The Lessons of History


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Michael Howard

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“The vital questions which confront not only students of war but all concerned with peace and security are, why wars happen; how, if necessary, they should be fought; and above all how they can be prevented…An understanding [of these issues] is impossible without some insight into the way in which societies have developed in the past and with them their cultures and their value systems.”—Michael Howard


This important book by one of the most eminent military historians in the world discusses the processes of historical change that spawned the European wars of the twentieth century. In a series of elegantly written essays, Michael Howard ponders the continuing significance of nationalism and its relationship to the growth of industrial societies, modernization, and war. He explores the conflicting ideologies that arose from industrialism, tracing the development of new political organisms and attitudes as mass communications and universal education raised and transformed the level of political consciousness throughout the world.


Howard argues that, although industrialization may tend to reduce belligerence by producing societies dedicated to material welfare rather than heroic achievement, organized violence remains a norm. In an introduction, he links these themes with the emergence of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet sphere, with the difficulties experienced by Third World countries in creating viable political and economic communities, and with a Western bloc in which social tensions continue to increase.

"Professional historians, as well as the educated public, can profit by reading these elegantly crafted pieces."—Edmund S. Wehrle, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"Fascinating and provocative."—Kent Blaser, The Historian

"[Howard] displays an unaffected British style in these essays on the nature of history itself."—Michael S. Sherry, Chicago Tribune

"Howard has admirably fulfilled the charge of Regius professors to speak to the importance of historical knowledge in formulation of public policy. . . . The end pieces . . . are minor masterpieces."—Choice

"The Lessons of History is a collection of essays written, in a graceful, lucid prose, over the last ten years. . . . Howard's observations on nationalism and imperialism are perceptive."—Leonard W. Boasberg, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A remarkable collection of essays. . . . While The Lessons of History confirms Sir Michael's standing as one of the greatest military historians of all time, he writes that the common focus of this collection is not so much the study of war itself as 'those deeper processes of historical change from which the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries originated'. . . . It is impossible in a short review to convey the breadth and depth of these essays. The specialist as well as the layman will benefit from reading them. And everyone will profit by taking to heart the main lesson Sir Michael derives from the study of history: '[E]ach new generation is presented with new problems and new challenges, and analogies drawn from the past are likely to be more of a hindrance than a help in solving them. If the past has anything to teach us it is humility—and suspicion of glib formulae for improving the lot of mankind.'"—Mackubin Thomas Owens, Washington Times

"This is a most illuminating book."—The Economist

"There is obviously much food for thought. In part, the exceptional richness and variety so characteristic of this volume stem precisely from the fact that the author has not attempted to present his thought as if it were a consistent whole but allows us to follow him along different strands developed over the years. In so doing he has touched on issues that ought to concern a much wider audience than soldiers and military historians alone, and one can only hope that they will."—Parameters

"An excellent collection of essays, indicating the author's mastery not only of military history proper, but of other aspects of historiography, especially the history of international relations."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"[Howard's] particular genius is the essay filled with insights, bon mots, and entertaining asides that delight both the listening and reading audiences. The Lessons of History continues the reputation for excellence he began in earlier collections of his essays. . . . Sir Michael's Lessons of History represents assignments that we should all learn and benefit from."—David Curtis Skaggs, Airpower Journal

"This book is a history gourmand's delight. . . . Simply stated, this is an absolutely superb work. If, as Santayana cautioned, they who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, this work is a volume with which to break from the cycle. . . . The Lessons of History has much to teach us. We would do well to learn from it."—Lt. Col. Douglas A. Martz, Marine Corps Gazette

"The pieces are admirable examples of Howard's talents as a stylist and scholar. They demonstrate the enduring power of the past to delight, instruct and dismay us."—James J. Sheehan, New York Times Book Review

"This admirable collection of syntheses . . . illuminates numerous paths of inquiry and leaves the reader fully satisfied that he has engaged one of the finest minds in the discipline of history. There is a banquet of food for thought in this slim volume, and serious students of world affairs ought to sit at Sir Michael's table and partake."—Alan L. Gropman, Strategic Review

"Contains generalizations into the process of historical writing as well as soundly researched inquiries into the application of historical investigative tools to the analysis of past events."—David Curtis Skaggs, Journal of Military History

"In this compilation of essays written over the course of the last decade, Howard argues for a sociological approach to history that takes ideas as serious indicators of intentions and events. . . . Howard makes his case convincingly."—Orbis

"These elegant essays, many of which deal with the conflicts, military and ideological, of our century are marked by wisdom and insight and have, by intent, an immediate relevance for anyone pondering the political problems of the present. Howard has a very clear view of the historian's task, and this, too, is explicated and exemplified in these pages."—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs
ISBN: 9780300056655
Publication Date: July 29, 1992
217 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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