A History of Warfare

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One of the world' s foremost military historians offers a sweeping view of the place of warfare in civilization. Probing the meanings, motivations, and methods underlying war throughout history, John Keegan suggests why, in 2,000 years, humanity has not advanced far beyond the acceptance of violence on honorable terms. Keegan argues that while all civilizations owe their origins to war-making, their survival ultimately depends on taming man s enormous and enduring capacity for ...
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A History of Warfare

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One of the world' s foremost military historians offers a sweeping view of the place of warfare in civilization. Probing the meanings, motivations, and methods underlying war throughout history, John Keegan suggests why, in 2,000 years, humanity has not advanced far beyond the acceptance of violence on honorable terms. Keegan argues that while all civilizations owe their origins to war-making, their survival ultimately depends on taming man s enormous and enduring capacity for violence.

Keegan offers a sweeping view of the place of warfare in human culture and a brilliant exposition of the human impulse toward violence. Beginning with the premise that all civilizations owe their origins to warmaking, Keegan probes the meanings, motivations, and methods underlying war in different societies over the course of more than two thousand years, demonstrating how particular cultures give rise to their own styles of warmaking. A History of Warfare also examines the great changes in military technology from the discoveries of bronze and iron to the 20th century mobilization of science and industry culminating in the development of the atomic bomb.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."—The New York Times Book Review
"A masterpiece...This is one of those rare books which could still be required reading in its field a hundred years from now."—The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his sweeping new study, Keegan The Face of Battle examines the origins and nature of warfare, the ethos of the primitive and modern warrior and the development of weapons and defenses from the battle of Megiddo 1469 B.C. into the nuclear age. Keegan offers a refreshingly original and challenging perspective. He characterizes warriors as the protectors of civilization rather than as its enemy and maintains that warfare is ``entirely a masculine activity.'' Though warfare has become an ingrained practice over the course of 4000 years, he argues, its manifestation in the primitive world was circumscribed by ritual and ceremony that often embodied restraint, diplomacy and negotiation. Peacekeepers, he suggests, would benefit from studying primitive warmaking--especially now, ``a time when the war of all against all already confronts us.'' A masterwork. Photos. 40,000 first printing; History Book Club main selection; BOMC alternate. Nov.
Library Journal
In this undertaking, Keegan, a former lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, assigns himself an almost impossible task. First, he discusses the essence of war-what it is, how it is waged, and how it has changed-seeing it as a reflection of culture. Second, he uses his examples of how men have waged war to rebut the German officer Karl von Clausewitz's contention that war is an extension of politics. Keegan's description of the development of warfare is excellent. However, his critique of Clausewitz, interesting as it is, deserves a separate volume. This un-abridged audio version is generally well done: beginnings and ends of sides are announced and Frederick Davidson's reading is clear, well paced, and keeps the listener's attention. The maps and photos of the print version are regrettably absent. Nonetheless, this classic volume is essential for library collections.-Michael T. Fein, Catawba Valley Community Coll., Hickory, N.C.
School Library Journal
YA-Keegan begins his comprehensive but concise survey by debunking the classical tenet that war is an inevitable result of politics. In a well-developed and relatively easy-to-follow argument, he reexamines this previously inviolate theory. By following the progress of war and warriors from primitive societies to the post-Cold War era, and by detailing the concurrent development of weapons technology, he allows readers to see that warfare need not be an all-or-nothing event. He includes many interesting details in his survey, e.g., vivid descriptions of torture, of the development of horse-warriors and charioteers, and of the arrival and consequences of the atom bomb. While leading readers to the conclusion and hope that man is not necessarily a warrior, he canvasses the spread of ``civilization'' and the making of nation-states as we know them today. The book includes prints, diagrams, and photographs. This title will challenge interested readers and prove useful for research papers, philosophical discussions, debates, and anthropology and sociology classes. Even dedicated militarists will find food for thought in Keegan's theories and historical perspective.-Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
Kirkus Reviews
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 thatglobal 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. (Ten maps and 24 pages of photographs—not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679730828
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1994
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 343,897
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Keegan was for many years senior lecturer in military history at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and has been a fellow at Princeton University and a professor of history at Vassar College. He is the author of thirteen previous books, including the acclaimed The Face of Battle and The Second World War. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

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Table of Contents


1. War in Human History
Interlude: Limitations on Warmaking

2. Stone
Interlude: Fortification

3. Flesh
Interlude: Armies

4. Iron
Interlude: Logistics and Supply

5. Fire


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2000

    A History Of Humanity

    Unquestionably Keegan's most brilliant work--and that says a lot. This work traces the development of warfare from the Stone Age to the Modern, but is in reality a history of world civilization, and demonstrates with brilliant clarity the linkage between the two. Keegan seeks initially to explain what warfare is, and why it seems so dominant in human history. Rejecting the Clausewitzian theory of war as simply politics, Keegan instead shows how warfare and culture are inextricably connected, and how the process of cultural development influences and is influenced by military developments. The focus is primarily on evolution--why each development led to the next, why one culture supplanted another. The historical perspective is impressive; the largest part of the text developing history in the ancient era (suprising how insignificant our 'modern' era is). Analysis is also devoted to subjects like fortifications and logistics, and their development in the historical pattern. Yet ultimately it is a study of the human animal, as penetrating and insightful as any analysis yet done. This is an absolute 'must read' for anyone interested in history, military history, or in the sociological history of mankind. It is absolutely without peer.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 4, 2008

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    Posted July 26, 2010

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