Classics of Military History

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Battle History

Decision at Trafalgar: The Story of the Greatest British Naval Battle of the Age of Nelson, by Dudley Pope

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

Dudley Pope is best known as a novelist who wrote a well-loved series of books about a fictional Lord Nicholas Ramage, an officer in His Majesty’s Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Pope was also a journalist, writing on naval defense, and he knew the sea. A survivor of a torpedoed merchant ship in World War II, he later lived for over 20 years on a yacht in the Caribbean.

Autobiography & Memoir

The Sergeant in the Snow, by Mario Rigoni Stern

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

Rigoni Stern began writing this short, powerful memoir of the Russian front in a German prison camp, where he was interned after refusing to continue serving in Mussolini’s army after the armistice with the allies in September 1943. Earlier he served in an elite Italian mountain fighting unit that saw action on various fronts in World War II: France, Albania, Yugoslavia and, most memorably, Russia. 

Autobiography & Memoir

Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Monday, May 16, 2016

Vera Brittain arrived at Somerville College, Oxford concurrently with the outbreak of the First World War. Almost immediately she left the comfortable confines of that most beautiful of universities to volunteer to serve on Western Front as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. The fact that the men in her family as well as those she befriended had joined up immediately was undoubtedly a factor that motivated her to leave Oxford. 

Battle History

History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Monday, May 16, 2016

In his introduction, Thucydides remarks that “it will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.” 

Period Military History

The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, by Victor Davis Hanson (2nd edition)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Monday, May 16, 2016

Professor Hanson has written a number of important and interesting historical works on ancient Greek history and the relevance of that great period in human activity to our own world. But by far and away his most important and interesting work is this study of hoplite war (from the seventh century B.C. to the end of the fifth century B.C.) among the Greek city-states. 

Military Handbooks

On War, by Carl von Clausewitz (translated and edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Monday, May 16, 2016

Of all the efforts to discover existential truths about the fundamental nature of war, Clausewitz’s On War comes closest to the mark. Tragically, Clausewitz died before he could complete his work. Yet, what he left us captures a number of fundamental truths. 

Autobiography & Memoir

The Gallic War, by Julius Caesar

by Bruce Thorntonvia Classics of Military History
Friday, April 22, 2016

Caesar’s commentaries describe his campaign to pacify Gaul––modern France, Belgium, and parts of Switzerland––that took place from 58-50 B.C. Caesar’s work is an important resource for historians of Roman military tactics and imperial expansion, as well as for those investigating the tribes and geography of Western Europe.

Autobiography & Memoir

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E.B. Sledge (1981)

by Peter R. Mansoorvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eugene B. Sledge, the son of a doctor from Alabama, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 and fought with the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu and Okinawa. His wartime memoir, With the Old Breed, chronicles his experiences in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific war against Japan. It is a story about the humanity, and utter lack thereof, in war. 

Weapons & Technology

The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800, by Geoffrey Parker (1988)

by Peter R. Mansoorvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The advent of gunpowder weapons dramatically changed warfare during the late Middle Ages and early modern periods. Gunpowder was a Chinese invention. Why then was it the West that came to adopt it so completely and use the weaponry designed to employ it to put itself in a position to dominate much of the world by the 19th century? 

Battle History

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, by John Keegan (1976)

by Peter R. Mansoorvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Until the development of the “New Military History” in the 1960s and 1970s, studies of battles and campaigns focused to a great extent on the actions of generals, with soldiers represented as caricatures, the scenery behind the real drama. Thus soldiers “push” up a hill with “measured tread” under a “hail” of fire. 

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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.

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