10 Best War History Books | December 2016

10 Best War History Books
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As the wise philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When it comes to the subject of war, we would be wise to take heed. Our selection of war history books are fascinating, enlightening and even entertaining, and will be equally of interest to students, historians and those wishing to learn from the past. Skip to the best war history book on Amazon.
1001 Battles That Changed the Course of World History makes a great gift for history lovers and belongs on the shelf or coffee table of every die-hard war buff. It takes a look at 4,500 years of military history and includes tons of rich visuals, including maps and photos.
  • expansive and sweeping volume
  • gives unbalanced weight to some wars
  • most battle descriptions are too short
Brand Brand: Universe
Model pending
Weight 4.6 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0
James McPherson's The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters takes a look at America's worst conflict through modern eyes. He examines why it is so deeply embedded in our national psyche and identity, and illuminates its continuing resonance.
  • written by pulitzer prize-winning author
  • must-have for civil war buffs
  • includes previously published info
Brand Oxford University Press
Model pending
Weight 15.2 ounces
Rating 3.5 / 5.0
John Lewis Gaddis' The Cold War: A New History is an excellent, if abridged, accounting of the greatest war that never truly took shape, except by proxy and politics. It draws on many newly available resources and archives to tell not just what happened, but why.
  • highly readable format
  • covers end of wwii to post soviet era
  • seems to skip over many key events
Brand Penguin (Non-Classics)
Model pending
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0
Victor Davis Hanson's The Soul of Battle examines three great generals who led inexperienced and untrained soldiers to victory against superior forces by way of brilliant military strategies. It also looks at how moral confidence can play a big part in victory or defeat.
  • interesting and also controversial
  • engaging, fast-paced prose
  • author's biases show through at times
Brand The Soul of Battle
Model pending
Weight 14.9 ounces
Rating 3.6 / 5.0
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land is a comprehensive, single-volume book on one of the most fascinating periods in history. It covers the events from 1095 to 1291 that resulted in Christianity being one of the most widespread religions.
  • provides an unbiased summary of the era
  • helps explain subsequent centuries
  • needs more maps and pictures
Brand Ecco
Model pending
Weight 1.5 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0
Thucydides wrote his History of the Peloponnesian War 400 years before the common era began, yet still it ranks as one of the all-time best accounts of conflict. It tells of the battles between Athens and Sparta that plunged the Greek world into 27 years of war.
  • essential for ancient history scholars
  • edited by noted modern historians
  • many may be unfamiliar with this war
Brand Penguin Classics
Model pending
Weight 12.6 ounces
Rating 4.4 / 5.0
Civil War: A Visual History was produced in conjunction with the Smithsonian to ensure the highest level of accuracy. It includes comprehensive timelines and revealing first-person accounts from soldiers and civilians, and key political and military leaders.
  • examines the treatment of the wounded
  • illustrations bring the war to life
  • looks at the role of african americans
Brand Dunne, Jemima (EDT)/ Re
Model pending
Weight 4.4 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0
Richard Overy's History of War in 100 Battles makes it easy and enjoyable for the newcomer to military history to grasp the profound impact of conflict on the world after the wars have ended. It is arranged by themes such as leadership, innovation, deception, and courage.
  • includes both ancient and recent wars
  • focuses on many often overlooked details
  • presents engaging essays on each battle
Brand Overy, Richard
Model pending
Weight 3.1 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0
Historian John Keegan's celebrated book A History of Warfare goes beyond simply discussing what happened and when, but delves down into the very psychology of why we fight. It is an original and challenging perspective that will have you reevaluating your beliefs.
  • discusses warfare in multiple cultures
  • rejects clausewitzian theory
  • written with style and humor
Brand Vintage
Model pending
Weight 16 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0
No war history book collection would be complete without a dedicated tome on WWII, one of the most influential wars on the shape of the modern world. WWII The Definitive Visual History is a comprehensive and authoritative guide to the politics, events, and lasting effects.
  • includes info about the rise of hitler
  • has a guide to battlefields & memorials
  • covers key military strategies
Brand Dorling Kindersley, Inc
Model pending
Weight 5 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

Buyer's Guide

On Reading On War

Few if any subjects garner the same level of interest as warfare. Battle draws out the most vivid emotions known to mankind -- both the lowest savagery and most gallant heroics -- and makes for undeniably compelling stories on the personal level. War also shapes the course of history in less time and with more profound results than any other human endeavor, with every great conflict forever changing the people, landscape, and destiny of all evenly remotely involved in the fighting. Warfare has been the catalyst for many of the greatest inventions, the inspiration for countless works of art, and the proving ground for some of history's most famous and influential figures.

It is little wonder, then, that so many thousands of books have been written about human beings in conflict with one another. Indeed some the very foundational books of human literature, such as Homer's Illiad, have at their center people engaged in epic warfare. From Sun Tzu's The Art of War, written more than 400 years before the Common Era, to Carl von Clausewitz's On War, written shortly after the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, authors have sought to set down on paper their deepest insights into the nature of war and to help make sense of its place in life.

The modern reader has at his or her disposal a wealth of books on war history, theory, and tactics that ancient and classical scholars would be thrilled to see. Today, reading up on war can easily take the shape of deep scholarship or casual recreation, and few conflicts or notable soldiers have failed to receive at least some coverage in a book or two. In short, no matter how obscure and specific or broad and general your interest in subjects martial may be, you will readily find a war history book that suits your preferences.

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of war history book. First, there is the survey-style of book that might focus on a number of battles related to one another by geography, chronology, or common attributes. Second, there is the book (or series of books) about a given conflict -- a definitive account of the battle of Agincourt or a study of the whole of the Boer War, for two examples. Finally, there is the biographical approach to military history, wherein an author focuses on a person (or a group) and tells the tale of a conflict through the lens of key players.

The newcomer to war history books may do best to start with the latter type of book, as a personal history can often make a relatively unknown topic more compelling and easier to penetrate. The casual military history enthusiast will enjoy picking at a book with a bit of information on lots of topics. The true scholar of warfare will be more than ready to delve deeply into a tome focused on a given battle or wider war, undaunted by detail and able to bring their own prior knowledge along as context.

War History Books for General Interest Reading

Even warfare, that most vivid, gripping subject, can prove dull when it is written of by an author who fails to create compelling prose, or when a book is in the hands of someone who simply lacks an innate interest in the topic. But as understanding certain aspects of war history can at time be critical -- interest in and acumen for the subject notwithstanding -- it's important to find books that make military history easily accessible.

The student plodding his way through an American history class and in desperate need of a resource to bolster his insipid textbook might wisely treat himself to a book packed with pictures that can help bring the Civil War to life, for example. A scholar trying to make sense the political climate of the post-9/11 world might be well-served by a book covering the decades of the Cold War that set the tenor for international relations in the current era. Looking for books that take a broad perspective on a major topic (the Civil War or Cold War, e.g.) can help provide context beyond the battlefield without the need for bogging down in details like troop movements and supply line issues.

And anyone who just needs to know a little more about a certain period of history can read a few pages on the major battles of the era for added context and clarity. One need not become a military historian to appreciate that military matters impact everything else about the politics and culture of a time and place.

The War History Book for Deeper Learning

Even the best-written account of a war or battle can only do so much to provide greater context for the events that directly contributed to the conflict, those that were affected by it in its own time, and of the ramifications left by the fighting. A deep understanding of and appreciation for military history writ large, therefore, requires years of reading and study to develop.

But few of us have the time to start our martial studies with the ancient writings of Thucydides, to read next the works of Livy, to eventually move on to William of Tyre, and so forth. Rather the scholar of war history with a realistic appreciation of how much free time and energy she really has would be wise to select a distinct period of history and then study the conflicts within it in chronological order.

For example, a person fascinated with World War I would do herself a great service by first reading up on the warfare of the 19th century. The wars of the post-Napoleonic era, including the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War, perhaps most notably, did so much to shape the course of European history in the 1800s that their impact on the war that would shape the 1900s cannot be denied.

Scholars of American military history should start not with the Revolutionary War, but rather with the Seven Years' War (a.k.a. the French and Indian War), as that conflict had direct and profound repercussions on the coming revolution. So too can the student of American Civil War learn much about the tactics used and the men who served in that wretched conflagration learn much from studying the Mexican American War that preceded it by less than two decades and that was a proving ground for many of its major players.

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Last updated on December 15, 2016 by multiple members of the ezvid wiki editorial staff

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