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The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost

Cathal J. Nolan



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Oxford University Press
15 March 2019
History; Military history; Defence strategy, planning & research
History has tended to measure war's winners and losers in terms of its major engagements, battles in which the result was so clear-cut that they could be considered decisive. Marathon, Cannae, Tours, Agincourt, Austerlitz, Sedan, Stalingrad--all resonate in the literature of war and in our imaginations as tide-turning. But were they? As Cathal J. Nolan demonstrates in this magisterial and sweeping work, victory in major wars usually has been determined in other ways. Even the most legendarily lopsided of battles did not necessarily decide their outcomes. Nolan also challenges the hoary concept of the military genius, even of the Great Captains--from Alexander to Frederick and Napoleon--mapping instead the decent into total war.

The Allure of Battle systematically recreates and analyzes the major campaigns among the Great Powers, from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, from the fall of Byzantium to the defeat of the Axis powers, tracing the illusion of short-war thinking, the hope that victory might be swift and conflict brief. Such as almost never been the case. Even one-sided battles have mainly contributed to victory or defeat by accelerating erosion of the other side's defenses, resources, and will.

Massive conflicts, the so-called people's wars, beginning with Napoleon and continuing until the end of World War II, have been more fundamentally determined by prolonged stalemate and attrition, wars in which the determining factor was not tactical but industrial.

Nolan's masterful book places battles squarely and mercilessly within the context of the wider conflict in which they took place. In the process it help corrects a distorted view of their role in war, replacing popular images of decisive battles with somber appreciation of the sacrifice and endurance necessary to victory. Accessible, provocative, exhaustive, and illuminating, The Allure of Battle will spark fresh debate about the history and conduct of warfare.
By:   Cathal J. Nolan
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 210mm,  Width: 141mm,  Spine: 40mm
Weight:   848g
ISBN:   9780190931513
ISBN 10:   0190931515
Pages:   728
Publication Date:   15 March 2019
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Cathal J. Nolan is Associate Professor of History and Executive Director of the International History Institute at Boston University. In addition to editing six books on international history, Nolan is the author of Principled Diplomacy: Security and Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy and Wars of the Age of Louis XIV. He is also the sole author of several multi-volume encyclopedias on military and international history.

Reviews for The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost

This is one of the most valuable military histories in years. A must-read for students of military history. - Kirkus Reviews (Starred review) In a sweeping narrative that ranges from the Middle Ages through World War II, Cathal Nolan dismantles an illusion that has persistently distorted our understanding of armed conflict - that of the decisive battle engineered by the genius general. But the importance of this brilliantly provocative book is not merely historical. Its conclusions apply directly to war and military policy in the present day. - Andrew J. Bacevich, author of America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History Why do so many generals overpromise and under-deliver, from Breitenfeld to Basra? We buy the hype because we want quick results at low cost. Yet the blood-sodden reality is almost always quite different. In seeking the Allure of Battle, Cathal Nolan draws on the broad sweep on Western military history. He explains what went wrong, and why, with wit, insight, and a knowing eye for the heroes and cads who made it so. Battles rarely deliver convincing results. But Cathal Nolan sure does. - Daniel P. Bolger, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Retired, author of Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars A lyrical, sweeping, and fast-paced return to grand military history with the important proviso that the allure of battle has constantly misled generals, politicians and historians to mistake rousing tactical victories for long-term and enduring strategic gains. In exacting detail, Cathal Nolan pushes myopia aside and the result is a trenchant reappraisal of decisive battles in Western warfare. - Michael L. Gross, The School of Political Science, University of Haifa, the author of Moral Dilemmas of Modern War and The Ethics of Insurgency One of the most stimulating and controversial books on military history in a long time. Challenging, well written, well-sourced ... there is a great deal of food for thought for military historians and professionals in this volume. New York Journal of Books The Allure of Battle is highly recommended to serious students of war, especially senior officers who must balance the planning of wars with the material resources needed to execute them. - Dr. Frank Hoffman, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies Nolan does not merely write from the point of view of the commander. He recreates the atmosphere of battle, the valor and misery of common soldiers and bystanders caught in the tempest of war. His masterful writing and attention to detail, combined with a rare ability to write succinctly and never lose the larger picture, will fascinate historians and general readers alike. - Danny Orbach, Hebrew University of Jerusalem This is a book that military planners and general/flag officers should read, and it should be required reading for anyone assigned to the National Security Council. Most military professionals like to think of themselves as maneuver warriors; this book shows the dark side of maneuver warfare. - Gary Anderson, Elliott School of International Affairs The Allure of Battle provides new and fresh insights into war studies and offers several new and fresh perspectives to look at military history...This is a very well-researched book. Nolan's credentials on the subject are unmatched. It will change the way you have looked at military history up until now. It is a must-read for both students and experts of military history --The Washington Book Review The Allure of Battle is written with impressive energy and verve. --Daily Beast Nolan's meticulous contribution remains unmatched as it provides an in-depth survey picking up the right threads and nuances of history and relating it to contemporary events. --Academic Council on the United Nations System

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