Moment of Battle

You should get some new content shortly.

Until then, here’s a retro review from April 12, 2013.

Review: Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes That Changed the World, Jim Lacy and Williamson Murray, 2013.Moment of Battle

This is the latest updating of Edward Creasy’s The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo.

The battles range from Marathon in 490 BC to Operation Peach of the Iraq War in 2003. The authors opt for a specific criteria – not battles that changed the course of a war but ones that fundamentally altered the future influence of nations and cultures. Most of the time that criteria is met even if it means we get four from WWII (the Battle of Britain, Midway, Kursk, and Normandy). The inclusion of the Iraq War is, as the authors acknowledge, somewhat questionable given that history is only beginning to work out its effects. It seems there to mainly lend novelty to the latest entry in this military history sub-genre and to take advantage of the authors’ own contributions to scholarship on the war – in this case a fascinating look at Saddam Hussein’s decisions in response to the invasion of his country.

Besides the Iraq War, there are other deviations from the stated formula. The “Annus Mirabilis” chapter actually covers two 1759 battles, one on land and one on sea, that determined the British, and not the French, Empire would dominate the world and lay the groundwork for modern globalization. We get Vicksburg and not Gettysburg for the American Civil War – thus running counter to the authors’ wry observation that historians looking for a quick payday can always whip out a book on Hastings, Waterloo, or Gettysburg. (Hastings is here, though.)

As a casual reader of military history, I had heard of most of these battles except Yarmuk and Breitenfeld. The first was the 636 battle that forever denied Palestine and Syria to the Byzantium Empire. Colorfully known in Arab history as “The Day of the Lost Eyes” (though the historical record is unclear on even how many days this battle lasted), its win enabled Islam to continue to push against Europe until it encountered Charles the Hammer almost a 100 years later. Breitenfeld was Gustavus Adolphus debuting modern warfare – discipline on the battlefield, tactical flexibility, and the maximum use of firepower – to the world in 1631. Most of the battles – with the reasonable exceptions of Trafalgar and Teutoburger Wald – have maps. However, those maps are often a bit too general. Operation Peach’s map, on the other hand, seems somewhat unconnected to the text.

The formula followed for each battle-chapter is a quick setting of the historical context, a description of the battle which does not purport to detail the very moment it was decided, and a summation on why the battle affected world history. I am not a devotee of any of these battles, but I suspect that readers who have read multiple books on any of them will not usually find anything groundbreaking. However, I suspect there are some exceptions where recent scholarship has provided new information. Besides the obvious case of Operation Peach (the taking, intact, of the al-Qàid Bridge over the Euphrates River), I think, given the cited sources, the battles of Kursk and Dien Bien Phu may fall in this category.

So, general history readers should find this book worthwhile, and even those hardcore military history readers who have studied these battles might find a few new tidbits – or, at least, another list of decisive battles to argue about.

 

More reviews of non-fiction books are listed at the Miscellaneous Nonfiction page.

 

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