by Angus Konstam
New York: Osprey Bloomsbury, 2022. Pp. 224.
Illus.. $20.00. ISBN: 1472856945
"An Admirable Job of Covering the Entire Sweep of War in World History "
“I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.” -- Gilbert & Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance (1879)
In 1851, Victorian historian, Sir Edward Creasy published Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo, which inspired that lyric from Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera. Since then, many historians have tried to list history’s “greatest battles,” notably Fletcher Pratt’s brilliant study of sixteen Battles That Changed History (1956). These lists tend to be strongly Anglo-centric -- or at least Euro-centric, in part because non-Western sources may be inaccessible, or non-existent, and in part because that is what military history readers want to read.
This new Osprey book is no exception. The list begins with Marathon and ends with Desert Storm. The book is organized chronologically:
· Ancient (490 BCE - 451 CE) 16 battles
· Medieval (718 - 1485) 14 battles
· Renaissance (1521 - 1690) 12 battles
· Age of Reason (1704 - 1781) 8 battles
· Napoleonic (1793 - 1815) 10 battles
· Age of Empires (1836 - 1905) 9 battles
· World War I (1914 - 1920) 8 battles
· World War II (1940 - 1945) 16 battles
· Modern (1950-1991) 7 battles
Geographically, fourteen of these battles took place in the East Asia/Pacific region, eleven in the Americas, six in the Middle East/North Africa region, and just one in Africa south of the Sahara (Isandlwana, 1879). The other sixty-eight battles are European. Ten of the battles were naval, and five were primarily aerial or aero-naval (Battle of Britain, Taranto, Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Hiroshima/Nagasaki).
The most peculiar choice is probably Hiroshima/Nagasaki (1945) which was not really a “battle,” although it certainly proved decisive in the outcome of the Pacific war. The most obscure battle, in my view, is Castillon (July 17, 1453) the last major fight of the Hundred Years War where French artillery shattered an attacking English army. Another odd choice that may baffle readers is Volturno (September, 1860) where Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Red Shirts defeated the Kingdom of Naples, a significant, but hardly decisive event in the unification of Italy.
Some notable omissions are Kadesh (1427 BCE, the earliest battle we know about in detail) where Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II fought the Hittite Empire to a draw, the Yarkmuk (636 CE), where the Moslems defeated the East Romans, securing the Middle East and Egypt for Islam, the defeat of Sassanid Persia at Kadisiyah (636 CE), securing Iran for Islam, the Talas (751) in Kyrgyzstan where the Abbasid Caliphate defeated the Chinese Tang Dynasty, determining that Central Asia would be Muslim for centuries to come, and Plassey (23 June 1757) which decided the struggle for control of India in favor of Britain.
Each battle is covered in a two-page spread with a large colorful painting. The historical background, course of the battle, outcome, and significance are clearly and concisely explained in the text. The format of the book is unusual, 7-3/4 inches (19.5 cm) square. The glossy cover depicts the battle of Kulikovo (1380) where Russian prince Dmitri “Donskoi” defeated the Tatar Golden Horde.
Serious military historians (and wargamers) may be disappointed by the book’s lack of maps, but this charming little volume does an admirable job of covering the entire sweep of war in world history. The author, Angus Konstam, has written over a hundred books, of which 75 were published by Osprey.
Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWeek.Com and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors). His previous reviews in modern history include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940, D-Day Encyclopedia: Everything You Want to Know About the Normandy Invasion, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War, Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler’s "Final Solution" Undermined the German War Effort, Governments-in-Exile and the Jews During the Second World War,‘ Admiral Gorshkov, Comrades Betrayed: Jewish World War I Veterans under Hitler, Rome – City in Terror: The Nazi Occupation 1943–44, A Raid on the Red Sea: The Israeli Capture of the Karine A, and Strike from the Sea: The Development and Deployment of Strategic Cruise Missiles since 1934.
Note: 100 Greatest Battles is also available in e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium