War in European History

War in European History

This reissue of Howard's classic text includes a short new afterword by the author. "Wars have often determined the character of society. Society in exchange has determined the character of wars. This is the theme of Michael Howard's stimulating book. It is written with all his usual skill and in its small compass is perhaps the most original book he has written. Though he...

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Title:War in European History
Author:Michael Eliot Howard
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Edition Language:English

War in European History Reviews

  • Jack

    This book was perfectly phenomenal. In 144 pages, Howard packed in so much, without making it appear over-packed. 1,000 years of warfare, with all the attendant strategies, tactics, and developments, are presented in a readable and thorough fashion, without coming across as simplistic or factoid laden. Howard finished the book in 2001 (I’m thinking in the pre-9/11 2001) and in the last page he nailed some of the major issues the world would be dealing with in the early stages of the 21st century

    This book was perfectly phenomenal. In 144 pages, Howard packed in so much, without making it appear over-packed. 1,000 years of warfare, with all the attendant strategies, tactics, and developments, are presented in a readable and thorough fashion, without coming across as simplistic or factoid laden. Howard finished the book in 2001 (I’m thinking in the pre-9/11 2001) and in the last page he nailed some of the major issues the world would be dealing with in the early stages of the 21st century. First, he properly casts doubt on the Revolution in Military Affairs approach (doubt, mind you, and not a complete discard); second, he recognizes the likely rise of terrorism; and third, he points out that troops will be taking on far more than conventional battle missions, which will come to include peacekeeping, counterinsurgency warfare, and a host of other previously difficult to imagine military missions.

  • Lynn Walker

    excellent, and well worth reading.

  • Bob Mobley

    Michael Howard's superb book, War in European History, is absolutely worth the time and effort to sit down and read it. Well written, concise, intellectually well-organized, and provocatively insightful, Michael Howard opens your eyes and thinking to the breadth of actions and outcomes that impact nations and societies, often with totally unintended consequences.

    I read the updated edition, published in 2009. I think this is the edition you want to read. Michael Howard has added an epilogue, "Th

    Michael Howard's superb book, War in European History, is absolutely worth the time and effort to sit down and read it. Well written, concise, intellectually well-organized, and provocatively insightful, Michael Howard opens your eyes and thinking to the breadth of actions and outcomes that impact nations and societies, often with totally unintended consequences.

    I read the updated edition, published in 2009. I think this is the edition you want to read. Michael Howard has added an epilogue, "The End of the European Era," as part of the updated edition that in and of itself is a brilliant essay, and absolutely an important, thoughtful and insightful look at today's international scene.

    "War in European History" dramatically and successfully substantiates why Professor Michael Howard is such a revered and respected historian. It is in one word, superb.

  • Navin

    Great book. It was on Fareed Zakaria's book of the week list which is why I read it. The book's value is its perspective on how technological, social, and economic factors shaped war in Europe. What would I would like to find is a similar book or essay on both European and Asian warfare. It is all too common for analysts to make generalizations on the 'inevitable' course of history based on European events, only to have them contradicted by Asian history. If anyone knows of such a book please le

    Great book. It was on Fareed Zakaria's book of the week list which is why I read it. The book's value is its perspective on how technological, social, and economic factors shaped war in Europe. What would I would like to find is a similar book or essay on both European and Asian warfare. It is all too common for analysts to make generalizations on the 'inevitable' course of history based on European events, only to have them contradicted by Asian history. If anyone knows of such a book please let me know.

  • Gary Klein

    This is an outstanding survey of war from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The title may lead one to believe this book is all about the military, but Michael Howard does an outstanding job weaving together political, economic, social, and military developments. The book does start off rather slow in the first chapter "War of the Knights," but after that, it picks up quickly.

  • PvOberstein

    I forget how exactly Michael Howard’s War in European History came to my attention (I think it was on a syllabus years ago), but it’s one of those ‘history of warfare’ books that I always intended to get around to reading. An Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Howard’s work is a shockingly concise synthesis of over a 1,000 years of European military history, travelling from the Middle Ages to the era of nuclear weapons in less than two-hundred pages. This review will not do it justice.

    In suc

    I forget how exactly Michael Howard’s War in European History came to my attention (I think it was on a syllabus years ago), but it’s one of those ‘history of warfare’ books that I always intended to get around to reading. An Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Howard’s work is a shockingly concise synthesis of over a 1,000 years of European military history, travelling from the Middle Ages to the era of nuclear weapons in less than two-hundred pages. This review will not do it justice.

    In such a brevity of space it would be impossible to provide a conventional history of Europe, and Howard does not attempt to. The book assumes that the reader already has a reasonable command of European military history, from the Pensinsular War to the Schlieffen Plan to the naval armaments race that preceded World War I. This is because War in European History is not so much a narrow chronology of conflict, but an overview of how war (and the technologies used to fight wars) shaped European societies. And it does this exceedingly well.

    The best example of this is also one of the earliest. In the medieval era, the supremacy of cavalry against lightly-armed infantry was quickly realized by everyone who was anyone. But horses are expensive to maintain, requiring constant upkeep and a staff to support those who ride them into battle. Hence European leaders had to begin providing special incentives and privileges to those few who were wealthy enough to afford such costs, in exchange for a commitment of service in battle. This directly lead to the political system of feudalism, with its privileged lords and disenfranchised serfs, which was the kind of economy required to support a chivalric order. (As an aside, my inner etymologist enjoyed how Howard pointed out that the French and German words for ‘knight’ – chevalier and ritter, respectively – are both derived from horse-related vocabulary).

    And so goes the rest of the book. Time and time again, Howard demonstrates how developments in technology shifted the balance of power from the offense to the defense to the offense again, how what was necessary to fight war structured whole societies, how feudal chivalry ultimately evolved into selfless nationalism. At the dawn of the modern era, trade, both with the Americas and Asia, brought immense wealth to any European power that could manage it. But trading meant ships, and ships required infrastructure – centralized government planning required to marshal the resources to build and man vessels to traverse the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The fundraising and planning this required directly lead to stronger and more centralized states. The Netherlands, so diminutive by the standards of the great European empires, was able to secure its independence for so long because Dutch maritime trade allowed Holland to pay for a professional, standing army and accompanying fortifications, unlike so many larger kingdoms.

    Howard does an amazing job of exploring how exactly wars were fought in the time before nationalism was really conceptualized, something almost inconceivable to us today. Self-interest mercenary communities effectively rented their services to (or extorted) surrounding polities, loyal only so long as a steady stream of income was coming their way. This is highlighted by the ineffectiveness of the mercenaries that safeguarded many of the Italian city-states, and also explains the unremitting violence of the Thirty Years’ War, where the soldiers effectively escaped the command of any lord. Perhaps Napoleon’s greatest genius lay in harnessing the power of nationalism to supersede the limited self-interest that had compelled earlier soldiers.

    Always, Howard reminds the reader of how war-making capabilities are limited by the resources one can command. Through to the Napoleonic era, practically no army on the march was larger than 80,000 men, because it was impossible to either supply them from afar or for the men to live off the land. The development of railway technology in the nineteenth century fundamentally changed that, allowing for the vast mobilization and circulation of troops the First World War demonstrated.

    The work peters off a little towards the end, particularly with regards to WWII and the nuclear era, wherein Europe ultimately became merely one of many theatres for Eurasian Russian and trans-Atlantic America. Howard’s account of the European conquest of the Americas would probably horrify Jared Diamond, particularly his complete disregard for how both diseases and wildlife gave Europeans a critical advantage. (The discussion of said conquest takes up only a few sentences, however, so it is not a flaw in any central thesis). The section on WWII was a little forgettable, particularly as it (rather perplexingly) began by skipping back to discuss HMS Dreadnought and her Victorian kin. I believe the book was originally intended as a series of lectures, which would explain why some of the sentences are sometimes criminally long. But it is very much worth the read.

  • Jonathan Z.

    These types of books are why I like history - they present the material in context allowing the reader to put the dots together in a general sense of how things happened (without bogging me down in details of battles and which individual did what to whom, etc...) Howard succinctly (mostly) moves through dispensations of history amply showing, in context (which is what I found the most beneficial to the book) how and why men, mercenaries, professionals, and nations went to war and how they conduc

    These types of books are why I like history - they present the material in context allowing the reader to put the dots together in a general sense of how things happened (without bogging me down in details of battles and which individual did what to whom, etc...) Howard succinctly (mostly) moves through dispensations of history amply showing, in context (which is what I found the most beneficial to the book) how and why men, mercenaries, professionals, and nations went to war and how they conducted themselves.

  • Ivan

    Izuzetno kvalitetan prikaz nemile dimenzije povijesti čovječanstva, pri kojoj autor stilski nenametljivo i vješto uzima u obzir širi kontekst promjena u različitim sferama društva. Nužno štivo za ozbiljnije poznavatelje povijesti.

  • Christopher

    This is a relatively famous tract on how war has affected European history since the Middle Ages. It was first published in 1976, but republished in 2009 with an added epilogue by the author. But you should take the author's advice at the beginning of his epilogue: "This book is about 'War in European History'; not 'The History of War,' so the reader should not expect a survey of warfare...". In other words, don't be looking for lengthy tales of great battles or detailed biographies of military

    This is a relatively famous tract on how war has affected European history since the Middle Ages. It was first published in 1976, but republished in 2009 with an added epilogue by the author. But you should take the author's advice at the beginning of his epilogue: "This book is about 'War in European History'; not 'The History of War,' so the reader should not expect a survey of warfare...". In other words, don't be looking for lengthy tales of great battles or detailed biographies of military figures. This book takes a very evolutionary approach to the study of warfare in Europe, showing how the ideals and tactics changed over time. And because of this, it can be a little boring at times, particularly in the first four chapters as the strategies and tactics of warfare were so different that Mr. Howard's admittedly lucid storytelling does not help explain. But when Mr. Howard reaches the Revolutionary era and has the colossal figure of Napoleon to wrap his narrative around (side note: Mr. Howard does a great job of showing how Napoleon's military genius changed the nature of warfare in Europe). This is where Mr. Howard begins to shine as warfare takes on a more familiar form and some of the more recognizable military figures in history begin to appear. As a whole, this is a book that is barely passable as an introduction to warfare in Europe, but is great at conveying how warfare shaped European history. It may be esoteric in its subject, but it may be worth the read for those who are interested in European history.

  • Edward

    Howard has written a slim (eight chapters, 150 pages) history of war in Europe for he past fifteen centuries. His goal, he writes, is not to write about war as a game with all of its techniques, but to try to put it into a context of economic, social, and cultural forces. It’s insightful in seeing war as part of larger movements in society.

    With the end of stability in the Roman Empire, war began with conflicts with invaders. Goths and Vandals came from the east, Muslims from the South, and wors

    Howard has written a slim (eight chapters, 150 pages) history of war in Europe for he past fifteen centuries. His goal, he writes, is not to write about war as a game with all of its techniques, but to try to put it into a context of economic, social, and cultural forces. It’s insightful in seeing war as part of larger movements in society.

    With the end of stability in the Roman Empire, war began with conflicts with invaders. Goths and Vandals came from the east, Muslims from the South, and worst of all, Howard writes, were the Vikings from the North. The object of this initial fighting resulted in loot and ransom. As the continent stabilized and developed into a feudal society, war became more local with tribes , families, and cities pitted against each other. This was the start of war specialists, beginning with the knights.

    Succeeding chapters continue to describe the role of specialists in warfare as they became mercenaries and sold their services to whoever would pay them. This corresponded with the rise of money as a medium of exchange and meant in many cases that merchants would go to war to protect their commercial interests. As governmental kingdoms developed, they would encourage attacks on their enemies using essentially “private enterprise” warriors., particularly the case at sea where privateers worked for governments.

    War changed essentially with revolutionary movements, especially in France. Men from the general population now began fighting for ideals, and armies began to be made up of ordinary citizens. Manpower , more than weaponry, became important and to supply citizen soldiers, conscription was introduced. Not only were battles fought with other countries but standing armies were used to keep peace internally.

    Through World War I, manpower was still crucial to victory, even with technological advances, particularly in artillery, and that accounts for the staggering number of casualties in battles where both sides were dug in, 800,000 Germans and French, for example, at Verdun in l916. World War II, though, while casualties cannot be minimized, relied much more on specialists in all areas of battle.

    1945, the end of WW II, was followed by three fourths of a century of peace with the role of specialists ever increasing. Nuclear weapons were only used twice (in Japan) and acted as deterrents to a general war. Howard’s book was written over 40 years ago, and so barely touches on advancements in missiles, not to mention drones and cyber warfare. War, if It comes, may well again revert to fighing by small groups as in the Middle Ages.

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