While all civilizations may owe their origins—if not their existence—to war, Keegan concludes that global...



With his usual fluent mastery, Keegan (The Price of Admiralty, 1989, etc.) offers provocative perspectives on armed conflict through the ages.

Taking immediate aim at Clausewitzian theory, the author argues that culture has frequently proved as powerful as politics in decisions to wage war (most notably, perhaps, in prehistoric societies, where the state was an alien concept). Ranging backward and forward in time, he divides his canvass into broad categories (e.g., "stone,'' "flesh,'' "iron,'' "fire'') that allow him to focus on broad as well as narrow aspects of mortal combat. Among other matters, Keegan addresses such perplexing issues as why men fight, how primitive peoples do battle, what factors constrain belligerents, and the circumstances that can precipitate hostilities. Throughout his panoramic survey, he pays particular attention to weaponry (from spears through nuclear ordnance) and other aspects of the martial arts, including fortifications, logistics, and the organization of armies. Covered as well are warrior fraternities like the Crusaders, Mamelukes, samurai, and Zulus, whose feats of arms Keegan illuminates with commentary on contemporary mores—noting, for example, that the Tokugawa shogunate (at pains to preserve a way of life—and death) kept firearms out of Japan for over 250 years, until the Meiji Restoration led to the island nation's industrialization and militarism. Along similar lines, there's an intriguing take on the evolution of primeval horses, whose descendants took charioteers, Mongol hordes, and Western cavalrymen into action on many fronts.

While all civilizations may owe their origins—if not their existence—to war, Keegan concludes that global survival depends on our curbing humanity's vast capacity for destructive violence—and on this score, readers of his superb new survey will find, he's cautiously optimistic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-58801-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet