Classics of Military History

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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. 

Autobiography & Memoir

The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant (1994 [orig. published 1885-1886])

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mark Twain once described Grant’s memoirs as the finest piece of literature written in the English literature in the nineteenth century. It was an apt description. In the last years of his life in an extraordinary piece of courage, because he was dying of throat cancer at the time, Grant wrote his memoirs.

Military Fiction

The Iliad, by Homer (various translations and editions)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The first great literary work in the Western literary canon, the Illiad, has gradually declined in its use in American university and college courses, undoubtedly because it is about the murderous sharp end of war and makes no bones about the fact that it regards its heroes as representing the height in human achievement. 

Period Military History

Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Professor Anderson’s study of the Seven Years’ War (known to Americans as the French and Indian Wars) examines the great war that determined the fate of North America and eventually led to the creation of the United States. 

Biography

Marlborough: His Life and Times [six vols.], by Winston S. Churchill (1933-38)

by Williamson Murrayvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

During his wilderness years in the early and mid-thirties, Churchill wrote his masterful history of Britain’s greatest general, his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough. It is probably Churchill’s finest piece of historical writing, which is saying a great deal. 

Autobiography & Memoir

Tiger in the Barbed Wire: An American in Vietnam, 1952-1991, by Howard R. Simpson (1994)

by Max Bootvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Howard R. Simpson is one of the best memoirists you probably have never heard of—unless you happen to be a historian of the Vietnam War. He was a Foreign Service officer who worked for the U.S. Information Agency and, after retirement, became a novelist. 

Military Fiction

Sword of Honour trilogy, by Evelyn Waugh (1952, 1955, 1961)

by Max Bootvia Classics of Military History
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy—comprising Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and The End of the Battle [originally published in England as Unconditional Surrender]—was published between 1952 and 1961. 

Pages


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.