Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present

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9780684844077: Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present

In an elegantly illustrated volume, a noted historian reveals culture, society and history through the saga of war and its implements. Mankind's history has been determined by war. And throughout history, the way that wars are won and lost, and whether they are fought at all, has been determined more by weapons than any other single force. Before there was man, there were weapons. In his investigation of arms and culture, noted military historian Robert O'Connell goes all the way back to the first weapons: the claws, horns, and hooves of our evolutionary antecedents. Even then, a species' weaponry determined its future. So it has been for the human animal. From the ancient Assyrians' conquest of bronze, to the Toledo steel of the Spanish conquistadors, to the MIRV missiles of nuclear deterrence, the great weapons have set their own agendas. They continue to shape our culture and our lives today. THE SOUL OF THE SWORD gives world history from a club, gun, or aircraft carrier's perspective. Along the way, sidebars and drawings from premiere military illustrator John Batchelor illuminate the weapons themselves. In this fascinating book O'Connell unearths the extraordinary weapons of our past, and explains our most basic weapons as never before. Our killing tools are much more than fearsome curiosities; they are the engines of history.

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About the Author:

Robert L. O'Connell is a novelist, military historian and contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. He is also a senior intelligence analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Centre in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he lives.

Review:

This highly readable, impeccably researched, well-balanced book is a prime example of what an informed, imaginative author can do with a well-worn subject. Do we really need another illustrated history of weaponry? I would have said no--until I encountered Robert O'Connell's superb book (with well-done illustrations by John Batchelor). O'Connell is something of a renaissance man, a respected defense analyst, a historian, a critically praised novelist...and perhaps that's the key to this book's humaneness, despite the subject. O'Connell never forgets that even the most unusual or most effective weapons are wielded by human beings, against human beings. This isn't simply a book about the machinery of war. It is about devices created by human beings for ferocious human purposes. Laced with anecdotes as entertaining as they are illuminating, this book has equal value for old-hand military historians and interested novices. A fine gift, too, for the "family warrior," military veteran or just that splenetic armchair general who needs to be placated at Christmas (so the rest of us can get on with our celebrations). This is in no way intended as a condescending remark--on the contrary, it is a mark of the author's great skill and talent that he has produced such a handsome book, and one as interesting to a four-star general as to a general reader. Extremely well done, and highly recommended. Also, because of its lucid style, this book would be suitable for a wide range of age groups, from bright teenagers to cranky old professors. First-rate and flawless. --By Ralph H. Peters

This is a big, sweeping treatment which integrates advances in weapons and warfare with their political and socioeconomic interactions and ramifications on the scale of world history. And it is brilliantly conceptualized: walled cities become necessary when militant shepherds learned to ride; walled cities, European countries for two hundred years after 1648, and the nations of the world after WWII needed only limited war to maintain the balance of power between them; dictatorships had to tear down city walls and employ mercenaries to control their subjects; small family-owned farms in Greece could produce hoplite phalanxes which were lethal to cavalry and ideal for weekend soldiers, but vulnerable to the Roman short sword; naval warfare appeared on a massive scale with the Phoenician introduction of the triple-levelled galley; guns were manufactured on a massive scale only when they came to need little training to use and less marching because of the construction of railroads; and so on. The story is amazingly detailed and full of fascinating examples: France was able to end the Hundred Years War by liberating seventy castles in little more than a year by the introduction of siege guns; wage inflation in the 16th century forced navies to man their galleys with slaves and prisoners; in 1592 the invading Japanese were defeated by the Korean navy with ships with gun-ports and armored with metal plates. I marvel at O'Connell's masterful grasp of the subject. --By David Lee -

A well-written, comprehensive history of weapons and warfare, from prehistory (think rocks and sticks) through the collapse of the Soviet Union. The breadth of this book is impressive -- I recommend it for anyone who's interested in getting an overview of the topic. A pervasive theme throughout the book is that all species, including homo sapiens, differ in how they perform intra-species violence compared to how they hunt/kill other species. Time and again O'Connell points out how "showy" weapons, that are big and loud, are preferred over more effective but less impressive weapons. Think about deer with large racks of antlers that overawe their opponents without even having to fight them. Now compare that to battleships, which are quite impressive but haven't been all that effective in the real world, versus submarines which are silent killing machines. The author also shows how quite a bit of historical warfare did not have killing the enemy as its primary purpose, but was instead intended to display a warrior's impressiveness or even just to capture opposing fighters so they could later be sacrificed. This latter purpose is part of the reason that the Aztec weaponry was so inferior to that of the Spaniards. There are, of course, exceptions to O'Connell's thesis. But it's surprising just how many wars, battles, and military codes of conduct (think chivalry) back it up. And the intra-species aspect is also demonstrated--the British, for example, used dum-dum bullets against Third World natives because they weren't considered "human." When confronting "civilized" people, however, they used less deadly bullets. Another interesting thesis is that the nomads of the Central Asian steppes were a driving factor behind an explosion of weapons and warfare technology in both Europe and Eastern Asia. This, in part at least, led to the European advantage in weaponry over the natives of North and South America, who had no such driving force. The book essentially ends with World War II. O'Connell devotes an entire chapter to the Cold War, through the fall of the Soviet Union, but it's written in a different manner than the rest of the book. The Vietnam War, for instance, gets a single paragraph, and the Korean War is only mentioned in passing, if at all. O'Connell does a good job, however, of showing how nuclear weapons have changed everything. All out war is now unthinkable, and he even goes so far as to suggest that war is now in its "death throes." Written shortly after 9/11, he says that only the "truly evil and self-defeating" wage war enthusiastically. I disagree. We will always have a supply of people and nations who fit that bill. Perhaps the two things I would have liked the author to cover in more detail are the modern limited warfare (think Iraq) and wars by proxy (think Vietnam). He briefly mentions the proxy wars in the chapter about the Cold War, but doesn't really cover the topic very well. --By Chad Cloman

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Robert O'Connell
Editore: Free Press (2002)
ISBN 10: 0684844079 ISBN 13: 9780684844077
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