Book Review: The Geographies of War


by Jeremy Black

Yorkshire & Philadelphia: Pen & Sword / Casemate, 2023. Pp. viii, 256. Notes, biblio., index. $42.95 / £22.00. ISBN: 1399015915

Geography and War: Beyond the Spatial Dimension

Prof. Black (Emeritus, Exeter), takes on the subject of geography and warfare. This would seem an unnecessary effort, rather like explaining the obvious. But Black's case is that geography is not merely about "spatial dimension,” that is the physical forms of the earth, but involves many other factors all of which play a role in shaping the dance floor of war.

After an introduction, Black ranges across the ages and globe in a series of chapters that look at how geography has affected tactics, strategy, operations, and geopolitics, and how technology can alter these effects. There follows a chapter on how various commanders understood or failed to understand the geographic influences on their campaigns, and one on the rise of mapmaking and its influence on warfare. Thn we get six chapters which more or less offer "case studies" of the role of geography in war in this broader sense, from "American Wars, 1754-1865" through the world wars on through the Cold War and then on to the present.

What we get is the idea that geography goes beyond the physical character of the terrain. Things such as the climate, politics, culture, history, religion, and more play a role in shaping the geographic environment within which wars are conducted; recall the neglect by various invaders of Russia's winters or the campaigns by wool-clad European armies in India, the West Indies, Africa, and other tropic theatres.

Black points out that some commanders took notice of this broader understanding of geography, noting how when the future Duke of Wellington went out to India for the first time, he took along a small library of potentially useful books. Though he mention it, other generals have done so as well; preparing for the landings in North Africa George S. Patton read dozens of books on local history, economics, government, society, and more, including the Quran, a practice from which American political leaders and commanders might have benefitted before undertaking operations in recent decaeds in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

Although marred by the absence of maps, The Geographies of War is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of war.

Note: The Geographies of War is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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