Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: Atlas of World Military History

Atlas of World Military History: the art of war from ancient times to the present day.  By Richard Brooks and others.  Hardcover, 256 pages, large (“coffee-table”) format .  Originally published by HarperCollins in England in 2000, this edition by Barnes & Noble in the same year.

Although this book is out-of-print I was able to get a pristine “used” copy very inexpensively through a used bookseller on Amazon.

This is a typical contemporary large-format “Atlas” insofar as there are maps on almost every page but also a very extensive commentary and narrative.  (Old-style atlases were just maps.)  It is also lavishly illustrated with drawings, paintings, and photographs.  And as you would expect the book focuses much more on the past century or two than on earlier times.  The American Civil War gets the same number of pages (four) as the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.  The Crusades and Mongol invasions get two pages each.  The European part of World War II gets 28 pages.

The sections include:
The First Military Empires (ancient times)
Men on Horseback (Medieval)
the Military Renaissance (1500 to 1650)
Line of Battle (1650 the 1785)
Nations in Arms (1792 to 1815)
Heirs of Napoleon (1815 to 1905)
Storm of Steel (1914 to 1916)
Restoring Mobility (1917 to 1939)
Zenith of Industrial Age War (1939 to 1945)
the Cold War and the End of Modern War

An unusual feature of the book is that several of the authors are well-known wargame designers, including Richard H. Berg, Mark Herman, and David C. Isby.

The book is very good at getting to the heart of matters - as many books are not.  As I read I wondered if this was partly the influence of the game designers, who as model-makers have to get to the heart of what’s important in a situation and leave everything else out.

The authors have a way with words and the phrase I most remember is "cosmic levels of incompetence"  as a description of the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese War.

Atlases in general have the virtue of providing a view "of the forest, not the trees."  Yet the accompanying text here can show you many of the trees, as well.  You get both an overview and occasional details.  Many of the maps are of individual battles or doctrine, others show the sweep of empire (including such topics as trade and economics).  An excellent book.

My book “Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" is now available from or Amazon (Books-a-Million has a PDF version).  
I am @lewpuls on Twitter.  (I average much less than one post a day, almost always about games, not about other topics.) 

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