I guess you know by now that I am interested in a broad array of subjects. It surprises some that war and military history are not among them. I have lots of friends who are entranced by this subject. Books about warfare, about military aircraft, and about weapons are always good sellers in bookstores.
Even though this is not one of “my” subjects, I still like to have some basic reference books on an important topic like this. I never know when my studies of history will lead me to a battle like Stalingrad, or my travels will lead me to a battlefield – past trips have taken me to Bataan, Pearl Harbor, Little Big Horn, Chattanooga, Gettysburg, and many others.
But if I am only going to have one or two books about war, they better be good ones. They should be easy to use and as comprehensive as possible.
Fitting that bill is the new book WAR: the Definitive Visual History From Bronze-Age Battles to 21st-Century Conflict (editorial consultant Saul David, Dorling Kindersley Publishing 2009). You may have noticed a lot of “DK” books on this website; I am starting to feel like an ad for this company. But some of their recent books, especially their “comprehensive in one volume” books, are among the best they have ever produced. WAR may be the best yet.
This oversized 500+ page book begins 3000 years before Christ, and works its way through history war by war through the Iraq war. Beautifully illustrated spreads show battle maps, describe historical context and military strategies, and describe key leaders and technologies. The last 140 pages contain an extensive, primarily-text “directory” of all the major battles in history, including key data on dates, number of people on each side, casualties, etc. Woven throughout the book are special sections on such topics as swords, helmets, supplies, muskets and rifles, medicine, and armor.
Not only is this book an excellent reference, but the best part may be the illustrations. DK has outdone themselves this time with the quality of the photos, drawings, and other illustrations. Some are two-page spreads of great paintings. Others are produced on a black background, which really makes the images pop. I would rate the overall design of the book – the use of titles, the ease of reading, the flow – as one of the best I have ever seen.
Now I just wish DK would do a book like this, as they have on Science and Prehistoric Life, on Commerce and Industry – a part of our lives which has involved more Americans than war, and which over time will (hopefully) touch a lot more lives worldwide than war. While we have book after book about war and the military, we have way too few popular books on the history of enterprise. Dorling Kindersley, give me a call – I have an outline waiting for you!
(If you are really serious about studying the history of war, a great companion volume that is a bit more scholarly would be Dupuy’s Encyclopedia of Military History, no longer in print but available as shown to the right. Search on "dictionaries" and "encyclopedias" combined with the world "military" to find many more interesting reference books, including biographical dictionaries covering great Generals, etc.)