Classics of Military History

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Battle History

David L. Preston, Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (2015)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Thursday, March 29, 2018

Deservedly a winner of the Guggenheim–Lehrman Prize for Military History, this magnificent book is an instant classic. The author’s innovative research, ranging from French, British, and colonial records through Indian accounts and lengthy canoe trips down French logistics routes, resulted in a vivid account of a disaster that has sharp lessons for today’s military.

Biography

Friedrich Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa (1998)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Thursday, March 29, 2018

A masterpiece of historical research, this book is as revelatory as it is essential for serious students of North American history or military history. In remarkable detail, Katz chronicles the rise to power of a man who, far from being a mere bandit, for years commanded a battle-hardened army that defeated modern Federal forces in pitched battles fought over multiple days and dozens of miles, including the use of machine guns, barbed wire, and long-range artillery.

Autobiography & Memoir

Deneys Reitz, Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War (1929)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Thursday, March 29, 2018

This riveting account of the Boer War as experienced by a young Boer irregular balances out our through-English-eyes perception of this hard-fought, brutal conflict (which saw the first use of concentration camps, if not of the harshness later associated with the phenomenon).

Autobiography & Memoir

John Masters, Bugles And A Tiger (1956) And The Road Past Mandalay (1961)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

These two autobiographical volumes from a former (British) Indian Army officer begin by capturing a lost world, that of the Raj in the years before World War II, in the grand imperial twilight (punishing Afghan tribes, downing gin, and shooting tigers), then move into the desperate war years that doomed the British Empire. Masters’ account of fighting in Burma is an even-rawer version of George MacDonald Fraser’s superb memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here.

Period Military History

Lesley Blanch, The Sabres Of Paradise: Conquest And Vengeance In The Caucasus (1960)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

For those who only know the Caucasus from recent conflicts—in Chechnya, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabagh and elsewhere—this book offers a vital historical perspective. Although Orthodox Russia battled Islamic powers on and off for centuries, Russia’s longest war, waged against hardline Islamists, lasted a full generation in the nineteenth century.

Period Military History

Steven Runciman, A History Of The Crusades (Three Volumes, 1951-54)

by Ralph Petersvia Classics of Military History
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Crusades are often invoked, but rarely understood. Runciman’s modern classic remains the benchmark for its objectivity, clarity and literary merit. Of immediate value for military officers and civilian analysts, this work explodes pernicious current myths, while reporting human valor and folly, treachery and brilliance with enthralling narrative style.

Period Military History

Margaret MacMillan, The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013)

by Vince Gouldingvia Classics of Military History
Monday, October 16, 2017

In her introduction to a book that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Barbara Tuchman’s landmark The Guns of August, Margaret MacMillan asks “what made 1914 so different” that European leaders were unable to back away from the precipice of general war, as they had so many times in the years following Napoleon’s exile? Unlike Tuchman’s focus on a single month, MacMillan takes the reader back several decades to identify the people, events, and decisions that led to the outbreak of war in 1914.

Autobiography & Memoir

General Makriyannis, Aponimonevmata (Memoirs)

by David Berkeyvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A leading figure in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832), Ioannis Makriyannis (1797-1864) lacked both formal education and military training. His desire to record his participation in the remarkable events that secured the freedom of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent chaos that ensued at the conclusion of that struggle, inspired him to write the Memoirs. Makriyannis, therefore, set out to learn the remaining sixteen letters of the alphabet to supplement the eight he had learned as a child to write his name. Not published until forty-five years after his death, it would take more than another half-century for an abridged translation to appear in English (H.A. Lidderdale, editor and translator, Makriyannis: The Memoirs of General Makriyannis, 1797-1864 [Oxford University Press, 1966]).

Military Handbooks

Aineias The Tactician, Poliorkētika (Siegecraft) Or Tactical Treatise On How To Survive Under Siege

by David Berkeyvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From 16 October 2016, when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the assault, to 10 July 2017, when he declared victory over ISIS forces, portions of the city of Mosul were under siege. Lt. General Stephen Townsend said, “To put things in a little perspective for you, this is the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II; it is tough and brutal. House by house, block by block fights.” The combat he described would have been familiar not only to soldiers in Iraq, but also to those who fought at Stalingrad, and even to soldiers as far back as the sieges of antiquity. Even with the use of contemporary technology, many of the tactics employed in modern siegecraft and urban fighting are reminiscent of ancient ones. 

Weapons & Technology

Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany And The Coming Of The Great War (1991)

by Vince Gouldingvia Classics of Military History
Monday, October 9, 2017

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Massie gives us much more than a recounting of the naval race that fatally estranged Britain and Germany starting in 1900. Massie is a biographer and the great strength of his massive work is the biographies he provides of key players on both sides. Weaving pithy biographic sketches into the pre-war narrative adds substantially to a deeper understanding of why so many of the critical events of the era unfolded the way they did. 

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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.

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.

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