History for the Ted Nugent set—a follow-up to Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live (2009).
In order for a historical moment—in amateur historian Thompson’s hands, almost always a desperate battle—to be worthy of consideration in this catalog of mayhem, it has to involve high stakes, impossible odds and a blaze of glory. On the last point: “The difference between a heroic victory, a valiant last stand, and a crushing defeat is often measured by the badly outnumbered side’s ability to launch a balls-out attack at exactly the right moment.” That’s probably not the way they’d phrase it at West Point, but Thompson’s compendium includes some sterling examples of bravery under fire, some very little known. One, for instance, involved a Russian paratroop unit that fought nearly to the last man in Chechnya, taking out nearly 10 foes for every paratrooper lost. “The Chechens were so impressed by this bold act of bravery,” writes Thompson, “that they named a street after the Russian unit in the Chechen capital of Grozny—no small gesture considering how much these two groups hate each other.” True enough. Many of the author’s other case studies leave their names emblazoned on streets and other places, from Alcibiades to Napoleon to Wyatt Earp, but others are nearly forgotten—e.g., the Nazi fighter ace who later became a consultant to the U.S. Air Force and the unfortunate participants in what Thompson judges to be “history’s dumbest battle,” evidence of which the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire later discovered and was “left trying to piece together…like those dudes in The Hangover.”
The maundering rhetoric, all “dudes” and “balls-out” and “badass,” gets old fast, but Thompson’s grasp of history is solid. Think of it as Thucydides for video gamers.