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with Book Reviews
Most of these books I recommend, either because they present new or different ideas, cover neglected topics, or because they are well written. They are rated between one and five stars, with five being excellent, four being very good, three good, and the rare book below three is not recommended. Scroll down for links to specific sections.
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Links to Specific Sections
General Military History, Strategy, and Tactics
Ancient and Medieval
Early Modern Warfare - Renaissance to the 19th Century The most interesting time period in history.
19th Century to World War I
World War II
Naval See also Renaissance to the 19th Century.
History, Economic History, and Generalities The fascinating and profound. Take a look!
Historical Strategy Games
Jazz You might just like it. Take a listen to the samples and see!
General Military History, Strategy, and Tactics
Strategy ***** One of the great military thinkers of all time, B.H. Liddell Hart advocates "the indirect approach" instead of a bloody Clauswitzian battle. The author uses examples from ancient times to modern guerilla warfare to prove his point. Although he doesn't always completely understand the wars he discusses, but his concept is good.
Forward into Battle ***** Paddy Griffith argues that the importance of firepower has been overestimated relative to shock action. For instance, Griffith contends that Wellington's army was successful not simply because of its volley fire but more importantly from the subsequent charge. He argues that at New Orleans poor troops lacking discipline failed to take a fortified line that good troops could have taken. He details the rise of light infantry through the 1800s. Then he shows that the shock action of brief artillery bombardments and stormtrooper tactics broke through the trenches of World War I. With every technological advance and increase in firepower, people have prophesied an "empty battlefield" and neglected shock at their peril.
Transformation of War ****1/2 by Jean Colin. A classic of military theory and tactics, Colin's book discusses the changes in warfare from ancient times to the era just prior to the First World War. His analysis of ancient tactics is short and possibly suspect, perhaps added only to support his theories. Starting with the gunpowder era, however, his tactical analysis rightly emphasizes the psychological, and his discussion of 19th century tactics is excellent, being a good overview of military thought from the 19th Century up to the First World War. Colin advocates the offensive. Shock action is important, but firepower superiority is the vital prerequisite. When it is achieved, even troops in open order can advance with the bayonet. The 18th century and Napoleonic eras are discussed, and Colin gives a good analysis of Napoleon's methods - consistent attempts to threaten enemy communications, both operationally and tactically. Moltke is seemingly criticized but later vindicated for his shallow flanking moves. The translation is generally very good and only occasionally awkward. I hope, in vain, that more translations of his work are made, especially his writings on 18th century tactics.
From Flintlock to Rifle **** As it was printed in the late 1970s, Steven Ross's well written book, covering from 1740 to 1866, is now somewhat dated but still interesting and useful. It is flawed in some of its conclusions, and it neglects issues of weapons effectiveness as well as the psychological features of battle in favor of an almost exclusive focus on formations and other 'nuts and bolts' issues. Use of columns for maneuver and attack are well covered as are the the use of skirmishers and changes in doctrine of various Western armies over time. The author gives many examples from battles of the era. So this book is a good introduction to tactics of the era but understandably shouldn't be taken as the 'be all end all' on the subject. It is best read in combination with Nosworthy's and Muir's more recent books for a fuller, more accurate view.
Great Battlefields of the World **** First published in the mid 1980s and still in print, John Macdonald wrote this book that features artistically rendered aerial views of famous battles created with the help of computers. This shows how terrain affected the course of battle when battles have affected the course of history. Not just a book of visual gimmickry, this well written book helped spark my interest in world military history. It is an excellent introduction to military history.
The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare **** Trevor Dupuy shows how advances in weapons technology have changed tactics from ancient to modern times.
A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff, 1807-1945 ***** Trevor Dupuy recounts the formation of the German general staff system in the Napoleonic era and how this system created the superior German war machine of the 1800s and 1900s. The Prussian-Austrian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War and well covered. The author uses statistics to show the superiority of the German army during the world wars.
The Mask of Command **** John Keegan shows how different styles of leadership were suited to their times. Keegan uses Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler as examples of hero, anti-hero, un-hero, and false hero leadership styles. We are treated to Wellington washing himself twice a day and tossing aside a chicken bone in a fit of genius. It is generally a good book, but why are the British such big fans of U.S. Grant?
War and the World: Military Power and the fate of Continents, 1450-2000 *** Like most Jeremy Black books, neglected conflicts around the world are covered, an especially refreshing change from most books. On the downside, Black jumps around a lot, often lacks coherence, is occasionally self plagarising, and makes occasional errors of fact. Warfare in Europe is neglected in favor of the rest of the world, but despite his PC smack talking about Eurocentrism, he clearly is more knowledgeable about European history.
Ancient and Medieval
The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire ***** Edward Luttwak explains how Roman grand strategy evolved as threats to the empire changed. He shows how Augustus began a system of client states which evolved in a fortified barrier with a reserve to react to penetrations. Eventually, barbarian tribes formed confederacies that were able to breach Roman defenses. In a failed response, the Romans created a defense in depth.
The Reach of Rome: A History of the Roman Imperial Frontier 1st to 5th Century AD ***** Derek Williams discusses the fortifications which protected the Roman frontier and shows the ingenuity of the designers and the defenders and how the defenses were adapted to local conditions. Especially interesting are the North African defenses and the techniques to accumulate water and irrigate the desert to grow enough crops to feed the garrisons.
Art of War in the Middle Ages AD 378-1515 **** Charles Oman shows the tactical changes in medieval warfare from the rise of the armored knight to their decline due to the longbow, crude artillery, and the Swiss phalanx. The important social changes from this decline are also discussed.
19th Century to World War I
The Austro-Prussian War ****1/2 Geoffrey Wawro's treatment of the war is primarily operational, with a good discussion of the political and diplomatic, and a fair discussion of the tactical. Despite the author visiting the battlefields, only one photo of Custoza in Italy is shown, and the battlefield maps are poor, with little detail and no scale. The needle gun revolution is touched upon, but artillery is not dealt with in any detail. Frequent mention is made of troops opening fire at 300 yards or longer, but Wawro shows little skepticism of the effect of fire at these ranges. Casualty figures are given for a number of units, but since original unit strengths and orders of battle are not given, we can only guess at percentage casualties. The cavalry of both sides was committed to battle but little to no mention of doctrine on this, or combined arm tactics, is given. The Austrian infantry, armed with muzzle-loading rifle muskets, and attacking in columns, were slaughtered by the Prussians in open order, armed with breech loading needle guns which could be fired prone. The Austrian commander, Benedek, had the opportunity to defeat the Prussian armies in detail, first as they emerged from the mountains, and secondly at Koniggratz, where he incompetently ordered his line back from a flank attack on one army group and instead awaited a concerted Prussian attack from a Prussian army which arrived on his flank. Had he not done so, he could have held off the Prussian invasion, and the threat of French intervention could have ended the war, changing the course of German, and world, history.
The Franco-Prussian War **** By Geoffrey Wawro. Napoleon III had envisioned a "United States of Europe" with France at its head, but his various efforts to that end failed. Having political problems, and desiring a foreign war to distract attention and consolidate power, he declared war on Prussia. Although Bismarck had also provoked the war, which he needed in order to unify Germany, the French declaration discouraged intervention from Denmark, Italy, and Austria. France's early defeats ended any such possibility, and problems with the army ensured defeat. The small all volunteer army lacked discipline and used poor tactics, so although armed with the superior Chassepot rifle, the French were consistently flanked and driven back. Poor artillery, no plan, and a slow mobilization contributed to failure. The book's tactical discussion is better than Wawro's 1866 book, with a good summary of that war and its lessons also. Cavalry use and doctrine are discussed, and the maps are better than the 1866 book.
Real War, 1914-1918 ***** B.H. Liddell Hart knew better than most the "Real War"- the incompetence, lost opportunities, and the eventual decisiveness of the war. Hart believes the British came very close to a breakthrough in 1915, and he downplays the importance of the tank in favor of improved infantry and artillery tactics. The first several pages include an excellent discussion of the causes of the war and the diplomacy of the pre-war period. He also discusses the argument whether the war was won in the East and Home Front or on the Western Front.
The West Point Atlas of American Wars: Volume II 1900-1918 ****1/2 by Vincent Esposito. A smaller companion to Volume I which focused primarily on the Civil War, this book has the same concise style and the same excellent analysis. Unfortunately, the nature of the First World War makes the maps less interesting and less useful than Volume I. Nevertheless, it provides invaluable understanding of the war.
Stormtroop Tactics : Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918 ***** by Bruce Gudmundsson. The German Army's prewar focus was on operational matters, and tactics were neglected. This changed with trench warfare and the resultant lack of vulnerable flanks to attack. Because Germany was a new nation, formerly composed of a myriad of small states, the army was decentralized. So in small units, commanders tried different things; they were told the objective - but not how to accomplish it. The prewar lack of officers, and a belief that men had to be controlled - influenced perhaps by the rise of socialism - reinforced the early use of company columns which, upon contact with the enemy, deployed into closed order lines. This system lead to high casualties, poor results, and a search for a better way. From the beginning, however, some units used open order lines and suffered much less under fire. Without a centralized command telling low level officers how to do their jobs, new ideas were tried, and successful ones were spread. Because of shortages of artillery ammunition, short bombardments which kept the enemy's heads down were developed - essentially shock action. Trench mortars, developed from observation of the Russo Japanese War, served the same purpose, and poison gas was developed. More importantly, through the influence of limited objective attacks and special raiding units, the traditional infantry companies were no longer composed solely of riflemen. Flame throwers, grenades, and light machine guns were added, and units were allowed to advance as far as possible into the enemy position, with squad leaders given much more freedom to act on their own. Gudmundsson focuses attention on these sorts of developments up to 1917 but relatively little on the great 1918 attacks, which brought the new methods into use on a massive scale.
World War II
The Illustrated Directory of Tanks ***** by David Miller. A very good, concise, inexpensive, and well illustrated guide to the major tanks from the First World War to the present.
Hitler's Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted ***** In this controversial book the author argues that the decisive moment of World War II was in 1941 when, against the advice of his army commanders, Hitler diverted his armored troops to the Ukraine and away from Moscow.
Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II ***** Len Deighton details axis and allied accomplishments and failures early in the war. The author is a novelist, and this is a very well written book.
Panzer Battles ***** F.W. von Mellinthin masterfully explains German armored warfare and tactics throughout the war. The author fought in Poland, France, Yugoslavia, North Africa, Russia, and Northwestern Europe. He analyzes the tactics of the British in North Africa, the Red Army, and the US Army in Northwest Europe. Very readable.
Visions of Infamy: The Untold Story of How Journalist Hector C. Bywater Devised the Plans that Led to Pearl Harbor ***** William Honan discusses Hector Bywater, a British journalist and former spy, who prophesied the Pacific War and how it would be fought. Bywater died under mysterious circumstances, possibly killed under orders of Admiral Yamamoto.
Brute Force ***** by John Ellis. Sadly out of print and probably not widely read, this excellent volume shows how the Allies wasted lives and resources in the successes against the Axis starting in 1943. Mobile warfare and victory have obscured this. Ellis compares the Allied war effort to killing a bug with a sledgehammer.
There's a War To Be Won ****1/2 At least in the initial pre-war portion of this large well-written book on the US Army in World War II, author Geoffrey Perret sees the army through rose colored glasses. He clearly has his favorites, like Marshall, and commanders he dislikes, like MacArthur, but he sees little at all wrong with the army. For instance, the author hints that head of Ground Forces Lesley McNair made some major errors, but he can't bring himself to spell them out and condemn them. Once the war begins, however, the book appears to be completely different, with blunders being a regular feature of the narrative. Although the book is insightful and well worth reading, the reader has to wonder about the author's objectivity. How could an army supposedly so great make such horrible mistakes?
Closing With the Enemy ***** Michael Doubler argues that the US Army in World War II was more effective than it is often portrayed. After learning some basics in North Africa and Italy, the Army developed true combined arms tactics starting in Normandy, and due to the Army's decentralized nature, successful ideas spread throughout the whole organization. Hedgerow assault tactics developed in several divisions in Normandy and quickly spread throughout the whole army, allowing the Allies to break the deadlock. Close air support techniques as effective as any of the war were pioneered by IX TAC. Tactics for assaulting fortifications and crossing rivers developed contrary to doctrine, as doctrine was seen more as a rough guideline rather than something to be strictly followed. The book is well written and difficult to put down at times, giving an excellent discussion of tactics and tactical development. The author makes his case as convincing as it perhaps can be made. This is why the book deserves 5 stars. Nevertheless, the book has some flaws and should be read only along with other viewpoints. Despite admitting to serious errors with the replacement system, supply, and operations, it seems that the author views the army through rose colored glasses, perhaps because he looks at the low levels of command. The high command was another matter. Except for tank destroyers, the book gives little insight into the flawed concepts of Leslie McNair and their effect on weaponry and tactics. McNair's ideas caused the inferiority of American tanks during the war, a topic not even touched on in the book. In fact, although the book gives a very good treatment of the infantry, the armored divisions are neglected, and I was left wanting more detail on the artillery. Overall, this book would be a valuable addition to your collection, but it should be read along with viewpoints to get a broader view.
The Sharp End: The Fighting Man in World War II ***** by John Ellis. When you get depressed and down on yourself, this is a good book to read - because as bad as it may get, it can't much worse than war. Ellis shows just how bad the "good war", World War II, was. Some of his statistics are as useful as anything; With the infantry making up around 14% of a division, they took 90% of the casualties, and some divisions lost several hundred percent of their strength through the war.
Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story Behind D-Day ***** by Anthony Cave Brown. As Winston Churchill said, in war, the truth is so precious that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies. The author explains the importance of allied intelligence and gives gripping tales of espionage behind German lines. The politics and diplomacy of the war are discussed, including keeping Spain out of the war and intrigues in the Balkans, including failed attempts by both sides to get Turkey to enter the war.
Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice ***** When Cpt. Wayne P. Hughes couldn't find a textbook on naval tactics, he wrote his own. He covers surface to surface warfare from Lissa to the present and aircraft carrier tactics from pre-World War II to the present. Especially well covered are carrier and destroyer actions of the Pacific in theory and practice. The basic idea of the book is strike effectively first.
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