In This Review

Battle: A History of Combat and Culture From Ancient Greece to Modern America
Battle: A History of Combat and Culture From Ancient Greece to Modern America
By John A. Lynn
Westview Press, 2003, 352 pp

In this rich and imaginative study, Lynn advances efforts to conceptualize the relationship between the cultural and the practical dimensions of war, even if he does not quite bring them to a conclusion. In his first two chapters, he quickly undermines the notion, advanced by authors such as John Keegan and Victor David Hanson, that a distinctive Western way of war emerged from ancient Greece. His own theory, awkwardly described in an appendix, is more subtle: an interaction between an idealized discourse of war and the realities of combat, mediated through political and social structures and prevailing patterns of thought. Accordingly, he examines the contrast between the ideals of chivalry and the brutality of the Hundred Years War; the combination of fashion and function that shaped the French armed forces during the ancien regime; the impact of European military practice on India; Clausewitz's presentation of Napoleonic warfare; racism in the U.S. conduct of the war in the Pacific; and Arab military effectiveness against the Israelis. Except when dealing with his own specialty, the French Enlightenment, Lynn cheerfully relies on the best of the secondary literature to make his case. The result is challenging and always interesting, with some big ideas struggling to get out but not quite making it. On occasion, historians really should steel themselves to read some social science.