12/20/15

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century – A Book Review

By: Terresa Monroe-Hamilton

Hubris

Purchase at HarperCollins or Amazon.com

Recently, I read a book that was just full of military history and is fascinating. I think you will thrill to reading this book by Alistair Horne. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1943 at age 17. He couldn’t qualify as a pilot because of his vision, so he managed to land a commission in the Coldstream Guards and fought with them in Europe. After the war he did a stint in the Middle East and was attached to MI5. The book is available in Kindle, Hard Back and on audio. It’s well worth the cost and is a fantastic gift.

Here’s a summary from Amazon on the book:

Sir Alistair Horne has been a close observer of war and history for more than fifty years and in this wise and masterly work, he revisits six battles of the past century and examines the strategies, leadership, preparation, and geopolitical goals of aggressors and defenders to reveal the one trait that links them all: hubris.

In Greek tragedy, hubris is excessive human pride that challenges the gods and ultimately leads to total destruction of the offender. From the 1905 Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War, to Hitler’s 1941 bid to capture Moscow, to MacArthur’s disastrous advance in Korea, to the French downfall at Dien Bien Phu, Horne shows how each of these battles was won or lost due to excessive hubris on one side or the other. In a sweeping narrative written with his trademark erudition and wit, Horne provides a meticulously detailed analysis of the ground maneuvers employed by the opposing armies in each battle. He also explores the strategic and psychological mindset of the military leaders involved to demonstrate how devastating combinations of human ambition and arrogance led to overreach. Making clear the danger of hubris in warfare, his insights hold resonant lessons for civilian and military leaders navigating today’s complex global landscape.

A dramatic, colorful, stylishly-written history, Hubris is a much-needed reflection on war from a master of his field.

I simply love military history and this book far exceeded my expectations. Horne makes a point that sometimes success in war can lead to arrogance, which can lead to very bad things indeed. I don’t agree with every point in the book, but overall, it is an incredible look into past warfare. I will say this though… a certain amount of hubris is needed to win a war at all. Without it, a leader lacks the fortitude to do what must be done. Too much of anything though can lead to a downfall. Such is the drawback of hubris.

The book is painstakingly researched and related through the narrative of an expert storyteller. Horne’s insights into military strategic thinking, his stirring descriptions of battles and his brilliant insights into long-term consequences are all compelling. The book will rivet you and he brings to life the pain and sadness of war along with the exhilaration of victory. Within the pages of this book, you will read about the Japanese, Chinese and Russians and their tactics and strategy in war. It should be required reading for all military personnel. He delves into the mindsets of Stalin and Hitler as well. Hubris can be taken to extremes where a leader views themselves as almost godlike and unbeatable. That leads to the ultimate devastation in war every time. For an amazing review of the book, visit RedState. It is rare that I say read a review, but their’s is very well done.

I would pick up several copies of this book and give it to friends and family. It is a terrific read and the perfect Christmas gift. You can get a copy at HarperCollins or Amazon.com.

Critical Praise

“Eminently provocative and readable. Mr. Horne brilliantly reconstructs this long-forgotten battle [the 1939 Battle of Nomonhan]….It’s as if he has discovered a hidden spring for which mighty rivers of blood were to flow.” — Peter R. Kann, The Wall Street Journal

“…Sir Alistair makes [his case] with erudition and eloquence….This is a book that any political leader contemplating military action should read.” — The Economist

“Stark and compelling… Horne has a flair for wrenching detail…Rather than simply listing statistics, he makes the toll of arrogance and historical amnesia vivid through specific, harrowing stories.” — Boston Globe

“A well written, deeply researched, and persuasively argued book.” — Publishers Weekly

“Students of military tactics and general readers will take pleasure in the new insights into these selected battles expressed by this knowledgeable and accessible writer.” — Library Journal

“For more than half a century, Alistair Horne has written important books about the relationship between strategy, diplomacy, and statecraft. His latest volume continues that extraordinary effort. Herein he has brilliantly analyzed six battles of the twentieth century whose dimensions changed the course of history.” —Henry Kissinger, author of World Order and On China

“I can think of no one better to tackle the daunting subject of hubris and the punishments that so often follow than Alistair Horne. He brings the necessary wisdom, vast knowledge of the past, and understanding of human nature to show the effects of hubris in modern warfare.” — Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace and Paris 1919

“Like a good Bordeaux, and unlike a good mathematician, a good historian improves with age. This is Alistair Horne’s twenty-fifth book, and it is filled with the insights that can only come from a lifetime of studying war.” — Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and author of The Pity of War and The War of the World