Classics of Military History

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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. 

Biography

Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, by Eliot Cohen (2002)

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

The relationship between statesmen and military leaders in democracies is rarely smooth, often contentious, but absolutely vital to the success of grand strategy in peace and war. In Supreme Command, Eliot Cohen examines four supreme commanders in several pivotal conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries: U.S. President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, French Premier Georges Clemenceau during World War I, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II, and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Weapons & Technology

Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, by Henry A. Kissinger (1957)

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

This book is the template of U.S. nuclear weapons policy since the Kennedy Administration, as well as of how the U.S. government has conducted war since Vietnam. Published by the Council on Foreign Relations as the report of a high level working group, it was the Democratic Party’s intellectual attack on the Eisenhower Administration’s policy of responding to Soviet aggression “by means and at places of our choosing.”

Weapons & Technology

On Thermonuclear War, by Herman Kahn (1960)

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

By the late 1950s, the notion that nuclear war would extinguish mankind, dramatized in Nevil Shute’s best selling On The Beach and the subsequent movie, or kill hundreds of millions of Americans at the very least, had become prevalent. 

Weapons & Technology

The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order, by Bernard Brodie (1946)

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

It is no exaggeration that, for seventy years, the mainstream of American thought on nuclear war has been a gloss on this volume’s essays, written within weeks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From the fact that two bombs had destroyed two cities, the book extrapolates a full-grown doctrine of war in the nuclear age. 

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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.