Sunday, April 22, 2012

Expanding Your Warfare Library

I'm pleased to announce, or re announce, several books dedicated to a military study of The Book of Mormon. If you like this blog you should enjoy these books:

Warfare in The Book of Mormon:

This is a classic text from over 20 years ago. As with many collected volumes from FARMS, it is a who's who of writers from the Mormon community. The articles by Brent Merrill on Nephite captains and Hugh Nibley's Clausewitz piece inspired two of my chapters. This is available for free at the Maxwell institute, which certainly beats the 40.00-300.00 dollar prices on Amazon.

Wars and Rumors of War: Understanding Mormon's Metaphor:

Written by Brian Steed, a former military officer, this book is actually an abridged version of a much longer tome. I had the honor of an advance review of the book. He admits that much of his material is educated guessing, but his guesses are the result of more thought than many that I've seen. The book is 24.95 for the paperback version and I haven't seen any critical feedback or indications of the traction it has received in the wider community.

The Nephite Art of War:

This is by John Kammeyer. Again, I had the honor of an advanced copy of the book. (Having the only blog on the subject certainly delivers special benefits.) The book has a great discussion of political science and Old World connections. It is 5.99 on Ebook.

All the Arts of War: Ancient Warfare and Modern Lessons from The Book of Mormon:

I hope you save room in your library for my book. I was saving this for another post but I'm in discussion with a publisher and recommend edits for my manuscript should arrive any day. (I would name the publisher but I haven't signed an agreement and don't know the protocol.) The table of contents, so far, largely remains the same. And I haven't reached the cover art or price phase. I generally write in a terse style and wanted my book to be affordable, that is, less than 20.00 dollars and hopefully in the 15.00 dollar range. I wrote a short enough book to reach that goal, but I don't know a great deal about publishing so I will likely defer to the editors. If you enjoy book reviews and have a faithful following I hope you would consider reviewing this book for your blog or other outlet.

Now every parent thinks their child is the cutest. With that disclaimer in mind every historian has to justify the reason for his or her research. Thus, I think my book offers several advantages. Since I've read the other three I know that mine offers unique topics. I discuss a pertinent political topic in pre-emptive war. I have a strong background in Chinese military history and military theory which are reflected in the book.

I am also the only academically trained military historian. (Both authors have several degrees but they are in other fields.) This increases the methodological control of my comparisons. It helps me identify gaps in the field and how my book fills them.  It reinforces the need to have a superior grasp of pertinent secondary literature in Book of Mormon studies. A short time ago I discussed the concept of an insurgent medium. The two most recent books are self published and mine is going through a publisher. It doesn't mean that self published books are junk, but I think an editor and a respected press make a critical difference in increasing quality of my book and the traction it will receive in the academic and wider community.

Stay tuned for more updates and thanks for reading.

Update 4/28: I went to Deseret Book today and found Defenders of the Faith. The book is from an Iraq War Veteran. He is not a military historian and focuses a bit more on the personal and devotional aspects of the scriptures. It is 17.99 and from Cedar Fort Books. After reading it I still believe I have the advantages I described above.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: Genghis Khan's Greatest General

Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant
Oklahoma University Press, 2006.
By Richard Gabriel
19.95 paperback, ISBN: 978086137346

Richard Gabriel’s new book, Genghis Khan’s Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant, seeks to provide the first book length biography of this figure from military history, and argued that Subotai was one of the greatest generals in military history.(xi) Gabriel succeeded much more with the first goal than the second.

The book contained eight chapters. The first two chapters explained the background surrounding Subotai’s and the Mongol’s rise to a world power and their military organization and tactics. This contained many of the book’s most positive and negative points. It relied upon several primary sources such as The Secret History of the Mongols, and The Story of the Mongols Whom we call the Tartars. It is excellent to see the author use primary sources but as far this reader can tell,[1] these are the only two which he used. The first two chapters do present an approachable introductory history of the Mongol nation and a good military description of their organization and tactics. This recommended the book towards enthusiasts and undergraduates. The relatively brisk pace underscored this as well.

Chapters three through six described the campaigns of the Mongols in Northern China, Iran, the Caucasus, Russian steppe, and Eastern Europe. Gabriel’s campaign history only lightly covered China. It showed unfamiliarity with the primary and some recent secondary sources that illuminate this period. Sinologists, in particular, follow the history of the Southern Song Dynasty and not the short lived Jin Dynasty in the north. But Gabriel followed the latter as the “Chinese” dynasty in this period. Peter Lorge produced an excellent volume that explained the complicated political and military history of this period.[2] Until Subotai’s campaign in Eastern Europe the campaign narrative often lost site of the general. The lack of emphasis reflected the relative paucity of primary material; yet much of the author’s campaign history lacked inferences, analysis, or even mentions of Subotai and his actions but instead became a general history of Mongol campaigns.

His concluding chapters contained the legacy of the Mongols in military theory and a summary of lessons learned. These sections represented the most vivid example of the chicken nugget approach. This used modern Army nomenclature, Napoleonic terms, German words, and modern terms interchangeably throughout the book. Some people may enjoy the liberal sprinkling of terms from a variety of eras, I find it distracting. Many of the terms are not precisely interchangeable with the activities of Subotai or carried unneeded connotations or associations. So the chicken nugget method seemed analytically imprecise at best. The last section formed a concentrated list of examples of military strategy. None of them are explicated in a great deal. So the list remained intriguing but this reader wished the campaigned narratives would have highlighted and called attention to these lessons learned throughout the book instead of concentrating them at the end.

The book also faltered on a methodological point. Ancient historians to modern scholars to history websites debate the role of a “great general.”  So Gabriel’s attempts to prove that Subotai was a great general faltered without strict criteria defining “great.” It seemed Gabriel used “great” to mean battlefield victory and the logistical ability to move armies and conduct campaigns. Clausewitz defined it with a combination of physical strength, courage, and mental ability. Ancient historians dictated based on the extent of their conquests and cultural legacy. Modern enthusiasts based it largely upon popularity. With all these methods of grading it is difficult to say if Gabriel supported his thesis.

Taking away those exceptions, the book still contained many strengths. The narrative is short. After reading many long winded narratives this reader appreciated that a great deal. Considering how the student of Mongol history is left with few assessable texts this is also important. The secondary sources are solid and easily referenced at the end. The maps of the Mongol campaigns helped out a great deal. This is the only book length narrative on this important Mongol general and presented an easy to follow narrative of his campaigns. Despite the above flaws the book achieves its goal of in presenting Subotai to the general reader. The thesis statement is not completely supported due to the author’s failure to provide strict methodological controls, but still displayed the impressive victories of Subotai the valiant.

1. The author does not include an extensive bibliography but simply a “further reading” section.
2. Peter Lorge, War Politics and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795 (New York: Routledge Press, 2005).