Book Review: Battlefield: Decisive Conflicts in History
Curtis Szmania cracks open this military history title that covers more than 300 battles, from Megiddo to the Second Gulf War.
Book Editor: Richard Holmes
Publisher: Oxford University Press
I really enjoy a great military history book, especially one that discusses various battles throughout the history of warfare. As I take pleasure in reading nearly all warfare history I can’t decide on what conflict or era I want to read about sometimes.These books give an overall narrative of conflicts throughout time which is great because it helps me find out what conflict I want read about next. They also help me understand the evolution of warfare through time, from one era to the next, with the changing tactics, strategies, and technologies. This is why books like this are just great to pick up on occasion. So, me picking up Battlefield: Decisive Conflicts in History was just a matter of time.
My first impression of the book was of course the cover, which threw me off a bit because it has what I supposed were modern US soldiers on it. So (assuming), I thought the book was about the current US wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the book is actually a narrative of the most famous battles in history. Not a creative idea by any means, in fact quite a diluted subject, because these types of military history books are a dime a dozen. Though, I was willing to give this one a try, hoping I would learn a little tidbit here and there about popular battles I’ve already read about numerous times.
The book narrates more than 300 battles, from Megiddo to the Second Gulf War (hence the cover), but that’s essentially all it does. It discusses the events, the setting and the characters of the battles quite well. This is great for reference material, but it’s also repetitive and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The editor also refuses to go into detail about the other dimensions of the battles like the political, religious, or psychological contexts. Maps and images are indeed included in the book which does help with the immersion of the battles they are partnered with.
Battlefield is organized very nicely, with the battles categorized in their respected campaigns and continents. Though unfortunately, the sections on the Middle East, Asia, and Africa are much smaller than the other continents’ chapters. This gave me the impression that the editor was more concerned with battles of Western civilization than the battles of the rest of the world. Clearly this is a prejudice against everything outside of Western civilization. This seems to be the rule not the exception with historians, and unfortunately this book is no exception. And, growing up with a Western education more often than not makes historians biased towards Western civilization.
The editor of the book is Richard Holmes which may explain the encyclopedic approach of the book, lacking any sort of opinion or personal input. I say this because I just happen to be reading another one of his books The Oxford Companion to Military History which he also edited, and Battlefield wrongly seems to be a continuation of the former. As I’m learning many new things in his Oxford Companion, I don’t remember learning anything new from his Battlefield. It’s just the same old stuff and the same old perspective, with a different cover.
The continuation of the unfortunate trend of popular Euro-centric battles accompanied with an obvious prejudice perspective really ruined my opinion of this book. I did have high hopes for it when I got it, hoping the editor would clue me in on something new or fascinating about the engagements. But I was let down. Battlefield: Decisive Conflicts in History may be a good read for someone just getting their feet wet in military history, but I don’t recommend it for the veteran military historian. If you’re new to military history and you do decide to get this book, just do me a favor and don’t get dragged into the “Euro-centrism” craze.
The Good: Narrates the events of more than 300 battles ranging throughout recorded history, several maps and images are included that help explain what the author is writing about, expertly organized according to the conflicts continental location and then further according to campaign or war, the author of the book is well educated about the history of warfare, a great read for those who are just getting their “feet wet” with military history.
The Bad: Though the work covers many battles and wars throughout time it refuses to go beyond the encyclopedic description of said battles with new information, a strong Eurocentric perspective plagues the books pages (I thought “Euro-centrism” was a problem with historians of the last century), the work doesn’t go into detail about any “non-western” conflicts, not a recommended read for well-read military historians.
Review Written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer