Monday, September 17, 2012

Five notable books on the history of war

Jeremy Black is Professor of History at the University of Exeter, UK. He is an authority on early modern British and continental European history, with special interest in international relations, military history, the press, and historical atlases.

Black discussed five top books on the history of war with Daisy Banks at The Browser, including:
The Asian Military Revolution
by Peter A Lorge

Tell me about your first book, The Asian Military Revolution: From Gunpowder to the Bomb by Peter Lorge.

This is a new book that I think is really important, especially as we are in a new millennium and also need to be thinking about a history that makes sense in terms of where the majority of the world’s population live. We need to think about a history that makes sense, in particular, in terms of looking at the relationship between East and South Asia on the one hand and the West on the other, in which it is not simply the case that the West are making the advances in terms of technology and in terms of interpretative analysis.

And what I think is very impressive about Lorge, who is an expert on China, is not just that he argues the importance of what goes on in East and South Asia and does so in a clear and concise fashion. But also that he takes the pretty established analytical concept of the military revolution and takes it out of the hands of the West, where it is located, and says, ‘Actually, no. The military revolution is an Asian one and the West borrowed it and copied it.’ I think that is intellectually very interesting. You don’t have to agree with every detail, and obviously in a book which is as concise as his, there are areas which could have been and should have been expanded on.

But I think the intellectual range is impressive and I am a firm believer that books are most valuable when they challenge the way that you think: so they take the established account, stand it on its head and see what happens. It is interesting that Lorge is an American and that kind of broad synoptic study is very much lacking in the British intellectual tradition at the present moment.

Why do you think that is?

I think we have the suffocating grasp of Oxford and Cambridge, both of which I have to say I have been to. But, I am afraid to say, in general there is a lack of engagement with broad themes. There is too much specialisation which leads to what I think of as telephone kiosk history, or writing in which you can fit everyone in the world interested in the subject into a telephone kiosk.

Although these specialists are often very good in their field they are not using the opportunity to say there are 61 million people in Britain, there’s an Anglo sphere of hundreds of millions, there is a world population of billions – what can we actually say that is valuable and useful to a wider constituency? I think a lot of academics are lacking a sense of public awareness in that respect, which I find deeply disturbing.
Read about another book Black tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue