Home Forums General Books and Magazines Military history books about periods as a whole?

Viewing 16 posts - 1 through 16 (of 16 total)
  • Author
  • #53290
    Avatar photoRhoderic

    One of the problems that keep hampering me in this hobby is the fact that (to be blunt) I don’t know or understand much about real military history**. Every now and then I try to tackle this problem from a new direction and this is one of those times. Here’s my question: Are there any good books about military history which, instead of focusing on some specific war, theatre, battle, formation/unit, commander, piece of equipment or something such, take a step back to cover an entire period?

    For instance, I don’t know very much about how the various colonial conflicts of the 19th and very early 20th century are unique and different from each other, not in military terms anyway. I could go and read one book on the Zulu War, one on the Boxer Rebellion, one on the Northwest Frontier and so on, but I’d sooner begin with one book that covers them all, with a view to first defining the fundamental “common threads” of colonial warfare in the time period and then explaining what made each conflict unique and different from the others.

    As another example, I’d love to find one book that covers the entire horse-and-musket period of warfare in the Western world, defining first the fundamentals that remained constant throughout the warfare of the period (also explaining how those fundamentals first solidified and how they finally dissolved, thus book-ending the period as a whole on both sides of it), then explaining how methods of warfare gradually evolved from war to war, and going over whatever other circumstances made each war unique from the rest. This would be preferable to – for instance – my first reading one book on the Seven Years War, then feeling frustrated that I don’t understand how the Seven Years War and War of Austrian Succession relate to each other until I’ve read a book on the WAS as well, and after that still feeling frustrated that I don’t understand how the WAS and SYW together relate to the Napoleonic Wars on one side of them and the Great Northern War and War of Spanish Succession on the other, and so on. In other words, it’s the big picture I’m looking for.

    Colonials and horse-and-musket are just examples, here. I’d like to know of similar books for pretty much any period, from the ancient-most of ancients to near-modern day, if they exist. In some cases, books that cover single regions over multiple periods could also be of interest (namely for certain regions outside the Western world, like China or Japan, prior to the “globalisation” of methods of warfare). But to be clear, I am looking for books about military history. Some discussion on underlying causes, homefront situations and general sociopolitical/geopolitical/socioeconomic circumstances is welcome, but if I were only looking for that (sans the military aspect front-and-center), I could find it myself in the wider world of “non-niche” historical academia.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions! And for putting up with my lengthy explanation of what it is I’m looking for 

    ** I think this may be a fairly normal problem for many of us “younger” miniatures gamers (I say “younger” in quotation marks for it’s all relative – as someone on the borderline between Generation X and Millennial, I’m not young at all by the standards of most Millennials, but I’m certainly separated by a generation of divide from the sizeable portion of people on forums like this who are Baby Boomers). We’re more prone to come from a fantasy/sci-fi gaming background, and I have the impression that there’s a “watershed divide” somewhere around the early D&D and Traveller years, prior to which those who grew up “geeky” were naturally more immersed in military history. I generalise, of course, but this may be germane to my question because maybe there ought to be more books like what I’m asking for in this post, for those of us who need a stepping stone from our usual fantasy/sci-fi stomping grounds to military history.

    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    The short answer is: no.

    And you can’t divorce military history from history. Wars don’t just happen because armies meet, there’s always an underlying cause. That applies to how warfare evolves too.

    Someone else might have ideas for a all encompassing book(s). All I can advise is be prepared to do a lot of reading.

    Good luck.




    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoGaz045

    I’ve a library centred on my WW2 and post war interest…….but I have some ‘ general’ histories from outside of my usual parenthesis!

    Basil Liddell Hart did a two volume history of WW1  and WW2…… a decent overview in my opinion………

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1543841.The_Art_of_Warfare_in_the_Age_of_Marlborough….an impulse buy but interesting enough,less about actual history and more of anecdotal glimpses of what warfare was like……

    https://www.amazon.es/Warfare-Ancient-World-HACKETT/dp/0816024596…satisfies my Greek and Roman ( among others) interests……

    Colonial Wars Source Book by Haythornwaite is a good primer,similarly the Napoleonic Wars Source Book too……..


    Hope they might be of help…….


    "Even dry tree bark is not bitter to the hungry squirrel"

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    And you can’t divorce military history from history. Wars don’t just happen because armies meet, there’s always an underlying cause.

    As I said, commentary on causes is welcome. A book on military history would be impoverished without it, no argument from me. But it’s not all I’m looking for, or I wouldn’t be asking a niche community like this one. I like reading history books in general, but they don’t tell me much about changes in battlefield formations and maneuvering from the early horse-and-musket period to the late, or differences in the mode of fighting between the Anglo-Zulu War and the Second Anglo-Afghan War, or other stuff like that.

    Avatar photoPatrice


    Interesting question…

    History books are written by historians, and military history books are written by military historians. Rather naturally these people are focalized on their object of study, which most often is a single subject. The kind of book you ask about could probably be written only by wargamers.

    you can’t divorce military history from history.

    Of course. And it’s not only about causes. Changes in battle tactics, etc, don’t happen on their own they depend on geography, technology, economy, politics, etc. So if you want a larger picture, be prepared to have a look at all these.

    Two quick examples I have found interesting:

    – A discussion (in a forum that I don’t visit any more) where someone asked a question about 11th century Norman and Breton light cavalry. I tried to help. You must think about all elements to suggest an answer (and even then I know it’s only a guess).  http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=239426

    – France invaded Algeria in 1830. It had awful consequences for 132 years, but that’s another matter; as wargamers we can see other sequels: the French army had to adapt to skirmish fighting in a wild climate (long before the big colonial era of the late 19th C.) and had to experiment new tactics for light infantry. And: (1) I’ve read in English history books that the British army arriving in Crimea in 1854 suffered from lack of tents etc whereas the French army was well equipped. I don’t think any of the HQ involved was better than the other, but the French had new designs of tents because of what they had just learnt in Algeria; (2) “Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics” manual, widely used by both sides in the ACW, was copied on a French Light Infantry manual — directly inspired by the French experience in Algeria.

    Ahem. Perhaps wargamers should write military history books? 


    Avatar photoPatG

    I would look a histories of weapon systems rather than specific periods.  For example, Ian Hogg wrote a book called The Naval Gun that covered everything from the medieval period to then modern weapons systems. Captain Nolan, of Charge of the Light Brigade fame wrote a book on the history and usage of cavalry, online and download version here: https://archive.org/details/cavalryitshistor00nola though its historical references may be a little out of date archaeology wise.  Books like these will often cover why things changed which can then tell you more about the period in which they changed.  So a history of the musket will tell you something about the pike and shot era and why firearms took over from pure pike blocks, then move into the period of the plug bayonet, then the development of the socket bayonet  and how that lead to Lace War tactics while also talking about the inherent accuracy of the weapon which lead to mass fire reaching its zenith in the Napoleonic period before moving onto rifled muzzle loaders and how they changed tactics again in the ACW period and how the Boers taught the British (again) to adopt skirmish order…  And so on.

    Edit: Gunboat! by Bryan Perrett covers the Crimea to 1949 China. It’s all British apart from a side trip into ACW for a chapter but again deals with each period in fairly broad strokes.

    Avatar photozippyfusenet

    I googled ‘history of warfare’ and found some interesting links., although I haven’t followed them myself. The online material may meet your needs, and/or might lead you to printed sources if you prefer hard copy. Some examples:







    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

    Avatar photoMartinR

    There are plenty of general books on development in the military art, a few suggestions:

    War in European History (Howard)

    Warfare in Age of Marlborough (Chandler)

    Warfare from Waterloo to Mons (Glover)

    Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies (Nosworthy)

    A Brief History of Blitzkrieg (Perrett) – one f his better books and more general survey of armoured warfare.

    Supplying War (Van Crefeld)

    The Campaigns of Napoleon (Chandler)

    Roman Warfare (Goldsworthy)

    Many of these are rather old, as I read them for my first degree many decades ago.


    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Russell F Weigley

    Pretty much does what it says – looks at the whole of the search for decisive battle (pretty much a failure) in the era of musketry-covers socioeconomic background, strategy, tactics, organisation, armaments and the people behind the guns. 579pp.  That’s a lot to cover in one volume but it a good place to start on ‘Horse and Musket’.

    The Face of Battle. Keegan.

    Great start on the battlefield as the battlefield. Will kickstart medieval, horse and musket and modern war through Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme.

    Forward Into Battle. Paddy Griffith. Fighting Tactics from Waterloo to Vietnam.

    Great companion piece to Keegan. Similarly nominally low level it (should) open your mind to the problems of reading so much supposed authoritative military history. The piece on the competing operational ‘schools’ of the US forces in Vietnam is worth the price alone. Traditional writing on Napoleonic battle is dissected as well.

    The Western Way of War. Victor Davis Hanson.

    Hoplite warfare and an exposition (you can agree of not) on how the western approach to killing up close gave Europe the edge. Detail and philosophy in one.

    To fill in a bit of the gap between 400BC and Breitenfeld – you could do worse as a starter than

    Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice of War in Europe, 300-1500. Helen Nicholson A summary of  current theories on the  development of warfare post Roman Empire to the 16th Century.


    Read them – follow the bibliographies and notes and get back to us in a couple of weeks


    PS For REALLY Broad brush – I started in the 60s with Fuller’s ‘A Military History of the Western World’ and Montgomery’s (nominally!) ‘A History of Warfare’.

    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    To fill in a bit of the gap between 400BC and Breitenfeld – you could do worse as a starter than Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice of War in Europe, 300-1500. Helen Nicholson A summary of current theories on the development of warfare post Roman Empire to the 16th Century.

    There’s also Phillipe Contamine’s  ‘War in the Middle Ages’.  Bit dated, but still useful.



    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    Curse you NCS!

    I was just nibbling my Waitrose Mince Pie when I remembered that!

    Definitely worth a read – good translation and reads very well.

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    Thank you all for these suggestions. I can work with this, although I keep forgetting that studying military history seems to often entail tracking down old books. The fact that newly published books keep popping up by the dozen in the wargaming news flows may have given me the illusion that whatever one is interested in reading up on, there’ll always be a fairly recent book about it 

    The titles on ancient and medieval warfare seem a good place for me to start, but ultimately everything suggested in this thread sounds interesting.

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    I suggest that what you really want is analytic military history.

    Approaches to writing history can be divided into three:

    1. Narrative history. A good old-fashioned view of history as a series of events (or “just one bloody thing after another” as Sir Herbert Butterfield put it), the way we learnt it when we had to memorise lists of Kings and Queens.

    2. Descriptive history. A much more modern sixties-style approach, inviting the reader to consider what it must have been like to experience being a bowman at Agincourt/a pilgrim on the Mayflower/a peasant dying of the Black Death.

    3. Analytic history. What wargamers want, especially when it takes a quantitative approach, in that it tries to explain why things happened the way they did.

    A lot of military history is depressingly unanalytic, as it is much easier to become an expert on buttons than it is on tactics.

    All the best,


    Avatar photoRhoderic

    I suggest that what you really want is analytic military history.

    I’m inclined to agree, in large part at least. Where the study of history is concerned, I’m mainly familiar with that of an economic slant, which (of course) is all analytical. Maybe this is feeding into my blind expectations of what I think “should” exist in the field of military-historical literature.

    Avatar photoMartinR

    If you have a background in Economics, you may find Biddles “Military Power” interesting. It applies econometric modelling to a model of twentieth century warfare in a number of combat settings to identify significant operational factors determining combat outcomes. It is a little dry in places (and unlike Dupuy, the numerical values assigned to the variables are buried in The appendices and footnotes).

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photowillz

    Lots of interesting comments and probably like all of you I have read my fair share of books covering history / politics / military history /  war / military equipment the list goes on.  If we wargame historical games, we will always be gaming from a position of hindsight (not sure if this point of view works from the sci/fi or fantasy side of the argument).  So how do we game objectively not subjectivity as surely we will because we have read history books.

    Maybe the best way to wargame is not read to deeply into any particular period, but to have a very board overview of the period and an understanding about the simple mechanics of the period (by this I mean the speed along a track by foot, horse, cart the range of the period weapons).  Also understand your chosen rules and play them.

    A couple of books I can recommend for a general overall view are

    The decisive battles of the Western world Vol 1 480bc – 1757 and vol 2 1792 – 1944 by JFC Fuller.

    A Distant Mirror by Barbara w Tuchman give a good feel of the medieval period.

    So enjoy the hobby, roll the dice or turn the cards but most of all have fun.

Viewing 16 posts - 1 through 16 (of 16 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.