The Book of War by Dwight Zimmerman

Click on cover image to purchase a copy

Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

Author Dwight Jon Zimmerman's book is a fat, colorful look at the history of civilization seen through the prism of war.  It consists of a series of 1-3 page vignettes describing the why and how of particular battles, the people involved -- and the impact of evolving technology.  Squeezed down into smaller bites and far more focused, The Book of War is reminiscent of an amusing 70s British Television series called CONNECTIONS.
Clever in concept, The Book of War is part coffee-table chic/part academic history.  It's the kind of work that informs while entertaining.  It can be devoured like lunch or nibbled like a late night snack.  Because the language is simple and the content broad, there's literally something for everyone. Students might mark the slick pages with paperclips and sticky notes in preparation for exams and term papers.  Researchers might peruse the Table of Contents for tidbits on the history of weapons or for that little-known detail about the Suez Crisis.  Novelists might pick it up to search for small anecdotes about Hannibal and his elephants or Patton and his tanks.  And then there are those of us who sit cross-legged on our sofas with specs on our noses licking our thumbs and turning pages with the fascination of true bibliophiles reading for joy of it.
The Book of War is a gorgeous example of how design and color can enhance good solid writing.  Although chunky, the book fits the hand easily and the print, while small, is easy on the eye.  The handsome red and gold cover implies quality and the three small images of Napoleon, Robert E. Lee, and Dwight D. Eisenhower imply range.  You always know where you are in the long continuum of time by the watermarked year in the left margin as each new chapter begins. The illustrations include photos of ancient statuary, battlefield paintings, and photography.  It must have been an expensive book to produce and even though it is a perfect bound trade publication, it is sturdy enough to grace the shelves of personal, public and university libraries.
The research represented by this book is stunning.  Author Zimmerman does not limit himself to one country, one era, or one culture.  His topics include battles like Kadesh, Nagashino, Yorktown, Gettysburg, Gallipoli, Inchon, and 73 Easting.  He covers sieges like Carthage, Masada, Fort Sumter, and Khartoom.  He describes warriors like Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Horatio Nelson, Hap Arnold, and Moshe Dayan.  He discusses tools like chariots, swords, bows, and torpedoes.    He comments on the roles of maps, radios, and global positioning systems.  The sheer volume of information is overwhelming.
The Book of War is a great tool for authors, journalists, teachers, and armchair military historians.  It's well-indexed and foot-noted making it easy to use.  As the author states in his introduction, -- each stage in a civilization's cycle -- birth, growth, decline, and replacement by another society "includes war," and as such, this book is also useful for philosophers, politicians, and generals. 

Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2009)

Author's Synopsis

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: Throughout human history, violent conflict has been a fact of life. To know the history of war is to know human history. The Book of War recounts landmark battles that shaped civilizations from 1274 B.C. up to the present day. Organized chronologically, this fascinating survey details pivotal military events from early empires through to modern warfare. It also reveals their immediate impact and importance to history. Each entry spans two pages, with concise text and stunning images for each battle. Interspersed throughout the book are essays on innovations, strategies, or leaders that have changed the way war has been waged.