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A genius for war: The German army and general staff, 1807-1945 Hardcover – 1977

ISBN-13: 978-0133511147 ISBN-10: 0133511146

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Editorial Reviews


An invaluable approach to comprehending German military power. -- The Washington Post, August 11, 1985

Since the Prussian armies of Frederick the Great achieved their amazing victories in the mid-18th century, the Prussian and German armies have established the standard of military excellence against which the performance of all other armies has been measured. This widely acclaimed book explores the reasons behind th e excellence of German fighting forces, and attributes much of this skill to the Prussian and German General Staffs. The author 's hypotheses are substantiated in brilliant analyses of German performance in victory and defeat. -- From the Publisher --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice-Hall (1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0133511146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0133511147
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,927,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on January 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
The impetus for writing this book came while Trevor Depuy was constructing a mathematical model for a World War II wargame based on the records of actual engagements between the Germans and Allies. Much to his surprise, he learned that even after several years of total war, homeland bombardment and facing numerically superior enemies, the Germans still retained a 30% edge in combat effectiveness. That is, on the battlefields of Europe in 1944, 100 German troops were the equivalent 130 US or British troops. He wanted to know how and why these "defeated" German armies could fight so well?
The answer to the riddle of superior German combat effectiveness, Depuy says, has nothing to do with genetic or cultural traits of aggressiveness or obedience to authority, as others have suggested. Rather, he argues that the superiority was a deliberate product of the German General Staff, which was incredibly successful in its mission of institutionalizing military excellence through extremely competitive officer selection processes, advanced training, an emphasis on military history and individual initiative in combat, and a commitment to objectivity in planning and analysis. Indeed, Depuy says the General Staff was able to institutionalize military genius, usually found only in rare individuals such as Hannibal, Gustavus Adolphus, Napoleon and others in the pantheon of military greats. As abhorrent as Nazi policies may have been - and as culpable as the officer corps may have been in the atrocities of the Nazi regime by either direct collaboration or failure to intervene - Depuy argues that nothing can take away from the fact that the German army consistently out-planned, out-manuevered, and out-fought the Allies.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "jaigobfka" on January 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Right at the very beginning, and at the conclusion, Dupuy corrected some of the most common stereotypes in our minds: the Prussia/German armed force has no monopoly on discipline nor soldierly quality; historically speaking, German people has no obvious warlike nor militaristic tendency, compared with Romans, Celts, Vikings, Mongols, Turks; from the outstanding performance of the current Bundeswehr, a democratic and constitutional government can go hand in hand with military effectiveness; from the expansionist colonial policy of Britain, France, and US in 19th century, and that of Rome and Athens in ancient time, democracy does not necessarily prevent military aggression; military genius like Napoleon, Hannibal etc are not free from making bad mistakes, we call them genius partly because their opponents outblundered them.

This book gives very thorough and insightful analysis of how military genius and effectiveness are systemmatically institutionalized ever since General Scharnhorst proposed this concept in late 18th century. General Scharnhorst, after the Prussian defeat at Jena, together with Gneisenau, Boyen, Grolman and Clausewitz (the 5 "Reformers") pioneered in theories of General Staff as a self-perpetuating institution in maintaining an armed force at the highest readiness for war, and transforming theories into doctrine and organization.
The unmatchable military excellence of the Prusso-German General Staff and Army were demonstrated throughout the 19th-20th century, and chronologically illustrated in the book . Its influence endures up to now and future.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Utah Blaine on February 20, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an interesting and well written book that purports to address the question of why the German military was superior to all other armies, in victory and defeat, for more than 125 years. Dupuy claims that it was the result of the institutionalization of military excellence in the General Staff. In the end, Dupuy's claims are not well supported by his text. It is not at all clear why the German General Staff was superior to the French (or that of any other country's) military leadership. The relationship between the German General Staff and the average foot soldier is also unexplored. If the Staff was the key element, why couldn't they lead the Turkish and/or Austria-Hungarian armies to victory in WWI? The idea of making the General Staff a scientific instrument from which men of ability and energy would naturally rise to the top was clearly a great strength of the German military, but it doesn't tell the whole story of German military successes during this period.

I would argue that this book is not so much about the General Staff as about the relationship between the Staff and the political leadership of Germany/Prussia from 1815 to 1945. There are short vignettes of most of the General Staff leadership, and much of the book is taken up describing the political machinations between the military and political leadership. The strongest parts of the this book are the discussion (and consequences) of the loss of civilian control of the German military after the Franco-Prussion War, and the confused political and military maneuverings after the defeat of Germany in WWI. If one is truly interested in learning about the General Staff, this is not the best choice. This book does not describe the General Staff as an institution (i.e. the details of how it functioned).
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