Stories about war are some of the oldest stories told--used to entertain, to glorify, to lament, to educate. An Instinct for War utilizes myriad tales of war to offer a remarkable look at one of humanity's oldest plagues. Roger Spiller excavates the essence of war and its evolution through the words and thoughts of those who led--and those who were led--into battle, moving from the perspective of an ancient Chinese emperor to Napoleon's command, from a Civil War soldier's final days to the particularities of today's small wars throughout the globe.
Spiller combines a mastery of the primary sources with a vibrant historical imagination to locate a dozen turning points in the world's history of warfare that altered our understanding of war and its pursuit. We are conducted through profound moments by the voices of those who witnessed them and are given a graphic understanding of war, the devastating choices, the means by which battles are won and lost, and the enormous price exacted. Spiller's attention to the sights and sounds of battle enables us to feel the sting and menace of past violent conflicts as if they were today's.
A bold departure from standard military history, An Instinct for War will challenge our understanding of how war forever alters the landscape--both human and geographic--and how individuals can alter the nature of battle. This collective portrait of the life of war offers unparalleled insight into our struggle for mastery over a fundamental instinct.
Roger Spiller is the least conventional of historians. For years, he has laboured on a book on the nature of war, and he has cast it in fictional form… This thought-provoking book represents an infusion of a lifetime’s reading and thought about war, and renders the dimensions of conflict comprehensible to all. This is an achievement rare among historians, and Roger Spiller must now be reckoned among the notable writers about war.
Imagine a military historian who can travel in time to past and future wars. That’s what Roger Spiller, who taught at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, does in his imaginative collection of 13 short stories. They stretch from ancient China to a 21st-century war ‘so terrible it was beyond naming.’ …His mostly first-person stories deal with Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs, what Civil War Gen. George McClellan tried to borrow from Napoleon and an investigation of a Japanese general after World War II. Spiller’s stories can be read as parables. They neither celebrate nor condemn war but raise fundamental questions faced by soldiers and civilians.
An Instinct for War is a brilliantly unorthodox piece of work. Roger Spiller, now George C. Marshall Professor, Emeritus, of Military History at the U.S. Army Command General Staff College, has written a strange, brave, and absolutely fascinating book… Spiller’s fictions are always in the service of ideas. They dramatize aspects of the experience of war and of strategic thought over two and a half millennia, so they are fictions in the sense that Platonic dialogues are fictions… All these stories are powerful, most of them are disturbing, and each contains lessons that can be subtle, multiple, and contradictory, as so many of war’s lessons are… Along the way Spiller displays great learning, always lightly worn; great moral seriousness, never ponderously displayed; and literary flair. This is a remarkable book, initially disconcerting and eventually enthralling.
In a graceful feat of imagination and trenchant analysis, Spiller presents 13 mostly first-person parables, meditations on moments when the ‘nature and conduct of war’ changed significantly. His narrators, invented almost from whole cloth or reconstructed from notable figures, reflect on the craft and meaning of war in settings ranging from Han China to a future North America… These inventive vignettes encompass a broad sweep of history and military thought.
With An Instinct for War, Roger Spiller takes his place alongside John Keegan and Paul Fussell, those who are able to penetrate the armor of war itself and get at its horrible, vivifying, excruciating heart. The truths that accumulate here in this book are like the layers of a pearl, born in friction, imperceptibly accrued at first, but ultimately exquisitely valuable.
An Instinct For War is a book of war stories like no other I’ve read—a cultural history of the world’s war-making, from ancient China and Greece to the Apocalypse that’s just ahead of us. Spiller’s skills include ventriloquism: he makes every war speak in a voice of its own, sometimes historical, sometimes not. His book is a tour de force that will engage every student of war, as it did me.
Spiller’s knowledge of warfare is global in every sense of the word, spanning the earth and stretching from earliest recorded history to the present. This is military history at its very best.
Roger Spiller has written a remarkable book—a fusion of learning, reflection, and imagination—that will engage readers for whom the subject of war is too important to be left to either military historians or public officials.
- 416 pages
- 1-1/8 x 5-1/4 x 8 inches
- Belknap Press
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