Random thoughts on old books

There is a strange feeling that I get after reading some classic works on military history. Many old authors are primarily important for historiography (history of the history, which is funny when you think about its ultimate utility), but there are still mysteries left on time-worn pages.
Sometimes in books of Delbruck, Oman, Taylor or Denison I stumble upon an interesting detail that seems plausible, but there are no footnotes or other directions for primary source of that detail. Where does it come from? A mystery.
We have to assume that Oman and Taylor were careful in their studies and most probably had some reason to insert that detail. Their reputation is solid, though works stand corrected. But it is a mauvais ton to quote Oman instead of primary source, so these details have to be left where they are, until we find their source.

However, I have to say to the old historians that omitting proper footnotes and bibliography was very uncourteous. Why, oh why…

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Armies on the move

The first sign of amateurish book about Early Modern warfare is its focus on battles instead of more important aspects of campaigns. (Second sign is an opinion about non-existence of consistent, fast and mobile strategy in that period).

A lot was written to challenge notions of primitive campaigns in last two decades. Here is a perfect example (footnotes omitted) from an excellent book War in England 1642-1649 by Barbara Donagan (hardcover 2008, paperback and kindle 2010):

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Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700 by Lauro Martines


I couldn’t miss this new book on early modern wars. Author’s backlog was respectable enough to make me first-day-buyer (I heartily recommend his April’s Blood book about plot against Medicis). I have already finished it by now and here is a brief note (I do not consider myself competent enough for a detailed review).

The book is interesting and well written. The author had put some real emotions into the text, but kept it moderate, so the book is far from dry but is not too irksome in pushing of moral appraisals. However, I am subjective here, because I share most of author’s thought on state, war and their effect on society.
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Mercenaries’ honour

“Why throughout history certain individuals were chosen, or most often recruited, to become a soldier, and why they should want to do fight for someone whom most had never met or knew little about is among the most difficult questions facing military historians of any period”. (Kelly DeVries. Medieval Mercenaries: Methodology, Definitions, and Problems.)

My smartest readers may have already guessed that I pay special attention to mercenaries in my history readings. Therefore I couldn’t agree more with the quote above. It’s not an easy question, yes. However, difficult things are often also the most interesting ones.

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A post about history posts

A new year has began and random thoughts about history blogs start to boil inside my head. There are many different paths to follow, but which of them are reasonable if we consider restrictions and benefits of blogs?
For example, there can be such types of posts as:
reviews of new or classical books and articles;
remarkable quotations from books and articles;
brief summaries of books and articles;
discussion of some narrow issues;
results of own research based on primary and secondary sources (i.e. normal articles);
own but derivative articles, i.e. based only on secondary works, a mix of summary and review.

I am sure that you, my dear readers, can easily name many other types of history posts. I will also be grateful for thoughts about types of posts that you deem the most interesting.

Personally, I feel that posts about your own articles are the least specific, because posting full text or link to own article is little different from “news” section on a personal web-site. Benefits of blogs come into being if it is an invitation to a discussion, but in that case a link to your own article is little different from a link to an article of some other author. Also, good research takes a lot of time, so such posts are rare.

However, I think that more important issue is that all types of posts fall into one of two categories: you can write for those who know history as good as you, or you can write for a wider audience. Mixing that in a single post often may displease both types of readers. Therefore history posts in general tend to be either for discussion or for education.

But are blogs really suitable for a good discussion? A proper discussion requires sources of one’s opinions while finding sources and rethinking them often takes much time.

So, the more I think about it the more puzzled I become. Honestly, I don’t really know what is the best path to go for a history blog.

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A list of my favourite books on Early Modern Wars

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written to this blog. Empires rose and fell, students graduated, The Trans-Siberian reached the ocean and went back hundred times while my legal roads still kept me far from my spare-time hobbies, history included. But as I see new readers here, I feel obliged to break the silence.

However, before writing something substantial I’d like to pay tribute to great works that inspire me to study Early Modern warfare. I have read enough of this genre to pave a decent square with, but here are the books I cherish most. The order is simply the order in which I remembered them.

1. J. R. Hale. War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450-1620 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).
This is the oldest book in the list but not obsolete. I can’t remember any new theory that was introduced by this book because for me it is mostly a collection of interesting facts. You can start reading from any page but it is very hard to stop. For someone who is acquainted only with books about battles and campaigns Hale would be a revelation because he touched so many other facets of war: logistics, food, civilian troubles, noble ideals, finances, discipline, etc. Today we see that few authors dare to omit such issues of warfare. It is to Hale among some other historians that we owe this widened gaze upon armed conflicts.
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Entrepreneurs and Early Modern warfare: an overview

In my subjective opinion military entrepreneurs are one of the most interesting aspects of Early Modern warfare. They certainly constitute a major topic that is impossible to cover in one article. Hence I plan to illuminate some facets of their notorious craft in my future post.

But right now I’d like to give you a starting point by citing a brief (but very accurate in wording) overview of the military entrepreneurship that successfully avoids several old misunderstandings of that phenomenon. For example, it is a common simplistic approach to think that military entrepreneurs flourished only for some decades before and during the Thirty Years’ War and vanished afterwards. In fact they were common enough in Late Middle Ages and even in Eighteenth century, although in somewhat different forms.

The following quote is taken from: Frank Tallett and D. J. B. Trim. ‘Then was then and now is now’: an overview of change and continuity in late-medieval and early-modern warfare. // European Warfare, 1350–1750. Ed. by Tallett and Trim. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Continue reading

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