Saturday 21 October 2023

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World - Adrienne Mayor

This review has been submitted to Ancient History Magazine 

Title: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World
Author: Adrienne Mayor
ISBN: 978-0-691-21108-4
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Year: 2022
Pages: 384
Photos/Maps: 43/3

In the realm of historical literature, it is rare to come across a work as intriguing and meticulously researched as "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs" by Adrienne Mayor. This book takes readers on an enthralling journey through the fascinating world of ancient weapons and warfare, shedding light on the ingenious and often deadly devices that shaped the course of history.

Adrienne Mayor's extensive research and passion for the subject matter shine through every page of this book, which is a testament to her dedication as a historian. Her meticulous examination of historical texts, archaeological findings, and ancient illustrations uncovers a treasure trove of information on the unconventional, often ingenious, and sometimes downright bizarre weapons of the ancient world.

The book is divided into chapters that delve into different aspects of ancient warfare, beginning with the advent of biological weapons and follows with chapters on poison arrows, gas, use of disease and plague, toxic food and drink, use of animals as weapons and closes with the legendary Greek fire. Mayor provides a comprehensive history of this iconic weapon, tracing its origins in Byzantium and its devastating impact on naval battles. She skillfully weaves together the historical accounts and scientific analyses, making it easy for readers to understand how Greek fire was not just a weapon, but a symbol of Byzantine power.

One of the strengths of Mayor's work is her ability to make history come alive through engaging storytelling. She introduces us to the inventors, warriors, and scholars who played pivotal roles in the development and use of these weapons. From Archimedes and his ingenious defenses to the cunning tactics of ancient generals, each character is brought to life with vivid descriptions and historical context.

The book's title suggests a focus on weaponry, but it goes beyond that, offering insight into the social, political, and technological contexts of the time. Adrienne Mayor connects these weapons to the societies that created and used them, revealing their significance beyond the battlefield. Readers are given a deeper understanding of how these tools were not just instruments of war but mirrors of the cultures that employed them. One of the most intriguing sections of the book explores the use of poison arrows in ancient warfare. Mayor's research on this topic is extensive, and she explores not only the historical records but also the biological components of the poisons and the ingenious mechanisms used to deliver them.

Another highlight of the book is Mayor's examination of the ancient practice of using animals as weapons. From the awe-inspiring war elephants to the more bizarre scorpion bombs, she vividly recounts the ingenious and often cruel ways in which animals were employed in warfare. This part of the book not only offers a glimpse into ancient military tactics but also underscores the nature of combat unfettered from modern societal norms.

Adrienne Mayor's writing is both scholarly and accessible, making it a perfect read for both history enthusiasts and casual readers. She employs a clear and engaging writing style that guides the reader through complex historical events and technical details without becoming overwhelming. Her ability to connect historical narratives to contemporary discussions on technology and warfare adds an extra layer of relevance to the book.

In addition to the compelling content, the book features numerous illustrations and photographs that enhance the reader's understanding of these ancient weapons. Maps, diagrams, and images from historical texts complement the text beautifully, providing a visual context to the information presented. The breadth of Mayor's coverage means that some subjects are touched upon briefly, leaving room for more extensive exploration in dedicated works.

In conclusion, Adrienne Mayor's "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs" is an extraordinary exploration of ancient weapons and warfare. The book's meticulous research, engaging narrative, and accessible writing style make it a captivating read for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in the technological and cultural aspects of war in the ancient world. Mayor's dedication to bringing these historical weapons to life and connecting them to contemporary discussions of war and technology is commendable. This book is a testament to the power of historical research and storytelling, providing a deep and captivating insight into the weapons and tactics of the past.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Dunkirchen 1940: The German View of Dunkirk - Robert Kershaw

This review has been submitted to the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (JSAHR).

Title: Dunkirchen 1940: The German View of Dunkirk
Author: Robert Kershaw
ISBN: 978-1-4728-5437-7
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022
Pages: 352

"Dunkirk 1940: The German View of Dunkirk" by Robert Kershaw offers a unique and invaluable perspective on one of the most pivotal events of World War II. While Dunkirk is often associated with the heroic evacuation of British and Allied forces from the beaches of France, Kershaw's book delves into the German viewpoint, shedding light on their strategies, motivations, and perceptions of the Dunkirk evacuation.

Kershaw, a respected military historian, has meticulously researched primary sources, including German military records, letters, diaries, and memoirs, to construct a comprehensive and engaging narrative. By focusing on the German perspective, he enriches our understanding of this historical moment, offering readers a well-rounded view of the Dunkirk evacuation.

The book starts by providing a background of the early stages of World War II, setting the stage for the events that would unfold at Dunkirk. Kershaw explores the German military's rapid advance through France, capturing the essence of their Blitzkrieg strategy. Readers gain insight into the motivations and attitudes of the German soldiers, including their beliefs in their own invincibility and the perceived weakness of the Allied forces.

One of the book's strengths is its vivid portrayal of the chaotic and fluid situation on the ground. Kershaw skillfully describes the German troops' experiences as they faced a rapid and unexpected halt in their advance, while also having to deal with logistics and supply issues. These accounts offer a humanizing perspective on the German soldiers who often endured hardship and uncertainty.

Kershaw's narrative also delves into the German command structure and its challenges during the Dunkirk campaign. The disagreements and rivalries within the German High Command are highlighted, providing a fresh perspective on the internal dynamics that influenced the decision-making process.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to the German perception of the Dunkirk evacuation. Kershaw explores the initial disbelief among German commanders as they witnessed the Allied retreat. The idea that the enemy could escape, let alone fight back, was shocking to many. Kershaw presents a detailed analysis of the German response, including the decision to halt the attack and the subsequent encirclement of Dunkirk.

The author's analysis of Adolf Hitler's role in the Dunkirk campaign is particularly intriguing. Kershaw delves into Hitler's personality and decision-making process, shedding light on his erratic behavior and the factors that influenced his orders. The conflicting advice given to Hitler by his generals, along with his own doubts and fears, are explored in depth. This humanizing portrayal of Hitler adds complexity to the narrative and dispels the notion of a unified and all-powerful Nazi regime. Additionally, Kershaw addresses perhaps one of the most controversial elements of the Dunkirk battle – the infamous stop/close-up order given to the German forces on 24 May. Popular opinion puts the blame on Hitler for issuing this order when in fact it was Generaloberst Von Rundstedt, Commander of Army Group A, who issued the order; Hitler confirmed it after being briefed by the General.

Throughout the book, Kershaw incorporates personal stories and anecdotes from German soldiers and commanders. These accounts provide a more intimate view of the events, allowing readers to empathize with the individuals involved and their struggles.

The author also examines the impact of Dunkirk on the German military and the Allied forces. He highlights how the German army's failure to decisively defeat the Allies at Dunkirk would have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the war. Kershaw convincingly argues that Dunkirk sowed the seeds of future German defeats and the eventual turning of the tide in favor of the Allies.

In conclusion, "Dunkirk 1940: The German View of Dunkirk" by Robert Kershaw is a compelling and well-researched account of a pivotal moment in World War II. By providing the German perspective, Kershaw adds depth and nuance to our understanding of the Dunkirk evacuation. This book is a must-read for history enthusiasts, military historians, and anyone interested in gaining a more comprehensive view of one of the most significant events of the 20th century. Kershaw's meticulous research and insightful analysis make this book an invaluable addition to the literature on World War II.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe - William Rosen

Title: Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe

Author: William Rosen
ISBN: 978-0-670-03855-8
Publisher: Viking Press
Year: 2007
Pages: 367
Maps: 1 

William Rosen's "Justinian's Flea" is a captivating journey through the Byzantine Empire, centered around the monumental reign of Emperor Justinian I, but with an unexpected twist—the microbe Yersinia pestis, responsible for the bubonic plague. Through meticulous research and eloquent storytelling, Rosen seamlessly weaves together history, science, and the human drama of one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.

At its core, "Justinian's Flea" is a testament to the intricate interconnectedness of history and science. Rosen delves into the world of Late Antiquity, offering readers a vivid portrayal of the Byzantine Empire, its political intrigues, religious fervor, and the ambitious vision of Justinian and his formidable wife Theodora. He paints a vivid picture of a civilization on the cusp of monumental change and upheaval.

What sets this book apart is Rosen's masterful ability to balance the narrative between the grandeur of empires and the microscopic world of pathogens. He tells the story of Yersinia pestis—the bacterium responsible for the bubonic plague—with equal attention and empathy. By intertwining the lives of emperors, generals, and common people with the invisible menace of the plague, Rosen highlights how these two forces shaped the course of history in ways that were unimaginable at the time.

Rosen's writing style is both informative and engaging, making complex historical and scientific concepts accessible to a broad audience. He skillfully explains the science behind the plague and its transmission without overwhelming the reader, providing a clear understanding of how this tiny organism had such catastrophic consequences.

One of the book's strengths lies in its exploration of the societal, economic, and religious impacts of the plague. Rosen meticulously examines how the pandemic led to population decline, labor shortages, and economic upheaval. Additionally, he delves into the religious aspects, showing how the plague's horrors challenged people's faith and paved the way for significant changes in the religious landscape of the empire.

Moreover, "Justinian's Flea" serves as a reminder of the resilience and adaptability of human civilization. Despite the devastation wrought by the plague, the Byzantine Empire managed to survive and transform, eventually giving rise to the Byzantine Renaissance. This resurgence is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the people during these trying times.

However, the book is not without its minor shortcomings. Some readers may find the intricate details of military campaigns and political maneuverings distracting, and the narrative occasionally meanders. Nevertheless, these are minor flaws in the grand tapestry that Rosen expertly weaves. Additionally, the inclusion of pictures would have enhanced the already high quality of the work.

In conclusion, "Justinian's Flea" is a remarkable work that bridges the gap between history and science, offering readers a unique perspective on the Byzantine Empire's tumultuous era. William Rosen's storytelling prowess and thorough research make this book a must-read for history enthusiasts and those interested in the intersection of disease, politics, and human society. "Justinian's Flea" is a compelling narrative that reminds us of the profound impact that microscopic entities can have on the course of human history.

Sunday 1 October 2023

The Book of Five Rings - Miyamoto Musashi

Title: The Book of Five Rings
Author: Miyamoto Musashi
ISBN: 978-1-61180-640-3
Publisher: ShambalaYear: 1193
Pages: 173

Miyamoto Musashi's "The Book of Five Rings" is a timeless classic in the world of martial arts and strategy. Written by one of Japan's most renowned swordsmen and warriors in the 17th century, this book transcends its origins to offer valuable insights into strategy, leadership, and life itself.

Musashi's treatise is divided into five books, each focusing on a specific aspect of strategy and combat. These books are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void, representing different elements and aspects of martial strategy. Each book delves into the philosophy and practicality of Musashi's approach to combat and, by extension, life.

One of the most striking aspects of "The Book of Five Rings" is its concise and direct style. Musashi's writing is clear and unambiguous, making it accessible to both martial artists and those interested in strategy and philosophy. He avoids unnecessary ornamentation and gets straight to the heart of his teachings. This clarity is one of the book's strengths, allowing readers to absorb the wisdom without unnecessary distractions.

At the core of Musashi's philosophy is the concept of the "Way of the Samurai" or "Bushido." He emphasizes the importance of self-discipline, commitment, and continuous improvement. Musashi's belief in relentless training and self-cultivation resonates not only with martial artists but with anyone striving for excellence in any field. His emphasis on adaptability and the ability to change strategies according to the circumstances is particularly relevant in today's fast-paced world.

"The Book of Five Rings" also provides valuable insights into the psychology of combat. Musashi discusses the importance of maintaining a calm and focused mind during battle, advocating for mental clarity as the key to victory. These insights can be applied beyond martial arts and into everyday life, helping individuals remain composed in high-pressure situations.

Another highlight of Musashi's work is his exploration of various combat stances and techniques. While the book primarily focuses on swordsmanship, the principles can be adapted to different forms of combat and even non-physical battles, such as business negotiations or personal conflicts. Musashi's emphasis on simplicity and economy of movement is particularly valuable, emphasizing the importance of efficiency in achieving one's goals.

However, "The Book of Five Rings" is not without its challenges. Some may find Musashi's philosophy overly rigid or too steeped in the context of medieval Japan. While the core principles remain relevant, adapting them to modern life may require some creativity and interpretation.

In conclusion, Miyamoto Musashi's "The Book of Five Rings" is a timeless classic that offers profound insights into strategy, discipline, and the art of living. Musashi's direct and clear writing style, combined with his deep wisdom, makes this book a must-read for martial artists, leaders, and anyone seeking personal and professional growth. While it may require some interpretation to apply its lessons to modern life, the essence of Musashi's teachings remains as relevant today as it was centuries ago. This book is a valuable addition to any library and a source of inspiration for those on a quest for self-improvement and mastery.

Saturday 30 September 2023

Cyberspace in Peace and War 2nd Ed - Martin C. Libicki

This review has been submitted to the RCAF Journal

Title: Cyberspace in Peace and War
Author: Martin C. Libicki
ISBN: 978-1-68427-586-7
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Year: 2021
Pages: 492

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern warfare and diplomacy, the concept of cyberspace has emerged as a critical domain that shapes international relations, security, and conflict. Martin C. Libicki's book, Cyberspace in Peace and War, delves into this complex and rapidly changing realm with a comprehensive analysis that provides invaluable insights into the dynamics of cyberspace in both times of peace and conflict. Libicki, a distinguished scholar in the field of cybersecurity, draws on his extensive expertise to explore the multifaceted aspects of cyberspace, transcending the traditional boundaries between technology, policy, and strategy.

The book is structured in a well-organized manner, presenting its arguments and ideas clearly and systematically. It is divided into several sections, with each addressing a specific aspect of cyberspace. Libicki begins by laying the groundwork, offering a historical perspective on the development of cyberspace and its integration into contemporary society. This historical context is essential in understanding the evolution of cyber conflict and cooperation.

One of the book's strengths is its balanced examination of cyberspace in both peacetime and wartime scenarios. Libicki emphasizes that cyberspace is not solely a battleground; it is also a space for diplomacy, commerce, and communication. He convincingly argues that nations must adopt a holistic approach to cyberspace, incorporating it into their broader foreign policy and national security strategies.

The author does an exceptional job of dissecting the challenges and opportunities presented by cyberspace. He articulates the nuances of cyber warfare, highlighting the difficulties in attribution and deterrence. Libicki's insights into the concept of "cyber deterrence" are particularly noteworthy. He demonstrates that while traditional deterrence theories may apply to some extent in the cyber domain, they require adaptation to account for the unique characteristics of cyberspace.

Furthermore, Libicki makes a compelling case for the importance of norms and rules in cyberspace governance. He stresses that international agreements and norms can help mitigate the risks of cyber conflict and facilitate cooperation among nations. However, he also acknowledges the challenges of establishing such norms and the difficulties in enforcing them.

The book also delves into the issue of cybersecurity at the individual and organizational levels. Libicki emphasizes the crucial role of cybersecurity awareness and practices in mitigating cyber threats. He provides practical recommendations for individuals and organizations to enhance their cyber defenses, making the book relevant to a broad audience beyond policymakers and strategists.

Throughout the book, Libicki skillfully combines theory with real-world examples, case studies, and historical incidents. This approach not only makes the content more engaging but also underscores the practical implications of the concepts discussed. The author's extensive research and meticulous analysis are evident in his presentation of facts and evidence.

One of the book's highlights is its exploration of the role of non-state actors in cyberspace. Libicki discusses how non-state actors, such as hacktivists and cybercriminals, have the potential to disrupt international relations and security. He also examines the challenges posed by the blurring lines between state-sponsored and non-state cyber activities.

Libicki's writing is accessible and devoid of jargon, making the book suitable for a wide readership. He effectively breaks down complex technical concepts into understandable terms without oversimplifying the subject matter. This accessibility is essential, given the book's relevance to policymakers, military professionals, academics, and anyone interested in the intersection of technology and international affairs.

In conclusion, Cyberspace in Peace and War by Martin C. Libicki is a commendable work that provides a comprehensive and balanced exploration of the multifaceted world of cyberspace. Libicki's deep knowledge of the subject matter, combined with his engaging writing style, makes this book an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by cyberspace in the context of international relations, security, and conflict. It serves as a valuable resource for policymakers, scholars, and practitioners alike, offering valuable insights and recommendations for navigating the complex terrain of cyberspace in an era of both peace and war.

Thursday 28 September 2023

The Planning and Preparations for the Battle of Kursk Vol 1 - Valeriy Zamulin (translated by Stuart Britton)

This review has been submitted to the Canadian Army Journal 

Title: The Planning and Preparations for the Battle of Kursk Vol 1
Author: Valeriy Zamulin (translated by Stuart Britton)
ISBN: 978-1-914059-22-3
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2021
Pages: 565
Photographs/maps: 36/7

Valeriy Zamulin's "The Planning and Preparations for the Battle of Kursk Vol 1" is a remarkable addition to the extensive literature on World War II. This meticulously researched and expertly crafted volume offers a comprehensive exploration of the planning and preparations that led up to one of the most pivotal battles in history, the Battle of Kursk.

Zamulin, a renowned Russian military historian, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to this project. He draws from an impressive array of primary sources, including German and Soviet archival materials, personal diaries, and interviews with veterans who participated in the battle. This exhaustive research allows him to present a multifaceted and nuanced perspective on the events leading up to the Battle of Kursk.

The book is organized into a clear and logical structure, which aids readers in navigating the complex historical context. Zamulin begins by setting the stage, describing the strategic situation on the Eastern Front in 1943. He highlights the German defeat at Stalingrad and the subsequent Soviet offensive, which put the Red Army on the offensive for the first time in the war. The first half of the book is focussed upon the German preparations, while the second concentrates on the Russian efforts. Each covers the same time period leading up to the Battle itself.

One of the strengths of Zamulin's work is his attention to detail. He meticulously examines the decisions made by both the German High Command, led by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, and the Soviet High Command, headed by Marshal Georgy Zhukov. He dissects the strategic and tactical considerations that influenced their planning, providing readers with a deep understanding of the thought processes behind these critical decisions. Another stellar element of the book is its comprehensive exploration of the how, (relating to the methodologies), the adversaries planned their offense/defence.

Zamulin's analysis of the German preparations for the battle is particularly illuminating. He delves into the logistical challenges faced by the Wehrmacht, including shortages of tanks, fuel, and experienced personnel. This detailed examination challenges the traditional narrative that the Germans were on the brink of victory and reveals the vulnerabilities and limitations of the German war machine.

Equally important is Zamulin's exploration of the Soviet side of the equation. He sheds light on the extensive preparations undertaken by the Red Army, including the construction of elaborate defensive fortifications and the assembly of a formidable armored force. Zamulin's research dispels the myth that the Soviets relied solely on numerical superiority, demonstrating the sophistication of their planning and the effectiveness of their defensive measures.

One of the book's standout features is its focus on the human aspect of warfare. Zamulin weaves personal stories and firsthand accounts into his narrative, allowing readers to connect with the individuals who lived through this tumultuous period. These personal insights humanize the conflict, making it more relatable and emotionally resonant.

Furthermore, Zamulin's writing style is engaging and accessible. He avoids unnecessary jargon and provides clear explanations of military terminology and concepts. This approach makes the book accessible to both military history enthusiasts and general readers with an interest in World War II.

While Zamulin's research is comprehensive, it is worth noting that "The Planning and Preparations for the Battle of Kursk Vol 1" is just the first volume in a series. As such, the book primarily covers the period leading up to the battle and the initial stages of the conflict. Readers seeking a detailed analysis of the battle itself may need to turn to subsequent volumes in the series.

In conclusion, Valeriy Zamulin's "The Planning and Preparations for the Battle of Kursk Vol 1" is a masterful work of military history that offers a deep and nuanced examination of the events leading up to the Battle of Kursk. Zamulin's meticulous research, engaging writing style, and focus on the human element of warfare make this book a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in World War II history. It challenges existing narratives and provides a fresh perspective on a pivotal moment in the conflict. As we await subsequent volumes in the series, Zamulin's work stands as a testament to the importance of understanding the planning and preparations that shaped the course of history on the Eastern Front.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Theirs the Strife: The Forgotten Battles of British Second Army and Armeegruppe Blumentritt, April 1945 - John Russell

This review has been submitted to Iron Cross Magazine 

Title: Theirs the Strife: The Forgotten Battles of British Second Army and Armeegruppe Blumentritt, April 1945
Author: John Russell
ISBN: 978-1-914059-39-1
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2020
Pages: 502
Photographs/maps: 97/100

In "Theirs the Strife," John Russell delves deep into the often-overlooked events of April 1945, focusing on the lesser-known battles between the British Second Army and Armeegruppe Blumentritt during the waning days of World War II. Russell's meticulous research and engaging narrative shed light on a crucial yet forgotten chapter of the war, offering readers a fresh perspective on the final stages of the conflict in Europe.

Russell begins by setting the stage, providing a comprehensive overview of the situation in April 1945. The Allied forces, having crossed the Rhine, were rapidly advancing towards the heart of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Armeegruppe Blumentritt, a German formation tasked with defending the northern front, was desperately trying to delay the inevitable collapse of the Third Reich. The British Second Army, led by General Miles Dempsey, found itself at the forefront of this final push.

One of the strengths of Russell's book is his ability to bring the key figures to life. General Dempsey, his subordinates, and their German counterparts are portrayed as real individuals facing unimaginable challenges. This humanizing approach allows readers to empathize with the soldiers and commanders on both sides, making the narrative all the more compelling. Of particular note is the styles of leadership exhibited by the different commanders; Blumentritt, on one hand, desperately keeping his forces motivated and fighting despite the obvious fact that Germany had lost the war and Dempsey, equally striving to keep his forces focussed on forcing the destruction of Germans all the while knowing that the end was very close.

Russell's writing style is both accessible and engaging. He seamlessly blends personal accounts, official documents, and strategic analysis, providing a well-rounded view of the battles. This approach not only keeps the reader engaged but also adds depth to the historical events, enabling a better understanding of the decisions made by military leaders.

The author's research is meticulous and evident throughout the book. Russell draws from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including diaries, letters, official reports, and post-war interviews. This depth of research is particularly evident in his descriptions of the battles themselves. Readers will find themselves immersed in the chaos and brutality of the frontline, gaining a newfound appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who fought.

One of the book's standout features is its exploration of the tactical and logistical challenges faced by both sides. Russell highlights the complexities of maneuvering large armies in the final stages of a war, where supply lines are stretched thin, and the enemy is desperate. His analysis of the strategic decisions made by Dempsey and Blumentritt adds a layer of depth to the narrative, revealing the intricate chess game that unfolded on the battlefield.

Furthermore, "Theirs the Strife" offers valuable insights into the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by soldiers on both sides as the war neared its end. Russell does not shy away from discussing the atrocities committed by the Germans or the moral quandaries faced by Allied soldiers in the face of such horrors. This exploration of the human side of war adds a thought-provoking dimension to the book.

While "Theirs the Strife" is a compelling and well-researched work, it is not without its minor flaws. Some readers may find the sheer amount of detail daunting at times, and the book's narrow focus on a specific time and place may limit its appeal to a broader audience. This fact is offset however, by the authors generous use of maps and photographs to aid in the visualization of the conditions and tactics faced and utilized by both sides.

In conclusion, John Russell's "Theirs the Strife" is a valuable addition to the literature on World War II. By resurrecting the forgotten battles of April 1945, Russell sheds light on the courage and determination of the soldiers who fought on both sides. His meticulous research, engaging narrative, and humanizing approach make this book a must-read for history enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of the final days of the war in Europe. While it may not be a comprehensive account of World War II, it is a compelling exploration of a critical and often overlooked chapter in history.