecisively on an amorphous front that includes both physical lands and intangible ones such as the media.

The book is very strong in several regards. First, General Smith's elucidation of Clausewitzian strategy, as well as providing the historical backdrop for when, how and why it was developied, is simply first rate. The biggest lessons drawn from Clausewitz that are still relevant today are that force must be applied to achieve some pre-determined purpose (hence the "utility of force," it is not merely the destruction of your opponent), and the concept of the trinity of government, military and the people. The best way to defeat an enemy is to break this trinity. In War Between the People this could be done conceptually more simply by flat out destroying the enemy military or their government, or perhaps more elegantly by dissolving the people's allegiance to the policies of their government and military, more effective against a democracy such as North Vietnamese efforts to reinforce and inflame the anti-war movement. Second the book's military history from Napoleon to the end of the Cold War is truly outstanding, worth the price of the book itself.
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