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A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 10, 2006
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"First the Pentagon plugged the movie, now President Bush is reading the book...A Savage War of Peace, British historian Alistair Horne's celebrated 1977 account of the [Algerian] war...Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who recommended A Savage War of Peace to Bush, said recently on PBS' Charlie Rose Show that he did not believe 'that the French experience could be applied precisely to the United States. But I thought there were enough similarities and enough complexities and enough tragedy for the president to gain a perspective on his own period.'" —Associated Press
"Anyone interested in Iraq should read this book immediately." —Thomas Ricks, The Washington Post
“[Horne’s] tome is so well written it reads more like a novel but is, in fact, a work of superior historical narrative…There are few historical works that provide so comprehensive a treatment of revolutionary and counterinsurgency warfare, domestic and international politics, and economics and ideology.” –Marine Corps Gazette
“When Horne’s book first appeared, it seemed to be an account of one major, but now largely closed, chapter in the history of postwar decolonization. Subsequent developments–in Algeria and elsewhere–have made the past prologue. [It] has become a de facto textbook for American Military officers facing time in Iraq...” —Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
“This thirty-year-old history, written before the Iranian revolution, the Algerian civil war, and Al Qaeda, captures a contingent moment in the conflict between the West and the Arab world, when present-day dogmas were hardly imagined by most. It provides a much needed reminder that modern history is not made by the ‘clash of civilizations’ but by people.” —Harper’s Magazine
"The present conflict in the Middle East is frighteningly similar, making this book a good volume to have on library shelves. Horne provides a new preface."—Library Journal (Classic Returns)
"[T]he read of choice for many U.S. military officers serving in Iraq...[this] universally acclaimed history...should have been mandatory reading for the civilian and military leaders who opted to invade Iraq" —The Washington Times
“There is enough to make this the most complete history of the Algerian war yet written, one which will be indispensable for future historians. It is compelling reading, filled with intimate detail about characters and situations that have served as inspiration for a dozen novels from The Day of the Jackal on.” –The Los Angeles Times
A “highly readable, toughly edited history that blends the pace and sweep of a work of fiction with a relentless pursuit of every main actor still alive and willing to talk about the war.”–The Washington Post Book World
“Alistair Horne is one of the best writers of history in the English speaking world. A Savage War of Peace shows him at the peak of his powers."–The Financial Times
“An awesome and superlative piece of historical narrative…Mr. Horne has a terrible and tremendous tale to tell, one full of omen for posterity.”–The Times (London)
“An accomplished historian of earlier French wars has written an admirably impartial, lucid and readable book…as full and objective a history of the Algerian war as we are likely to see for some years.” –The New York Times Book Review
“A book of compelling power…magnificent. It has the poetic sense of place without which no great work of history can be written.”–The Spectator
“…brilliantly and compassionately told by an historian whose mastery of this subject is complete.”
–The Washington Post
About the Author
ALISTAIR HORNE is the author of eighteen previous books, including A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954—1962, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, How Far from Austerlitz?: Napoleon 1805—1815 and the official biography of British prime minister Harold Macmillan. He is a fellow at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, and lives in Oxfordshire. He was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur in 1993 and received a knighthood in 2003 for his work on French history.
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This work has experienced something of a renaissance given the United States wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly, there are commonalities such as a pride or arrogance born out of great power status or lacking a fundamental understanding of who the adversary is and what they wanted. One could maybe even note a division between civilian and military leadership although the divide in France was much deeper.
Allistar Horne illustrates that when you combine an arrogance about your place in the world with a fundamental misperception of your enemy coupled with numerous divisions on both sides of a conflict, you get a toxic soup that leads to bloodbath and innocent people being shot down in the streets when both sides had opportunities to come to a far more noble solution. Sad, yet important reading for anyone interested in conflict studies.
The focus of this huge book is on the conflict and only hints a other factors in the French calculations like the possible delay of Algeria's release until after the French no longer needed their desert to test and refine their first nuclear weapons, making them a "major power".
 If you studied a language other than French in High School or College, it can be useful to get access to a reference for french phrases. The book was written in the 1970s in England when apparently "everyone" was conversationally fluent in French. (Google Translate can only give a literal translation of the words, not the connotation of the phrase.) Good translations of what these phrases mean in a spoken setting can add to a fuller understanding of the narrative.
 A map of Algeria can be useful if you have the paperback edition. It was printed with a 2-page map that presumably was fully rendered in a hard cover version, but is missing the inner borders in the paperback, thus leaving a reader wondering if anything is missing. (Nothing important is, as it turns out, but until you check another reference, one won't be sure ...)
Top international reviews
Among these Horne is particularly lucid on the use of torture. He makes plain that it was used to excellent effect at the tactical level, and indeed for much of the middle-to-late period of the war France had substantially won it at the purely military level thanks to intelligence extracted by torture. But Horne is equally clear that the battle to create a world in which Algerians could be happy under French sovereignty could never be won while anyone who had suffered torture lived to tell the tale, something de Gaulle understood far more clearly than his putsch-prone army.
This is an outstanding volume. It’s a remarkable achievement in a genre of the telling of very recent history where far too many writers inflict their own distortions, wilfully or otherwise. But above all it is a warning to all leaders to keep away from other nations, of whose worlds they are almost always woefully ignorant.
All I wanted was some colour, some feel for the ebb and flow of the struggle that I had first learned about from Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal as a teenager, but not much more. But oh dear, no: Horne’s book pulled me in. I could not tear myself a way, despite the frequent accounts of violence between the FLN and the French army groups, violence that escalated in the final months of the war into daily death tallies that were so large as to defy belief, hundreds killed, murders in the streets of Algiers and Oran, and in Paris, throats cut, machine guns stolen by renegade French army group the OAS used to cut down people and buildings, and the use of ‘plastique’ bombs that made my own country’s experience (that’s Britain) of the IRA’s bombs seem quite tame by comparison.
But Horne, who passed away in 2017 (pity, I’d have liked to have e mailed him or spoken on the telephone, so personally did I feel I got to know him) was an extraordinary man and a great historian. So many of his sentences begin or end ‘. . . as he told me . . .’ He was granted exceptional access to the Algerian revolutionaries and the renegade army officers who tried to tear Algeria to bits under the ‘Algerie Française!’ banner, make it ungovernable, keep it forever French.
And always with de Gaulle there at the centre of the spider’s web. I came to a new respect for that inflexible, obdurate old relic. He could change the French nation’s mood in one televised speech. And he did, several times.
But the war was always going to end with France losing control, although it cost (and estimates vary wildly and according to what side is offering them, so I won’t name figures) a huge number of lost-lives before the French departed. Deprived of everything, the poorest pieds noirs sat in the baking summer sun of 1962 on the docksides waiting for ships to take them away forever. The rich ones, the so-called ‘grands colons’ they did OK. They got their money out and moved off to pastures new.
‘Pied noir’ would appear to come from the black boots the first colonists wore – presumably in stark contrast to the sandals and bare feet of the Algerians – after the country was annexed, i.e. stolen by the French in 1830. The history of the colonisation is itself very interesting and Horne is/was a great story teller. But colonial regimes bleed their subjects dry and eventually the indigenous people get their country back, always.
Horne’s book deserves all of its 5 stars. It is a thoughtful, definitive chronicle, sometimes recounting events month to month, even day-by-day during extreme periods. Horne revised the original 1970s edition in the 1990s and had been able, therefore, to show the reader how Algeria fared in the years following its final separation from France. For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Horne’s continuance was the ‘where are they now? And ‘whatever happened to . . .?’ end notes, both the rival Algerian factions and the soldiers, many of high rank and great valour in the service of France and who formed the all-out ‘ultra’ OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) who almost brought France down in a coup d’état. Yes, it almost happened and Horne’s description of being in Paris when ancient Sherman tanks of WW2 vintage were trundled out of retirement and ranged around government buildings. Frightening.
For anyone seeking the truth about France and its North African colonies there is no better resource than this book.
This book explains more than a thousand television debates and articles the difficult, disturbing and finally deadly relationship between old and new Western colonists and the Islamic world. Two visions of the man and the world that are destined to meet and doing so to collide. Algerian war was a kind of foretaste for many of the things that we nowadays are forced to experience and anticipated the continuing failure of Western rulers to manage social and religious unrest, their tendency to ignore the role played by economic considerations in any demand for self-government, their willingness to impose systems of rules and values alien to these countries. It is somewhat tragic that the country that gave us the Droits de l'Homme and the Enlightenment, failed so terribly to manage and to bring to a less deadly conclusion the self government demands of Algerians. Of course the author masterfully explains the complex weave of forces in France and abroad that confronted themselves on this issue, the Cold War and Panarabism both played an important role in this struggle, but finally it was France itself that decided to let Algeria free and doing so destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of pieds noirs et harkis. The role if the aging president De Gaulle was instrumental in this rip off and his management of the Algerian crisis cannot be considered as one of his highest achievements. Where the book misses some details is in the story of OAS members and their international connections, it is a pity because this is also a foretaste of today's dirty ops proudly presented by Western democracies in Middle East and Asia. This is but a small miss in any case and the book is an absolute read for anybody wishing to get a grasp of Mediterranean history.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the history of Algeria.
The text is very small, but well broken into bite sized reading chunks.
Part Two deals with the military attempts to deal with FLN terrorists in the Bled and the hard put down of Battle for Algiers.
Part three, which I am reading at the moment handles the fall of 4th Republic, a very near army putsch, and the Independence of Algeria. No doubt the attempts by OAS (background to Day of the Jackal) will follow.
Evidently President Bush read this and gave it to his colleagues as they tried to find an honourable way out of Iraq.....Er perhaps, they should have read this book before they started.
I first Read A Savage War of Peace in 1980. Further prefaces have been added to the 1996 and 2006 editions. A copy of the 2006 edition was sent to Donald Rumsfeld. It is a great shame that he did not read it- many lives could have been saved from not embarking on misconceived policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sections in the 2006 preface on `Fundamentalism and Civil War' and `After 9/11 and Parallels with Iraq', still resonate strongly today. The Moujahadin were present in Algeria in 1954; they are alive and well in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan today. Sometimes we can learn from history.
Nor does he neglect to show us why this war was fought, going back to the colonisation of Algeria by the French in 1830, and their deplorable treatment of the Algerian people for over a century. De Gaulle's remark to Gen, Massu could be used to describe the French political officials, military officers and the settlers trying to hold back the tide between 1952-1962, "toujours cons". Bien sur.