Short Library Book Reviews: Part Eight

Civil Wars: A History In Ideas, by David Armitage

This is not a bad book, but it is a frustrating book. The content of the book and its topic matter is certainly interesting enough, in that the author seeks to explore the challenge of defining a civil war and the legitimacy and labeling issues that result from such a concept when one deals with questions of authority an the territoriality of states. Insofar as this book can be considered a historical sketch to support future research in a field that has been unjustly ignored, this book is a very good one. As a student of civil wars (not least those in my own country, but also around the world and in history), I welcome this book as a historical effort. That said, this book aims to be more, and the way that it seeks to define civil wars as being a phenomenon that begins with Rome when that is not the case neglects the larger religious questions of rebellion and its legitimacy within the biblical tradition, an aspect that the author conspicuously and intentionally neglects, much to the harm of the coherence of the author’s thesis as a whole.

On Grand Strategy, by John Lewis Gaddis

This is a strange book. That is not to say that it is a bad book. In fact, it is a fantastic book about a subject of deep personal interest, but that does not preclude it from being a very strange book nonetheless. While this book comes with a title related to the subject of grand strategy, the focus on the most important goals of the state, the book really springs from the subject of the harmonization between hedgehogs and foxes, and the way in which theory and experience should teach each other to encourage people to avoid both incoherent frittering away of important resources or the concentration of power and focus into only a few hands, thus leading to a lack of effective delegation. The author takes familiar historical situations like that of ancient Greece or early modern Europe and allows the reader to see how it is that people made decisions, and sometimes very bad decisions, as a result of their lack of wisdom. And to the extent that the reader wishes to learn from the errors of the past, this is a book that does credit to one of the author’s teaching and provides a lot of food for thought and reflection.

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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2 Responses to Short Library Book Reviews: Part Eight

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    You point to a very deep and inherent fault with historical writers such as this: the Biblical root to these issues. But civil wars were a phenomenon in the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Grecian (as well as Israelite) empires well before Rome’s, so his premise was historically incorrect however one looks at it. We are dealing with a civil war in this country by definition because the Constitutional line between federal government and state sovereignty is being encroached upon. As far as the second book, I’m for anything that reminds and encourages people to learn from history in order to avoid making the same mistakes. The caveat would be that our true history has not been “cancelled”.

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