Book Review: Warfare In The Eighteenth Century

Warfare In The Eighteenth Century, by Jeremy Black

This book has a few very simple, and very obvious, purposes, and achieves them with excellent prose and a very broad knowledge of history in the 1700’s.  The author appears to have a few transparently obvious aims.  One aim is to avoid European triumphalism and a Eurocentric view of the 18th century.  Another aim is to show that the importance of political and logistical factors was inseparable from the conduct of war in the 18th century (and I would argue, at any time).  These goals are met in excellent form that is easy to read and highly informative even for those with considerable expertise in world history and military history.

The book is divided into chapters that are a mixture between thematic and chronological, with larger thematic chapters opening the book and smaller chronological chapters closing the book, which is a little over 200 easy-to-read and very informative pages.  The early chapters of the book make it obvious that Professor Black is engaging in a deliberate attempt to counter the Eurocentric understanding of 18th century “linear” warfare:  War Without Europeans (a very fascinating chapter that shows the growth of the Manchu Empire to its greatest extent, the unification of Burma and its lengthy warfare against Siam, and the downfall of the Safavid State and the rise of the Afghan Durrani Empire, as well as some obscure warfare fought over different factions in the Horn of Africa involving Western weaponry), Europeans Versus Non-Europeans (a chapter which examines colonial warfare around the world as well as warfare between Eastern European states and the Ottomans and also the warfare of the British, Dutch, and Portuguese with and against South Asian and Southeast Asian states), Transoceanic Conflict Between Europeans (a chapter focused on “colonial” warfare between mostly Britain and France), a short chapter on the American Revolution, a short but important chapter on Naval Warfare (which examines not only European dominance of oceanic fleets, but also some neglected areas of naval warfare such as Baltic Warfare, a subject of great interest that receives decent and rare coverage here), a lengthy chapter on War Within Europe (there was a lot of it, some of it obscure, like the War of Bavarian Succession, and other wars, like the War of Spanish Succession, very well known already), closing with a short chapter on the Coming of The [French] Revolution and a nuanced Conclusion:  The World Picture.

This book succeeds particularly well with nuance, nuance not only with its broad understanding of military history in the 18th century all over the world, but nuance in the understanding of how logistics and political will were incredibly important in shaping the conduct of warfare in different fronts between different combatants.  The naval dominance (perhaps monopoly would not be too strong a word) of Europeans in transoceanic warfare in this period and the growing administrative strength of centralized states over their less-developed rivals shows how the West became so dominant in the 19th century.  This nuance, in avoiding selection bias through its broad approach and in avoiding a triumphalist spirit, gives a significant amount of insight to the reader looking for a broad examination of a period that was a lot more decisive and innovative than it is given credit for.  The book is therefore a very worthwhile one for readers of military history who wish for a broader understanding of warfare in a global and broad-minded context.  I suspect that audience includes a lot of readers.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Warfare In The Eighteenth Century

  1. spongelike says:

    Thanks for giving an overview of this book. Owing to your description of the book’s emphasis on logistics and political will, I was reminded of Ernest May’s classic work, Strange Victory. May deals with the fall of France in 1940 and argues that logistics, political will, and failed intelligence on the French side caused their defeat, despite a number of impressive showings on the battlefield (which was news to me, as I had always assumed that France was unable to mount much of a resistance).

    • That’s a very good point to make–political will is a very significant aspect of warfare of any kind. It was the divisions between “right” and “left” in Third Republic France that led the dissatisfied conservatives to prefer servitude to Hitler to being ruled by socialists. When that poisoned political atmosphere is combined with a failure of intelligence and the ability to supply one’s troops, one’s ability to resist aggression is drastically curtailed.

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