Early Modern Warfare


Military Revolution


Guns, Sails & Empires   ***** by Carlo Cipolla.  In this brief book, the author shows how European sailing and gun technologies allowed the European powers to project power around the globe beginning in the late 1400s.   East Asian navies did not have the power to resist Western sea power, resulting in European enclaves in the East and the building of a vast Western trading empire.  


  The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800  *****    In this well written and concise book, Geoffrey Parker argues that a revolution in European fighting methods in this era transformed Europe and gave Europeans a military advantage over the rest of the world.  As a result, by 1800 European powers held substantial empires which they would expand greatly in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds.  Parker gives convincing arguments on the advantages of gunpowder weapons, superior European organization, superior European naval power, and the ruthlessness of European warfare compared to some opponents.  What is less convincing is the emphasis on the Italian trace system of fortifications and the supposedly resulting increase in army size and weakness of smaller states.  Good coherent coverage is given of naval warfare and early imperialism, like the Portuguese and Dutch in Indonesia as well as later British success in India.  The efforts of non-western powers to adapt to the revolution are also covered, as well as eastern practices of impoundment of goods as a substitute for strong naval power. 

  War and the Rise of the State: The Military Foundations of Modern Politics   *****  By Bruce Porter.  I started reading this book solely to learn about the eighteenth century, but I found it to be so profound and well written that I had to read it al.  Everyone who cares about freedom should read this book.  Among the first sentences Porter says that like many people, when he first started to study history he found wars to be an annoying interruption of progress, but that he grew to appreciate that after each war the world was somehow different.  The how and why are the subject of the book.  Porter shows how war and the need to pay for war has led to increasing state power and larger government.  Porter shows that in most European states kings used war to quash representative government, but he also shows the exceptions - Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, and America.  Porter shows how different circumstances in these countries helped lead to representative government of some kind.  The 20th century tyrannies of fascism and communism and the rise of the welfare state are also convincing explained.   



European Warfare 1660-1815  **** Jeremy Black.  Somewhat misleadingly titled, this book argues that the "military revolution" which allowed Europe to extend its power throughout the world occurred mainly in the eighteenth century and not the 1400s through 1600s as others have argued.  Black rambles beyond the intend of the book, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I'm not necessarily convinced of his argument, and I suspect he is especially enamored with the eighteenth century, but the book gives an excellent view of warfare of the period.  Significantly, the author investigates land AND naval warfare and shows that militaries were not as conservative as some historians believe.


General to the Time Period

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers   ****1/2  Although not military history strictly speaking, Paul Kennedy investigates the many attempts to gain control of Europe,  the strengths and weakness of the great powers, and the reasons for the emergence of the western world.  His forecast of a Japanese future, however, shows that historians should stick with the past.  Nevertheless, it is a classic. 


The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas Warfare: Renaissance to Revolution, 1492-1792  **** Jeremy Black thoroughly covers all conflicts worldwide in the most interesting era of military history.  European and colonial conflicts are explained along with obscure Eastern and African wars.  Maps along with excellent commentary detail the strategic movements of the opposing nations.  This thorough book covers neglected theaters of war, including Italy and he even covers the widely ignored War of Polish Succession.  On the downside, nothing can make some of these wars simple, and the maps usually do not even try to cover the operational or tactical.  Overall, this is a good introduction to the military history of the era.  


 Atlas of Military Strategy: The Art, Theory and Practice of War 1618-1878  ***  David G. Chandler uses maps and charts to explain western military history, focusing on strategy, tactics, and economic strength.  Conflicts from the Thirty Years War to the Balkan Wars are analyzed.  There are errors, some of them embarrassing, but the book is a decent to good well written introduction to the era.


Art of War

The Art of Warfare in the Age of Age of Marlborough ***  by David Chandler.  This book would be better titled "The Science of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough."  It deals with the technical aspects of the branches of the army more so than it does the art of warfare, and it does a decent, but not great, job of it.  The section on artillery is especially useful.

Marlborough as Military Commander  ****  David Chandler details Marlborough's life and campaigns.  Although not as good as his masterpiece, "The Campaigns of Napoleon," it is a very good book.  Maps are good and useful, but as with many books, more would be useful.  

Siege Warfare: Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660   ***  Christopher Duffy.  Fortification was a vital part of warfare of the era, and the author leaves no region ignored, from Western Europe, the Baltic, Italy, to the Far East.  The book is dry, focusing on strategy.  For a better, more interesting volume, see Fire and Stone.

Fire & Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860  *****  Christopher Duffy gives an excellent view fortress design and the course of siege.  He even tells us how to build a fort in a marsh.  The book is well written, and it seems Duffy is often much better at this general approach than he is writing about the specifics of a battle, campaign, or strategy.

Military Experience in the Age of Reason  *****  by Christopher Duffy.  Who doesn't love the Age of Reason?  It is easy to form incorrect stereotypes of the time, but Duffy gives an excellent, well written view of the era, showing the experiences of officers and men in peace and war.   

Miscellaneous Wars


Galleons and Galleys  ****1/2  by John F. Guilmartin.  Isn't it nice when a book with substance is well illustrated?  The author shows in pictures and words the changes in naval warfare from the 1400s to the early 1600s in the Mediterranean and the oceans.  Chapters on general trends and specific battles are mixed to give a good understanding of the technology and tactics of the times.


The Nine Years' War and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries  ***  by John Childs.  One of the few modern books on the war, it isn't exactly a joy to read, but it is worth it if you are interested in the subject.  The political and diplomatic background coverage is good.  The descriptions of battles are good, but better battle and campaign maps would be very useful.  It's annoying to constantly consult maps at the beginning of the book.  Although the book is limited to the Low Countries, a little background about other aspects of the war would be useful also.



War of Austrian Succession


Amphibious Warfare in the 18th Century: The British Expedition to the West Indies, 1740-42 (Royal Historical Society Studies in History, 61)   ****    by Richard Harding.  The outgrowth of a thesis, this book's writing is solid, but not spectacular.  The research and insight, however, are very impressive.  Starting with the political and diplomatic background to the war, Harding shows that at the start of the war, the British government was completely unprepared to send an amphibious expedition to the Caribbean.  Nevertheless, despite general opinion to the contrary, the author states that although the expedition was somewhat delayed, its preparation was competent.  The leadership, however, failed.  The naval commander, Admiral Vernon, is shown as an unprincipled weasel who monopolized intelligence and manipulated his co-leader from the army, Wentworth.  Other factors also conspired against the expedition.  The enemy navy had not yet been defeated, and a delay to await developments while in the tropics contributed to losses by sickness.  A large fleet was also required, but its losses were not easily replaceable.  So instead of the navy assisting land operations, a necessity during the time, army manpower was needed to man the ships.  Since fortifications were the primary obstacle to land operations, and since the manpower problems made it so difficult to set up breaching batteries, there was little alternative to hasty assaults like the one that failed outside of Cartagena.  As a result of all these factors and more, 10,000 of 14,000 men died.  Finally, Harding concludes that William Pitt gets too much credit for British success in the Seven Years War, largely because of his effective political propaganda. 


The Prize of All the Oceans : Anson's Voyage Around the World  *****  by Glyn Williams.  Often mentioned but rarely discussed in any detail, Anson's multi-year voyage around the world with the capture of the Manila galleon is one of the epic events in nautical history.  Glyn Williams takes a scholarly approach, but it would be impossible to make the tale boring even if he'd wanted to.  Starting off with six ships, Anson is soon reduced to one, his own, the Centurion.  Nearly marooned on the Marianas, Anson and the survivors capture the Manila galleon, and return to Britain fabulously wealthy; Predictably - numerous lawsuits result.  Anson eventually comes to head the Royal Navy during the next conflict, the Seven Years War.    




The War of the Austrian Succession  ****1/2  Reed Browning has written one of the few modern books on this war, and it is a good one.  He covers diplomatic and military aspects, but spends much more time on the convoluted diplomacy, which is necessary for a good understanding of the war.  Military matters are not ignored, but not dealt with in much detail either.  The book is well written, and doesn't get five stars because it needs better maps and gets a little slow toward the end.



European World Empires and the Far East

Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592-98  **** 1/2   by Stephen Turnbull.  This is the only book length treatment of this neglected war available in English, and it is a very good one, if a little skewed in favor of the Japanese.  Turnbull gives a good political and diplomatic background and covers both land and naval warfare as well as can be expected.  Having read little Eastern military history, it was interesting to read about the combined use of archers, musketeers, and artillery (including rockets) as well as the unique naval tactics and turtle ships.  This view of a different style of warfare helps put western military history in perspective.  


The Portuguese Seaborne Empire  *****  by Charles Boxer.  The first of the major European world empires, Portugal's became perhaps the weakest.  Stunted by government policy, the empire took a major blow when the king and most of his army was killed invading Morocco.  Spain's takeover made them prey to the Dutch rebels, and the empire never recovered.  Nevertheless, the empire has had a major influence on the world and survived well into the 1900s. 


Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763  ****  by Henry Kamen.  Although it is hardly Spanish bashing, reviewers with Spanish names tend to not like the book, which is admittedly more of a collection of very good essays than a coherent argument.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the author argues that the empire was more of a loose collection of inherited territories than a united political unit.  The empire was therefore not as powerful and threatening to its neighbors as contemporaries thought.  Kamen shows that the Spanish didn't run their empire as much as foreigners did, while Spain itself was backward and poor.    


Cornwallis: The Imperial Years  *****  by Franklin Wickwire.  Although frequently mentioned as an important part of Cornwallis's life, few historians have dealt with this fascinating conflict in India.  Cornwallis's reckless aggressiveness may have lost the Revolution for Britain, but it was just what they needed in India.  Having virtually eliminating other European powers from India, under the leadership of Cornmaster Chuck, the British demonstrated to themselves - and the natives - that they had the power not only to survive in India, but to dominate the Indian states as well.        


Wellington in India  *****  by Jac Weller.  Starting out with the arrival of the man eventually to be known as Wellington - and his brother - the two begin a controversial policy of conquest in India to the great annoyance of the East India Company.  Using boldness and the traditional British tactics of firing a volley and charging, Wellington overawes his opponents, greatly expanding British power and learning the art of war along the way. 


The East India Company  *****  by Antony Wild.  This lavishly illustrated volume gives an excellent view of the East India Company - the experiences of the British in India, the spices and goods of interest to the West, and the history of the company over the centuries.


Britain As a Military Power 1688-1815  **** Jeremy Black provides an excellent discussion of Britain's land and naval power, discussing the nation's strengths and weaknesses and the many wars and diplomatic crises of the period.  Black convincing argues that Britain's rise to power was not preordained and cites a number of potential disasters.  Although a great strength, Britain's financial system was also a vulnerability.  Use of mercenaries and subsidy treaties was also a double edged sword, and the Jacobites were always a real threat to the regime.  Refreshingly, he covers interesting but now obscure events like the 1770s Falklands squabble and the Nootka Sound incident, but his accounts of wars in India are a little confusing.


The British Navy and the Use of Naval Power in the Eighteenth Century  ****  edited by Jeremy Black and Philip Woodfine.  All aspects of Britain's navy in the eighteenth century are covered in a series of well written essays by authorities on their subjects.  Especially interesting is the section on Northwest Europe and the Baltic. 


Historic architecture of the Royal Navy: An introduction *****  by Jonathan G Coad.  If you have any interest in the royal dockyards and other naval infrastructure, you need to get this book.  Focusing mainly on the Georgian navy, the book gives an excellent overview of the services that the dockyards provided, the work that was done within the specific buildings, and a history of their development.  Perhaps the only flaw of this book is that the many illustrations are black and white.  These many photos and maps show the layouts of the several dockyards and the appearances of the buildings; especially appealing are the 18th century aerial views. 


Eighteenth century gunfounding;: The Verbruggens at the Royal Brass Foundry; a chapter in the history of technology  *****  by Jackson and deBeer.  Anyone interested in the making of cannon needs this book.  Using artwork made by one of the Woolwich Arsenal gunfounders, the book details the steps to making the pattern, the mold, melting and pouring the brass, and boring the gun.  The authors show that the Verbruggens faced false allegations at a Dutch foundry before moving to Woolwich and revolutionizing British gun making there with a horizontal gun boring machine.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide- Britain  ****  During my stay in Britain, I was never without my DK travel guide, which is the best of the lot, as well as a good road atlas.  The book was a great help before the trip helping me prioritize and decide exactly what I wanted to see.  Very well illustrated. 


Seven Years War

A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War  *****  Fred Anderson details recruiting and everyday life in a provincial unit, comparing  it to that of regulars and showing that men's experiences in the war encouraged them to revolt.  Provincial experience in the French and Indian War simplified raising an army for the Revolution and provided officers for the Continental Army.


England in the Seven Years' War, 1759-63  ****   by Julian Corbett.  This excellent two volume set presents the war from a British perspective, giving the whole picture of diplomacy and naval and land warfare, but focusing primarily on the Royal Navy and its importance to England's successful overseas conquests.  Written in part to counter Mahan's focus on the great battles, Corbett shows the contributions of the less glamorous of naval functions, but in an engaging and well written style.


The Bells of Victory : The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years War 1756-62  ****  Richard Middleton convincingly argues in this well written book that the influence of Pitt during the war has been hyped.  Pitt showed no system for winning the war and his descents on the French coast were political expedients to avoid sending troops to Germany.  Pitt was not Prime Minister.  The office did not exist.  Instead he worked as one of two secretaries of state who along with the Treasury made up the ministry.  The book focuses on the politics and administration of the war, and not on the battles and campaigns themselves.  Interestingly, the author shows how historians before the early 1900s were sloppy, and how modern historians often rely on their work without doing their own proper investigation.

The French Armies in the Seven Years' War   ****  By Lee Kennett.  This excellent administrative history shows how not to fight a war.  Battles and campaigns are not covered in any depth as the book focuses on the bloated bureaucracy and the finances of the French army and state.  You have got to read it to believe it.


The French Navy And The Seven Years' War (France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series)  ****  by Jonathan Dull, the author of a widely acclaimed book on French involvement in the American Revolution.  In his well researched new book, Jonathan Dull focuses more on the convoluted diplomacy of the Seven Years War than he does on the French navy.  Dull gives good coverage of the effects of the War of Austrian Succession, and argues that Louis XV did not lack vision.  Expansion into Pennsylvania was defensive, and Louis hoped for success in early peace negotiations but was instead rebuffed by the British.  The British navy is covered almost as well as the French, but the author integrates diplomacy, land and naval warfare into a coherent year by year narrative of the war.  India gets little attention, but the king's private efforts against Russia are, as is the vital importance of the fisheries off the coast of Canada, the retention of which allowed the French navy to rebuild after the war.  Money, the politics of the Parlements, and public opinion in Britain all factor into the story.  Post-war diplomacy is covered, and the effects of the war on the American Revolution are frequently mentioned.  Although it does not match the author's excellent book on the American Revolution, this book is still an excellent addition to the library of anyone who appreciates and enjoys reading about the Seven Years War.

Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763

INSTRUMENT OF WAR : The Austrian Army in the Severn Years War   ****  You might think that since Christopher Duffy has written extensively on Frederick the Great, that his sympathies lie with the Prussians.  As it turns out, the "rock star" of period historians digs Maria Theresa and her white-clad avengers.  So Duffy spent a lot of time in the Austrian military archives to create the most comprehensive view yet of an 18th century army, from the highest levels of government down to the lowest levels of the army.  Finances, recruitment, supply, all the combat arms and their tactics are covered.  With Duffy's enthusiasm and good writing, there are only a few slow places in the book, but lots of good insight and analysis.  Although written specifically about Austria, this book should be of interest to any 18th century military history buff.  A volume two, presumably with campaign and battle accounts from the Austrian perspective, is also in the works.    

Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763  *****  By Stephen Brumwell.  The British soldier of the period is usually viewed as the scum of the earth whose life was worth less than a dog's.  There were such people, but the author shows that there were many good and decent middle class soldiers also.  More importantly he shows that the army was innovative and successfully adapted to wilderness warfare.  The battles at the Monongahela and Ticonderoga were the exception and not the rule.  At the end of the period, the 1763 battle at Bushy Run shows a clear ability to deal with irregulars.


Kolin 1757: Frederick the Great's First Defeat  **** (Osprey Campaign)  Simon Millar makes sense of this complicated and important battle, which has been often neglected.  Coverage of the campaigns leading up to the battle, and after the battle, are well covered, although a map of the battle of Prague would have been useful.  The 3D battle maps were useful, but more battlefield photos would have helped, but the author is able to successfully convey his solid understanding of the battle.  With all the Osprey books, the strict size limitation is annoying, but overall, this is a very good succinct account of the battle. 




PRUSSIA'S GLORY : Rossbach and Leuthen   ****  By Christopher Duffy.  This relatively short book is a well written account of Frederick's greatest and most important successes.  It includes battle accounts as complete as perhaps we can ever hope for, and it is aided by excellent topographical maps and panoramic photos.  The sorry state of the Reichesarmee is detailed, which explains much of Frederick's success at Rossbach.  Although there are typographical errors, the book is a valuable addition to any military history buff's library.     




Zorndorf 1758: Frederick Faces Holy Mother Russia (Campaign, 125)   ****  By Simon Millar.  Zorndorf was a confusing and costly battle which began with one of Frederick's brilliant maneuvers but degenerated into a brutal slugfest.  It is exactly the kind of battle ideally suited to the Osprey Campaign series which uses 2-D and 3-D maps along with battlefield photos to explain the important and the complex.  Millar makes the battle understandable, showing Frederick's intentions and what went wrong.   



The Coward of Minden: The Affair of Lord George Sackville ****1/2  In what is partly a courtroom drama, and partly an excellent account of an important battle, Piers Mackesy shows us that the Coward of Minden, Lord Germain, the allegedly bumbling bureaucrat of the American Revolution, who might be called "the soldier/politician formerly known as George Sackville", wasn't really a coward after all.  Maybe incompetent or lacking aggression, but not a coward.  It ends up that politics and personalities of the time could lead an innocent man to the firing squad - Sackville was lucky.    



Monongahela, 1754-55: Washington's Defeat, Braddock's Disaster (Campaign)   *****  by Rene Chartrand.  Written by a Canadian, this is a balanced look at the opening events of the French and Indian War, which sparked a world war.  Starting with the French move into western Pennsylvania, Chartrand explains the French-Canadian defense strategy and the British-Colonial response.  Washington is sent to take and fortify the forks of the Ohio River, but is pushed out of the forks.  He fires on a French diplomatic mission, the Jumonville affair, and the French and Indians then force him to surrender at Ft. Necessity.  The British respond in part by sending two regiments to America under Braddock.  Braddock's force does no long range scouting and stumbles into an ambush.  On the day of the battle, the French and Indian force lacks good recon and nearly crumbled when it first met Braddock's advance guard, but they rally and move along either side of the enemy column, picking off the enemy from behind trees.  Trying to fight in lines, and with most of its officers hit, the British-Colonial column panics and flees back across the river, with Washington leading the rear guard.  Chartrand gives a good detailed account of the fight, with analysis of the battle and campaign.  One of the many interesting sections is the discussion of the British army wagons, and how they were unsuited to conditions in America.  Battlefield photos are a regular feature of the Osprey Campaign Series, and this one is no different, even showing interesting views of the forks, and the battlefield, which is now a steel factory!    

Ticonderoga 1758: Montcalm's Victory Against All Odds  ***** (Osprey Campaign) Rene Chartrand is a serious researcher and a good writer.  He provides a good view of the campaign as well as the specifics of the famous assault and the earlier fight in which Lord Howe was killed. 

Louisbourg 1758: Wolfe's 1st Siege  ***** (Osprey Campaign) Rene Chartrand shows the amphibious prong of the 1758 British offensive.  Discussing the previous year's attempt on the town, he shows the difficulty of a combined naval-land expedition.  Chartrand covers the whole campaign, from the opposed landing - a rare event in the 18th century - to the capture of French positions across the bay, and finally to the siege itself and the role of the bottled up French naval forces - all are well covered.  His book provides a good understanding of the siege and puts it into the context of the war.  Photos of the reconstructed fortress are especially good. 

Manila Ransomed  ***  Nicholas Tracy tells the story the 1762 British capture of Manila, the city's ransom, and the occupation.  Only about half of the book deals with the capture, a truly unique operation.  The rest of the book gets a little dull and deals with the aftermath, mainly serving to show the rampant and shameless corruption of the times.   


Back to Military History Bookstore

Covering Numerous Other Topics