Classics of Military History

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Military Handbooks

The Art Of War, By Niccolò Machiavelli

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In this, the least known of his works, Machiavelli gives straightforward advice on organizing and conducting military operations. The Art of War’s clear, and concise style is diametrically opposed to that of The Prince. The book is wholly practical, considers contrasting arguments, and even includes illustrative diagrams. Its format is that of a conversation between a military expert and interested citizens. Although the expert, Fabrizio, is obviously Machiavelli himself, the format provides at least an arguable degree of separation between Machiavelli and his advice.

Military Handbooks

Discourses On Livy, By Niccolò Machiavelli

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Monday, June 5, 2017

Consisting of three books, of sixty, thirty-three, and forty-nine chapters respectively, the Discourses contains the bulk of Machiavelli’s teachings. Unlike The Prince, the chapters are written plainly, headlined in Italian rather than in Latin, and addressed to persons he deems sympathetic to those teachings. The subject is nothing less than what makes for successful states and individuals, as well as for success in war. It is covered on high, low, and intermediate levels of specificity. The format is a series of observations apparently chosen almost at random.

Military Fiction

The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, By Various Authors (17th Century)

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Friday, June 2, 2017

This massive fictionalized history of the struggles attendant to the death the Han dynasty and the establishment the Jin dynasty (circa AD 169-280) is akin to Shakespeare’s historical plays as well as, in some respects, to Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. It is to be approached in the same way, for what the dialogues tell us about a civilization’s understanding of conflict, of statecraft, as well as of virtue.

Military Handbooks

The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Prince, Machiavelli’s best known and least understood work, consists largely of anecdotes of victory and defeat in conflict. It is neither a set of recipes for success, nor an argument in favor of harsh methods. That is because Machiavelli’s anecdotes suggest that different—indeed opposite—approaches to conflict are likely to bring victory or defeat according to how well they fit the particular circumstances in which they are used.

Autobiography & Memoir

My Early Life, by Winston Churchill (1930)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Times review of Churchill’s autobiography, My Early Life, mentioned “the charm and briskness of this book” as well as its “humour, headlong excitement, quiet irony, melancholy regret for vanished customs and glories, love of sport [and] the pleasures of friendship,” although it also made the slightly snide point that “The material is, of course, splendid, as Mr. Churchill will agree.” That material is an adventure story that would defy belief if it were in a novel, yet in fact it did all happen to one man.

Autobiography & Memoir

Her Privates We, by Frederic Manning (1930)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Frederic Manning was an expatriate Australian aesthete-turned-journalist-turned-soldier who wanted his readers to understand was it was like to have fought in the trenches of World War One. His haunting autobiographical novel became an international bestseller in the 1930s and no less an authority than Ernest Hemingway described it as “the best and noblest book of men in war that I have ever read.

Period Military History

The March of the Twenty-Six, by R. F. Delderfield (1962)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ronald Delderfield was an English novelist and dramatist (A Horseman Riding By, To Serve Them All My Days, God is an Englishman) who nonetheless wrote a sublime piece of military history telling the story of the Emperor Napoleon’s relations with his twenty-six marshals of the Empire and their relations with each other and the effect both had on the course of the Napoleonic Wars. 

Autobiography & Memoir

War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, edited by Alex Danchev & Daniel Todman (2001)

by Andrew Robertsvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

General Sir Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, was Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) of the British Army from December 1941 and also chairman of the British Chiefs of Staff from March 1942 until after the end of World War Two. He was one of the four people who created the grand strategy of the Western Allies and so his unexpurgated diaries published in 2001 are an invaluable source for historians. 

Period Military History

This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History, by T. R. Fehrenbach

by Barry Strauss via Classics of Military History
Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A journalist rather than an academic, Fehrenbach (1925-2013) wrote larger-than-life history of a heroic bent. He is remembered for the bestselling Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans (1968), whose emphasis on gun-slinging white men now makes it politically incorrect. But he also wrote the sad and beautiful Comanches: The Destruction of a People (1974), which shows great admiration for Native Americans. This Kind of War originally appeared in 1963 with the subtitle of A Study in Unpreparedness and was republished in a new edition in 1994.

Autobiography & Memoir

Anabasis, by Xenophon

by Barry Strauss via Classics of Military History
Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Anabasis is a classic story of an army’s retreat from disaster, told by the man who was thrust into the role of saving it. Anabasis means “march inland from the coast,” which is a paradoxical title for a book that is mostly about a march to the coast from inland. But the author, Xenophon, an Athenian, had a taste for irony, borrowed from his teacher, the great philosopher Socrates.

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The Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict strives to reaffirm the Hoover Institution's dedication to historical research in light of contemporary challenges, and in particular, reinvigorating the national study of military history as an asset to foster and enhance our national security. Read more.

Strategika

Over time, a popular and scholarly consensus has been reached that a few singular military histories and philosophies of war offer unparalleled wisdom. Yet these landmark studies span 2,500 years of history, appear in a myriad of languages, and reference thousands of conflicts, and thus require brief, analytical introductions by contemporary military historians to guide the reader of how best to approach such a vast but often underappreciated literature.

The banner image is Gabriel Salmon's Hercules Fighting the Giants. Additional information available from the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.