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The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to the Nuclear Age.

This is essentially an anthology of strategy. Bar a brief introduction, the book is devoted to extracts from a wide variety of authors. Reviewing such a work entails not so much commenting on a few pages of Polybius, but rather discussing the apparent basis of selection. As far as the volume itself is concerned, it is doubtful that the paperback will stand up to heavy use because of its bulk. As is usual with University of California Press works, the production is of high quality and the print face attractive.

The distinctive features of Chaliand's selection are global range, a major role for what Lucien Poirier in his foreword terms irregulars, and a focus on the struggle between sedentary areas and nomad invasions. The first leads him to devote due weight to China, India, the Arab world, Persia and Central Asia. Full attention is also devoted to naval and aerial warfare. This is not a tract limited to land conflict. The second feature leads to texts by or about such figures as Genghis Khan, Timur, Cortes, Lawrence of Arabia and Mao Ze-dong. Thus there is James Connolly on street fighting (1915), and, interestingly, Gandi on non-violence (1920). In the third category there is valuable material by Byzantine writers discussing attacks and on how to respond to Arab, Russian and other attacks. Chaliand, however, ignores the most profound writer on this theme, Edward Gibbon. In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon discussed the military developments that in his view rendered it unlikely that European civilization would again be brought low by 'barbarian' attack: 'The military art has been changed by the invention of gunpowder; which enables man to command the two most powerful agents of nature, air and fire. Mathematics, chymistry, mechanics, architecture, have been applied to the service of war. . .Cannon and fortifications now form an impregnable barrier against the Tartar horse; and Europe is secure from any future irruption of Barbarians; since, before they can conquer, they must cease to be barbarous. Their gradual advances in the science of war would always be accompanied, as we may learn from the example of Russia, with a proportionable improvement in the arts of peace and civil policy; and they themselves must deserve a place among the polished nations whom they subdue' (IV, 166-7).

This attempt to offer a wider account of geopolitical cum cultural rivalries is more interesting than the more narrow military definition of most of the authors cited in the volume. It is of course all too easy to point to gaps. This is a 'Eurasian' volume with all too little attention devoted to the Pacific world. Chaliand excuses the omission of works from Japan by explaining that there were none of any marked quality. As far as Europe is concerned, there is too little on northern and eastern and too much on western Europe. Logistics receives insufficient attention. Nevertheless, this is an interesting collection, a better anthology than any other of its type and, for that reason, to be greatly welcomed.


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Author:Black, Jeremy
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1995
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