Classics of Military History

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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. 

Military Fiction

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, August 1914 (1971)

by Vince Gouldingvia Classics of Military History
Monday, October 2, 2017

In August 1914, Alexander Solzhenitsyn provided a graphic account of the Great War’s pivotal first month on the Eastern Front. Too often, our attention is drawn to faulty execution of Schlieffen’s plan and the ensuing stalemate a thousand miles to the west. Solzhenitsyn masterfully captures the War’s opening events in East Prussia, using a blend of history and fiction to educate the reader on all levels of war: strategic, operational, and tactical. 

Period Military History

Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns Of August (1962)

by Vince Gouldingvia Classics of Military History
Monday, September 25, 2017

Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Guns of August is the starting point for any serious study of the First World War. Its great strength lies in its adroit connection of the political decision making and strategic miscalculations which led to the military operations that directly followed in that critical opening month of the war. 

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.

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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.