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A History of Warfare by John Keegan

A History of Warfare (1993)

by John Keegan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
(Original Review, 2002-06-10)

There is easy rubbish and difficult trash. Of course, a lot of books with high literary merit will be more demanding for/ of the reader than, say, neckbiters, which are all fashioned by formula. But equalling the ease of a read with literary worthlessness would fail to acknowledge e.g., all those wonderful, amazing children's classics, which are as loved by readers as they are praised by critics. I feel there are two separate sets of judgements (and sometimes the twain will meet, and other times not): The objective-subjective critical judgement of literary merit by a learned and experienced critic, and the subjective judgement of any reader....

The perceived difficulty of a book has much to do with the abilities of the reader as a reader, and with their attitude to difficulty. Nobody likes to be told that he might be an inadequate, impatient or lazy reader, but 'difficult' books tend to flush out these types. The Booker in particular will always have problems with this issue, because it aims at a large readership. Many of those potential readers will expect to be entertained or distracted in an uncomplicated way by a 'good' book, and may feel when confronted by unexpected difficulty that some implied bargain between author and reader has been broken.

I am reading the book (being hugely fascinated by military history and military ethics) 'A History of Warfare; by John Keegan, (Cambridge, Sandhurst Proff) and it falls into the article's scope. The beginning wearing as he Clausewitzes his way along, crediting Claus wile also explaining his fallacy in using 'True War, and Real War' wile not understanding war outside of the European scope..... and it all gets fuzzy, dropping in a quick Kant theory and many examples of Zulus and Cossacks till a couple hours reading I get some vague feeling of where he is going, but it was a lot of work - and I know a couple paragraphs written in pub-talk level explanation would have made it all clear in a quarter of the words....

But the guy is a scholar, and every word has to mean neither more or less than it must, so on and on it goes when brevity and homily would work so much better for us hobbiest readers.

Now we need a parallel essay on the dangers of understanding too easily. Reader overconfidence is unexplored terrain. ( )
  antao | Nov 19, 2018 |
Keegan, "A History of Warfare" (1994). A military historian with an anthropological bent, labels his sections "Stone", "Flesh", "Iron", and "Fire".

From the first section, he asks "Why do Men Fight", and then examines various schools of explanation -- materialist, naturalist, religious, optimist, and even the 1986 Seville Statement which condemns the view that man is naturally violent.

He summarizes studies of the limbic system, finally resting upon the "enormously popular book", The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. He then turns to anthropology and theories of aggression drawn from case studies. Starting with Freud (noting that "Totem and Taboo"--the death drive and guilt-ignited aggression--"was a work of imagination", he advances to Robert Ardrey's elaboration of Lorenz' cooperative hunting societies and leadership studies. [81] Finally he falls upon the anthropologists with their kinship studies and reliance upon cooperation as the key, marginalizing the Social Darwinians who saw struggle as the means of change. [86] In a struggle to explain how a state could develop from family relationships, the nurture school demanded evidence that relations could be established by rational choices and fixed by legal forms. By the end of the 19th centuries, anthropologists were debating diffusionism and the search for origins, which is self-defeating, where all cultures have evolved and been altered. Franz Boas, a German immigrant to the United States, of course, ended that "originalist" debate by denying that it produces answers. Cultures perpetuate themselves; it's what they do. It is rarely rational. The academic doctrine of Cultural Determinism quickly became popular through the work of Ruth Benedict, a protégé of Boas. "Patterns of Culture" became the most influential work of anthropology ever written. Keenan then describes particular tribes -- Yanomamo, Aztec. All of this circling around the rocks, the hewed stone.

Then "Flesh". To be continued.
  keylawk | Aug 14, 2016 |
Eminent Military Historian John Keegan does not endeavor to give us a chronology of wars and battles -- that has been done many times over by lesser authors. Instead, he begins with a look Clausowitz' On War, and expands on some of the German historian's fundamental concepts -- mostly that war is an extension of politics.

The course of the book is a winding one -- while there is some marching order through time, Keegan will often take an example from stone age through Classical through Medieval to modern -- discussing Rome at one moment, Napoleon the next. Why there are wars is as important as studying the wars themselves -- especially if we ever hope to evolve past them.

This book was written after the first Gulf war. In the 20 years since, I wonder what additional commentary Keegan might have. While "mutually assured destruction" might have helped avert a third world war during the second half of the 20th centuries, conventional was are as numerous now as they ever have been. While damaging to the societies of the combatants as a whole, motivation and driving force is often a cult of personality where the few stand to profit the most. ( )
  JeffV | Feb 9, 2014 |
Widely recognized as one of the seminal works on warfare Keegan does not disappoint here and he goes on a romp through history demonstrating its history. The work is indispensable for a contemporary understanding of warfare. Although very different in execution, Keegan's topic here is similar to the same ground covered by Max Boot. Keegan argues for the indirect approach for military victory and he demonstrates how this strategy is effective throughout history.
  gmicksmith | Aug 12, 2013 |
Received Duff Cooper Prize in 1993 for a good reason- If you like military history, you will like this book. It is an interesting look at warfare throughout human history
  Odenizli | May 8, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Keeganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andolf, Göransecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preis, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In memory of Winter Bridgman
Lieutenant in the Régiment de Clare
killed at the battle of Lauffeld
July 2, 1747
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War is not the continuation of policy by other means. The world would be a simpler place to understand it this dictum of Chausewitz's were true.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679730826, Paperback)

The acclaimed author of The Face of Battle examines centures of conflict in a variety of diverse societies and cultures. "Keegan is at once the most readable and the most original of living military historians . . . A History of Warfare is perhaps the most remarkable study of warfare that has yet been written."--The New York Times Book Review.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:02 -0400)

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Examines the place of warfare in human culture and the human impulse toward violence.

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