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Mini-Reviews: Liddell-Hart and Keeley


The German Generals Talk by BH Liddell-Hart

War Before Civilization by Lawrence Keeley

The German Generals Talk

A must-read book for those interested in strategy, the history of the Third Reich or the military history of WWII. That said, The German Generals Talk as a text must be treated very cautiously due to the author’s lack of objectivity, the disadvantage of his interview subjects at the time of their captivity and Liddell-Hart’s well documented efforts to use his interview subjects for self-promotional purposes.  Nevertheless, the commentaries by major Wehrmacht generals and field marshals, especially Gerd von Rundstedt, Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, Hasso von Maneuffel, Günther Blumentritt and Heinz Guderian, are informative and at times, provocative. Liddell-Hart’s critiques of German military campaigns are often insightful, usually colorful, frequently sycophantic, but usually to the point – though they often used as a foil for advancing Liddell-Hart’s strategic ideas.

War Before Civilization

Two of the smarter, myth-debunking books I have read in the past year or so have been older, still in print, works by academic archaeologists. Much like Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, Lawrence Keeley overturns dogmatic archetypes about “primitive” warfare in prehistoric and pre-contact societies held by social scientists and military historians in War Before Civilization. Not only was prehistoric warfare more violent, more “total” and less restrained than modern warfare but Keeley argues that primitive “warriors” tended to best disciplined “soldiers” in wars when all other things were equal, except when the “soldiers” enlisted their own savage proxies (or adopted morally unconstrained  primitive tactics). It was a sliding scale; the barbaric Vikings terrorized “civilized” European and English men-at-arms, but were in turn themselves routed and expelled by the more savage Native Americans and Inuit warriors of North America.

9 Responses to “Mini-Reviews: Liddell-Hart and Keeley”

  1. Ben Hill Says:

    The one star review on, War before Civilization, claims the author cherry picked the data. Just tossing that out there for thought.

  2. zen Says:

    Hi Ben
    One star lost me when he wrote "What about violence against the land?". Arguing that the samples were not adequately representative (though by the 1990’s the pool was geographically skewed in the extreme) is valid, the other polemical bits are not relevant
    That said, I am not an archaeologist or an anthropologist and I am not qualified to evaluate how Keeley used data compared to the field’s standards.

  3. Dave Schuler Says:

    For moderns inclined to romanticize war in antiquity may I recommend The Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tartars?  It became available in English translation fairly recently and constitutes a first-hand account of the Mongol invasion of Hungary.  The violence, not only against persons and property, but against the land itself is notable and eye-opening.

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi David, Thanks for the tip. I ordered via Amazon UK. Also, for peak into true violence, nothing tops Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina. He describes an impalement with such clinical precision it was painful to read. 
    Zen, Nice reviews!

  5. onparkstreet Says:

    Mini-book reviews would make a killer app….
    – Madhu

  6. Ben Hill Says:

    That said, I am not an archaeologist or an anthropologist and I am not qualified to evaluate how Keeley used data compared to the field’s standards.

    I don’t believe in the noble savage myth either, but I like to be careful that I’m not just confirming my own biases. It was just a friendly note, I always read the one star reviews, most of the time they are useless. This review seemed more substantive.

  7. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Ben, .I read the one star reviews, too. And then I look at the reviewers other reviews—there is much to learn about "how" the reviewer decided to publicly criticize an author’s work—which is altogether appropriate, but I’m dubious of reviewers who pan everything.

  8. zen Says:

    Thx Doc Madhu!
    Hi Ben
    Confirmation bias is an ever present danger 🙂  The book went with my inclinations on my view of prehistoric man but against on the warrior vs. soldier issue. Still not convinced that is correct, there’s not a lot of Cannaes though the advantage of breaking customary rules of warfare was a solid point

  9. Anonymous and Master Roger – a review | Fear, Honor, and Interest Says:

    […] in June Zenpundit posted a couple of mini book reviews, and David Schuler posted this comment:  “For moderns inclined to romanticize war in antiquity […]

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