Cover: Presidents and Their Generals: An American History of Command in War, from Harvard University PressCover: Presidents and Their Generals in HARDCOVER

Presidents and Their Generals

An American History of Command in War

Product Details


Print on Demand

$48.00 • £41.95 • €43.95

ISBN 9780674058149

Publication Date: 11/05/2014

Academic Trade

456 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 halftone

Belknap Press


Add to Cart

Educators: Request an Exam Copy (Learn more)

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

A masterful analysis of the evolution of the American system of military command, in which exists a remarkable cloistering between the military men and the political apparatus that delivers them their orders, and the ways in which that system has so successfully maintained itself… This book is an incredible work of American history, blending as it does military and political histories while simultaneously addressing a will to power that is as American as it was Roman… This indispensable work contains within it a picture of America that expands beyond its subject matter.—Nicholas Mancusi, Daily Beast

In a country as disposed to war as the United States has been, the relationship between the commander in chief and his admirals and generals is as critical as that between the president and Congress. Just how critical that relationship may be is the theme of this book, the first full-length history of its subject. It should be required reading in the White House, the Pentagon, and Foggy Bottom—in this, and every succeeding administration. The history it relates is sobering. Matthew Moten is the kind of authority you’d want for a guide through the subject: As the former head of West Point’s history department, an Iraq war veteran, and a former legislative aide to the Army chief of staff, he has the broad field and staff experience essential for understanding political-military relations in their many forms—and from inside. He’s thorough, disenthralled, critical, and balanced in his judgments. No one can dismiss what he writes… Presidents and Their Generals makes a signal contribution to the historical knowledge of its subject over the long sweep of our nation’s history.—James M. Banner, Jr., Weekly Standard

In Presidents and Their Generals, Matthew Moten sets out to provide an episodic history of what he calls American ‘political–military relations,’ by which he means the relationship between military leaders and their civilian overseers. He succeeds admirably, jumping from the Revolution through the War of 1812 to the Civil War, the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the 1991 Gulf War, and the Iraq war. This book is well done: Well considered, well structured, and well written. Moten, a former head of West Point’s history department, is a clear and pleasant writer, with an assured style. He favors making bold statements and then backing them up with persuasive analyses… Moten is sophisticated in his political analysis in a way that academics sometimes are not… The most surprising thing about this book may be that no one seems to have written one like it until now. Moten has stepped up and filled the gap impressively.—Thomas E. Ricks, Journal of Military History

This highly readable book, impressive in scope, is a major contribution to understanding the important yet often-shifting dynamics of civil-military relations in the U.S.—past, present, and future.—W. A. Taylor, Choice

[Moten] traces the long struggle of presidents to assert their power over recalcitrant generals… Moten beautifully exposes the battles and the alliances between men controlling the country’s future… The author explains the workings of war, the effects and dangers of standing armies, and the growth of the president’s Cabinet-level military advisers… The author’s opinions are precise and witty and based on comprehensive knowledge of his subject, as he clearly demonstrates how wars are lost by the arrogant and/or incompetent. A brilliant, fascinating picture of how wars badly begun and poorly run can affect an entire country—usually at the hands of just a few men.Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Filled with shrewd insights and wise judgments, this remarkable book by one of the country’s leading soldier-scholars demonstrates that the lack of harmony and trust between civilian and military at the top of government has cost the nation dearly, both in the distant and recent past. Every president and senior military officer should ponder this history. So, too, should every citizen who cares about national security.—Richard H. Kohn, Professor Emeritus of History, University of North Carolina, and former Chief of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force

A new and welcome exploration of the often fraught interactions between political and military authority in the United States from the Revolution to the present. Moten makes clear that all was not orderly in the councils of national defense during the last two centuries, and that they are likely to grow even more contentious in the future.—Roger J. Spiller, author of In the School of War

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, by Peter Wilson, from Harvard University Press

A Lesson in German Military History with Peter Wilson

In his landmark book Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, acclaimed historian Peter H. Wilson offers a masterful reappraisal of German militarism and warfighting over the last five centuries, leading to the rise of Prussia and the world wars. Below, Wilson answers our questions about this complex history,