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On War by Carl von Clausewitz

On War (1832)

by Carl von Clausewitz

Other authors: Colonel J. J. Graham (Translator), Colonel F. N. Maude (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The ultimate classic on strategy, which is timeless, and tactics, which may be for the 19th-century but contain elements that are eternal..
  librisissimo | Oct 15, 2016 |
Brilliant strategist. Was ahead of his time, yet, subsequent strategies at war colleges would not develop for fear of orthodoxy. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
The study of military history is the only means of supplying the place of actual experience, by giving a clear idea of that which we have termed the friction of the whole machine. To this end we must not confine ourselves to the leading events, much less keep to the reasoning of historians, but study details as much as is possible. For historians rarely make perfect fidelity of representation their object: in general, they desire to embellish the deeds of their Army, or to prove a consonance between actual events and some imaginary rules. They invent history, instead of writing it. If we cast a glance at military history in general, we find so much the opposite of an incessant advance toward the aim, that standing still and doing nothing is quite plainly the normal condition of an Army in the midst of War, acting, the exception.

Some great sentiment must stimulate great abilities in the General. Open your heart to a feeling of this kind. Be bold and astute in your designs, firm and preserving in executing them, determined to find a glorious end, and destiny will press on your youthful brow a radiant crown – fit emblem of a Prince, the rays of which will carry your image into the bosom of your latest descendants. No battle in the world has more thoroughly convinced me that in War we should not despair of success up to the last moment, and that the effects of good principles, which can never manifest themselves in such a regular manner as we suppose, will unexpectedly make their appearance, even in the most desperate case, when we believe any such influences are completely lost.

Theory can give no formulas with which to solve problems; it cannot confine the mind’s course to the narrow line of necessity by Principle set up on both sides. It lets the mind take a look at the mass of objects and their relations, and then allows it to go free to the higher regions of action, there to act according to the measure of its natural forces, with the energy of the whole of those forces combined, and to grasp the True and the Right, as one single clear idea, which, shooting forth from under the united pressure of all these forces, would seems to be rather a product of feeling than of reflection.

In strategy there is no victory. On the one hand, the strategic success is the successful preparation of the tactical victory; the greater his strategic success, the more probable becomes the victory in battle. On the other hand, strategic success lies in the making use of the victory gained. In tactics, a surprise seldom rises to the level of a great victory, while in Strategy it often finishes the war at one stroke. But at the same time we must observe that the advantageous use of this means supposes some great and uncommon, as well as decisive error committed by the adversary, therefore it does not alter the balance much in favour of the offensive.

One of the parties must of necessity be assumed politically to be the aggressor, because no War could take place from defensive intentions on both sides. A War in which victories are merely used to ward off blows, and where there is no attempt to return the blow, would be just as absurd as a battle in which the most absolute defence (passivity) should everywhere prevail in all measures. What is the object of defence? To preserve. To preserve is easier than to acquire; from which follows at once that the means of both sides being supposed equal, the defensive is easier than the offensive. ( )
  8982874 | Feb 8, 2013 |
Overall, it was really great, but I'm uncomfortable with the way he slights logistics, and I think his ideas could have been communicated a lot more concisely (although that's probably a fault due to the work being an unfinished draft, he never had the chance to go over it and pare out the redundancies).

I read it without any preparation and feel like I didn't miss too much. Historical references are used mostly in the form of, after discussing a point thoroughly, being dropped to say "and here are examples of what I was talking about". So you don't need to be able to parse them to follow the theory. You would need a pretty detailed grounding in the Silesian and Napoleonic wars to follow them if you wanted to, though, since for Clausewitz these campaigns were very recent history so he assumes any student of military theory would be so familiar with them that a mere place name ("Borodino") would be sufficient to conjure to mind the context, details, aftermath and implications of a battle. ( )
  jhudsui | Sep 1, 2012 |
A must read for any serious soldier. ( )
  ALWAYM | Dec 27, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carl von Clausewitzprimary authorall editionscalculated
Graham, Colonel J. J.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maude, Colonel F. N.Introductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brodie, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graham, James JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, Michael EliotEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paret, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paret, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We propose to consider first the single elements of our subject, then each branch or part, and, last of all, the whole, in all its relations—therefore to advance from the simple to the complex. But it is necessary for us to commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts their relation to the whole should be kept constantly in view.
It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.
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Abridged editions such as the Penguin, Oxford, Einaudi, Voltaire, Dodo, Wordsworth, and others should not be combined with the unabridged editions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691018545, Paperback)

On War is the most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy. Since the work's first appearance in 1832, it has been read throughout the world, and has stimulated generations of soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

On War is the most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy. Since the work's first appearance in 1832, it has been read throughout the world, and has stimulated generations of soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals. The most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy, Carl von Clausewitz's book stands as one of the world's great classic works on the subject.… (more)

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