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CHARIOT: From Chariot to Tank, the Astounding Rise and Fall of the World's First War Machine Hardcover – January 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This dense but readable scholarly study summarizes the chariot's history from its disputed origins in Europe and Asia more than 4000 years ago to its continued life on the wide screen. British scholar Cotterell (The Minoan World) reveals the workings of a vehicle that was, throughout its history, primarily a platform for archers (although halberds and spears were not unknown). In its mature form, it required three developments—the spoked wheel (lighter than the solid one), the powerful compound bow and the domesticated horse (faster than oxen, more powerful than the ass). As it developed, it also represented some of the most sophisticated Bronze Age technology—some Egyptian chariots are known to have weighed less than 60 pounds—and the charioteer was one of the earliest examples of a warrior elite selected for skill rather than birth. The author is cheerfully discursive about chariots in the Homeric and Hindu epics, and has provided a lavish array of illustrations so that practically nothing mentioned is left undepicted; it's not light reading at any point but informative throughout. The eventual demise of the chariot (more or less paralleling the decline of Rome), he shows, arose from improved infantry weapons, tactics that could cripple, or at least deter, horses, and cavalry that could move on rougher ground. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Narrating the development and disappearance of the world's first war machine, this book reminds readers that much of the power of ancient empires was two-wheeled and horse-driven. Harnessed to other historians' broad-spectrum research on the causes of the end of the Bronze Age, Cotterell argues that, much like the later introduction of the stirrup, chariot technology dramatically recast battlefield strategy across the ancient world. Egyptians employed chariots as all-purpose fighting machines, while Roman chariots were more ceremonial, and Indian troops used theirs as archery platforms; Chinese engineers developed more efficient harnesses, permitting heavier cars. The author's comparative approach broadens the appeal of what would otherwise seem a narrow topic, but this account nevertheless behaves as a detailed military history. Particularly interesting for such scholarship, the author also discusses the chariot as a vehicle for modern popular culture; it aims to dispel the notion that chariots were simply horse-pulled tanks. Scholarly yet accessible, and not just for Ben Hur fans. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Cotterell places the chariot into the perspective of life and war during the last 1500 years BC. This is not a technical book of either the workings of the chariot or of chariot tactics - although it addresses both. Rather it is a general history of the period wound about the development and impact of the chariot.
I particularly appreciated the chapter notes, which are mini-essays on particular points, the elaboration of which in the text would disturb the flow.
All-in-all, this was an interesting book that helps understand the interrelated history of Egypt, Asia Minor, India and China. Most books treat each of these areas independently, but through the history of the chariot Cotterell illustrates the continuity of the ancient world.
Between the domestication of the horse, and the use of stirrups and other techniques to make horse-riding warfare more practical, the primary uses of horses in warfare was by means of the chariot. Cotterell begins with the description of one of the major battles in the ancient world, the Egyptian-Hatti Battle of Kadesh in which 5000 chariots on both sides participated. From this basis, Cotterell describes the history of the use of the chariot in time and space from Rome all the way to China.
There is an enormous amount of detail in the book, but its marred by digressions, poor organization and badly formed repetitions. Cotterell mentions battles and places, only to return to them again and again. That would not be a problem, but there is no sense of building on what was already written, or an awareness that there is something new to be said in the narrative. He mentions battles, and then comes back to them again, talking about them as if we had not already read about it earlier in the novel. It was extremely frustrating to this reader.
I learned a lot from the novel, my conception of what good the chariot was and how it was used has expanded. I particularly appreciated that Cotterell did not restrict himself to the Middle East and Europe, as he extensively talks about the role of the chariot in India and China. Cotterell, in the typical haphazard fashion in this book, extends the mandate of the book beyond the war machine role of the chariot to discuss its use as symbol and mythological object ranging from Rome to China.
It's all a pity, though. I really wanted to like and recommend this book, but the disorganized writing and jumbled information just made this book a chore to read, rather than a joy. The scholarship and information is all there, but its more work than its worth, in my opinion, to reach and get it out.
I personally found it a little bit, just a tiny touch, on the light side as far as chariot technology goes, but the over-view and the base technical model (the evolution of wheels specific to the chariot, the impact of harness on size and shape, and so forth) was informative and interesting. I enjoyed the discussion of chariots as predating cavalry, something I probably could have eventually figured out on my own, but which came as an agreeable surprise.
My personal mild frustrations with the level of detail (I always want more) were more than answered by the excellent chapter notes at the back of the volume. I recommend reading those with their respective chapters rather than not getting to them until you've finished the book (like I did).
But for the good news: Cotterell does explore in considerable detail the whole long story of chariots in warfare. He is firmly of the school that identifies military chariots as, primarily, archery platforms, but I do wish he could have explored in greater detail the implications of the introduction of spear-carrying warriors as chariot passengers or, for that matter, the presumed vulnerability of chariots to foot soldiers.
"Chariot" is far from a perfect history volume, but it is nontheless worth reading/
Most recent customer reviews
1) very little information about chariots. Lots of anecdotal info (half the book!) about Chinese (and other) history - interesting but . .Read more