A definitive treatment of the theory and philosophy of war by a leading military historian.
Van Creveld (Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West, 2016, etc.) writes that his goal was to update the theoretical works of Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz. While both those writers took a broad analytical view of what war is about and how to wage it, neither lived to see the era of fully mechanized battle, with its eventual extension into the air and space, let alone nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare. Furthermore, since neither was important in the societies in which they lived, neither has much to say on asymmetrical warfare or naval war. Van Creveld does yeoman’s work in addressing these omissions as well as giving a modern perspective on the more traditional modes of warfare. The author looks at numerous historical examples, from ancient times to the last couple of decades. Most of the examples are from the Western world, which is where modern warfare developed, but van Creveld is willing to look at the careers of earlier generals when they illustrate a point—e.g., the Roman general Fabius, whose delaying tactics wore out Hannibal’s Carthaginians, or Alexander’s being forced to retreat from his Indian campaign when his men would no longer advance. On the other hand, the author puts a thoroughly modern emphasis on the economic aspects of warfare as well as on staff work, logistics, and organization—unromantic but often decisive elements that leaders ignore at the risk of defeat. The chapter on nuclear weapons and their effect on war is particularly thought-provoking. Readers interested in detailed analyses of particular battles or campaigns are best advised to look elsewhere; there are plenty of such books, including some by van Creveld. But for those interested in the larger issues that underlie warfare in all ages and all places, this book is entirely satisfying.
Should appeal beyond the usual readership of military histories.