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The Future of War: A History

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In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a short story about a war fought from underwater submersibles that included the sinking of passenger ships. At the time, it was dismissed by the British generals and admirals of the day not because the idea of submarines was technically unfeasible, but because no one could imagine that any nation would be s In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a short story about a war fought from underwater submersibles that included the sinking of passenger ships. At the time, it was dismissed by the British generals and admirals of the day not because the idea of submarines was technically unfeasible, but because no one could imagine that any nation would be so depraved as to sink civilian merchant ships. The future of war more often than not surprises us less because of some fantastic technical or engineering dimension but because of some human, political, or moral threshold that we had never imagined wanting to cross. As Lawrence Freedman shows, the future of war has a past and a present. Ideas of war, strategies for warfare and its practice, and organizing principles of war all have rich and varied origins which have shaped the minds of those who conceive the next war. Freedman shows how war can be studied systematically and empirically to provide a firm foundation for enlightened policy. The Future of War—which covers civil wars to as yet unknown nuclear conflicts, proxy wars (real) to the Cold War (not), fashionably small wars to the War to End All Wars (it didn’t)—is filled with insight and fascinating nuggets of military history and culture from one of the most brilliant military and strategic historians of his generation.


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In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a short story about a war fought from underwater submersibles that included the sinking of passenger ships. At the time, it was dismissed by the British generals and admirals of the day not because the idea of submarines was technically unfeasible, but because no one could imagine that any nation would be s In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a short story about a war fought from underwater submersibles that included the sinking of passenger ships. At the time, it was dismissed by the British generals and admirals of the day not because the idea of submarines was technically unfeasible, but because no one could imagine that any nation would be so depraved as to sink civilian merchant ships. The future of war more often than not surprises us less because of some fantastic technical or engineering dimension but because of some human, political, or moral threshold that we had never imagined wanting to cross. As Lawrence Freedman shows, the future of war has a past and a present. Ideas of war, strategies for warfare and its practice, and organizing principles of war all have rich and varied origins which have shaped the minds of those who conceive the next war. Freedman shows how war can be studied systematically and empirically to provide a firm foundation for enlightened policy. The Future of War—which covers civil wars to as yet unknown nuclear conflicts, proxy wars (real) to the Cold War (not), fashionably small wars to the War to End All Wars (it didn’t)—is filled with insight and fascinating nuggets of military history and culture from one of the most brilliant military and strategic historians of his generation.

30 review for The Future of War: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    You might ask how a book can be about both the future of war and a history of it. Lawrence Freedman, one of today's leading academic thinkers in military affairs and the nature of war, has given us this book explaining how nations of the recent past and today expected to conduct the wars they understood they were going to have to fight. His primary lesson is that it's always different from what's expected, both by the militaries whose mission it is to keep their forces ready as well as by those You might ask how a book can be about both the future of war and a history of it. Lawrence Freedman, one of today's leading academic thinkers in military affairs and the nature of war, has given us this book explaining how nations of the recent past and today expected to conduct the wars they understood they were going to have to fight. His primary lesson is that it's always different from what's expected, both by the militaries whose mission it is to keep their forces ready as well as by those who only imagine war, like novelists and filmmakers. Freedman spends considerable time describing how the countries who fought the big wars of the 20th century expected them to be over quickly and therefore were forced to make major adjustments in resources and doctrine when they were drawn out. Many wars during the period he writes about, the past 150 years, might've been avoided if leaders had known they were going to go on so long and drain resources and societies. But he thinks this underlying optimism is a fundamental trait of those who plan war. Another major topic is the reasons many of the post-WWII conflicts have been relatively small. He explains the rise in the number of civil wars in recent decades, and he writes about how the growth of mega-cities may breed violence--as in Central America today--between competing factions outside the control of the national authority. The final chapters deal with new doctrines and methods in use today and being readied for the next wars: cyberwar, robots and drones, and doctrines incorporating climate change. The end of the book is a brief survey of what today's think tanks and academics see as potential flash points in the near future. Freedman is convincing in his argument that we can't begin to really know the future of war without knowing its history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    Not actually my cup of tea, The Future of War: A History is a massive data dump and analysis of what we used to think about the future of warfare. Lawrence Freedman has clearly Done the Research, and I have to hand it to him: there’s compelling stuff here. Thanks to NetGalley and Public Affairs for the eARC. I love the premise of this book. It kind of merges my passion for literature and my mild interest in history. It is very easy for us to interpret the actions of people in the past through our Not actually my cup of tea, The Future of War: A History is a massive data dump and analysis of what we used to think about the future of warfare. Lawrence Freedman has clearly Done the Research, and I have to hand it to him: there’s compelling stuff here. Thanks to NetGalley and Public Affairs for the eARC. I love the premise of this book. It kind of merges my passion for literature and my mild interest in history. It is very easy for us to interpret the actions of people in the past through our hindsight and our own cultural lenses. Freedman reminds us what any good historian tries to remember: people in the past had a very different conception of the world, and as such, their motivations might be hard to unravel if they didn’t write them down. To us, the multitudinous causes of World War I and the line connecting it to World War II seem obvious. To someone living in 1920 or 1930, not so much. To us, the outcome of the Cold War and its influence around the world is just a matter of fact now—to someone living in 1950 or 1960, with the spectres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still lingering in recent memory, it’s a very different story. Freedman’s survey of the literature is thoughtful, perceptive, detailed, and critical. He intersperses the literature between arguments for an overall thesis—which basically seems to be that, following the end of the Cold War, we’ve reached a point where it is increasingly difficult to predict the “future” of war, simply because we have yet to settle on a redefinition of the word. One part of the book that really jumped out at me is where Freedman explains the intense efforts put into statistical analysis of wars. In particular, he describes late-twentieth-century attempts to compile casualty databases. He points out all the assumptions that necessarily went into this work, since it is difficult to define what war is, how long it lasts, or what counts as a “death” or “injury” attributable to the war. As such, while these sources of information are invaluable for discussing war and the related politics, they are also flawed and biased. Freedman reminds us that methodology in these situations is so tricky—it’s not a matter of getting it right, but of understanding that there is no one right way to collect and interpret the data. I also really enjoyed the first part of The Future of War, where Freedman analyzes what people were writing prior to and then following the First World War. I liked the glimpse at war fiction, from people like Wells and others whose names aren’t quite as well known today. And it’s interesting how Freedman draws connections between fiction and its influence on the population, as well as politicians. Later on, he recapitulates this by recounting President Reagan’s reaction to Tom Clancy’s first novels. The last part of the book was less interesting, for a few reasons. By this point, I was getting fatigued. This is a long book, and more to the point, it is incredibly dense and detailed and technical. A student of history will find this a useful resource; the casual reader, like myself, might start feeling bogged down. Also, the incredibly globalized nature of warfare in the 1990s, the sheer number of internecine affairs, means that Freedman has to cover a lot of ground in comparably few pages. Like, entire books have and can be written about small parts of each of these conflicts. So it all starts to feel overwhelming, but rushed. None of this is Freedman’s fault in particular. The Future of War is quite well-written and informative. It is a little drier and less engaging than I typically want my non-fiction to be, but I can’t really hold that against it. I’m just not quite the target audience. History buffs, though, particularly those who want to learn more about how we used to think about war, might have more patience and inclination to really dive deep into this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Imran Said

    The title of master strategic writer Lawrence Freedman's most latest book is titled 'The Future of War: A History'; itself an interesting premise. Instead of simply writing another prediction on future warfare as many polemologists have done at some point in their careers, Freedman instead sought to delve into the history of how strategists, pundits, politicians, and scholars have argued future warfare would play out. His main conclusion is that most attempts to rationalize and theorize the char The title of master strategic writer Lawrence Freedman's most latest book is titled 'The Future of War: A History'; itself an interesting premise. Instead of simply writing another prediction on future warfare as many polemologists have done at some point in their careers, Freedman instead sought to delve into the history of how strategists, pundits, politicians, and scholars have argued future warfare would play out. His main conclusion is that most attempts to rationalize and theorize the character of future warfare were largely unsuccessful, mainly due to one reason. Most claims on future war have been prescriptive rather than predictive, more concerned with persuading those in power and influence about taking certain steps laid down by them to avoid war breaking out in the first place (or in some cases making the first move to war to avoid being caught in a weaker position), rather than a serious attempt to analyze future trends and developments in organized violence for political ends (referencing a certain dead Prussian). There are two main contentions in Freedman's book. The first is how writing on future war has been obsessed with the idea of the sneak attack or knockout blow. As modern war became more destructive, bloody, consumed a larger amount of state resources and touched every facet of society, the pressure was on to end wars quickly and decisively. During the First World War, the goal was to mobilize your armies and get them into an advantageous position as quickly as possible. However, this pressure to strike put a limited time constraint on generals and politicians on other alternatives to resolving the tensions, meaning the rush to war became almost unstoppable. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the emphasis shifted to both the surprise attack and of the deliberate targeting of civilians. The latter was particularly influenced by the advent of airpower, and how air raids could be used to break the spirit of the enemy populace by inducing misery upon them. Of course, despite the destruction wrought on cities such as London and Stalingrad by the Luftwaffe, the British and Soviets would never buckle. The same could be said about the then enthusiasm on the surprise attack. Freedman notes that both Operation Barbarossa and the Attack on Pearl Harbor, while tactical and operational masterpieces, failed in their strategic ends. Both the Soviets and Americans were caught off guard and initially suffered grievously, yet ultimately both were able to consolidate their forces and steady their morale, ultimately inflicting crushing defeats on their respective opponents. Despite this, as Freedman points out, Pearl Harbour would remain emblematic of the dangers of the surprise attack, and of lowering one's guard due to complacency (itself born out of both a degenerate society and a naive establishment). Every major development in the realm of warfare would allow one's enemy to negate your strenght with a knockout blow, leaving you helpless and vulnerable. The advent of nuclear weapons could bring down an entire civilization in a nuclear first strike. The rise of terrorism (particularly international jihadism) saw frightening scenarios about terrorist groups one day getting their hands on nuclear, chemical, or biological device, forgetting the real world technical difficulties this would entail. Cyberwarfare and the targeting of vital state institutions and organs could lead to a 'digital Pearl Harbour', dismissing the strengths of modern cybersecurity and how most online attacks up to date had been more annoying than crippling. Contemporary hysterics about so-called hybrid warfare and how enemies could use 'Cool War' to gain an edge while keeping action below the threshold of a hot war ignored the fact that hybrid warfare was rarely decisive in itself. Russian attempts to seize Crimea and Eastern Ukraine using a combination of Special Ops, proxy forces, and information warfare failed to resolve the fighting. The West quickly caught on to Russia's tricks, and Moscow's disinformation campaign unravalled as their presented narrative became increasingly fanciful, to the point where almost no one trusted Russian officials. A cursory glance at Russian piecemeal acquisition in Ukraine, as well as Chinese attempts to bolster their maritime territory in the South China Sea, have only bolstered tensions in the region and locked both powers into increasingly irretractable conflicts, thereby if anything raising the likelihood of war. The second main theme of his book concerns how we have thought of future war in terms of its character and how we study it. Freedman is equally as critical in this regard. He points out that attempts to apply a scientific approach to the study of international relations and conflict has often failed due to flawed methodologies. He points to the difficulties in acquiring accurate data (such as in the dreary business of collecting casualty figures from wars), as well as interpreting and categorizing them. A case in point, he notes that while the so-called Football War between El Salvador and Honduras involved high enough casualties to warrant being labelled a proper war in a project by the University of Michigan, despite its limited geopolitical impact outside of Central America. On the other hand, border clashes between the Soviet Union and Maoist China in the late sixties was not even considered a proper war, rather a 'Militarized Interstate Dispute'. This despite the fact that it clearly had larger consequences for international relations, pushing China closer to the United States as relations deteriorated between Moscow and Beijing. To attempt to apply a scientific understanding to war, to try and look at war through data and statistics, was to wrest wars out of their political and historic contexts. Freedman also looks into new 'trends' in war; where scholars now analyze war beyond the traditional military and political. He points out that with the end of the Cold War, intrastate conflicts have largely proliferated as many new nation-states struggled to maintain stability in the wake of decolonization. He posits there were next to nothing written about these new civil wars, and that many scholars and pundits were forced to catch up to try and understand these bewildering developments. Efforts were made to try and understand what factors were involved in creating failed states, and whether all armed rebellion could really be blanketed as simply revolutionary in character or uprisings against injustices in society. Much was written about the role of Western military power in responding to these armed rebellions, whether in the form of peacekeeping operations (which was soon discovered to not be as clean and bloodless as many had hoped), or through direct interventions to enforce direct regime change (which seen from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya were not always great success stories). Near the end of the book, Freedman analyzes attempts to identify where the next great spark for conflict in the future could be, whether it be energy scarcity, food security and climate change, nationalism, and organized crime. In almost all cases, Freedman expertly challenges the hysterics and doomsday scenarios. It almost makes for comforting reading. The Future of War is ultimately an expertly written book, combining that rare talent of packed with details yet still approachable to the common layman. If Freedman's main argument could be summarized as such, it would be that despite the histrionics and fancy buzzwords; war itself remains at its heart a brutal, bloody, grinding, and very much human affair. One which no amount of high-tech, fancy tech, intellectual fads, and wish-washing is going to change.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A little bit more of a textbook than I was hoping for, but nonetheless an interesting, thorough, and concise look at the future of war and the history of thinking about the future of war. Most of the book is a topic-by-topic rundown of key aspects of post-Cold War international security and warfare. This was a useful section, especially for undergrad type courses, although I didn't learn a ton of new stuff. More compelling were his criticisms of political science's usefulness in understanding mo A little bit more of a textbook than I was hoping for, but nonetheless an interesting, thorough, and concise look at the future of war and the history of thinking about the future of war. Most of the book is a topic-by-topic rundown of key aspects of post-Cold War international security and warfare. This was a useful section, especially for undergrad type courses, although I didn't learn a ton of new stuff. More compelling were his criticisms of political science's usefulness in understanding modern security issues. Freedman has a great discussion of the COW and other databases, and he shows that basically produce such general outcomes that they aren't much use in predicting or understanding conflict. I always thought you could just predict where conflict is going to by less by correlating and more by, you know, watching other countries' politics and stuff. His more substantial criticism of political science, and the general idea of predicting the future of war, comes in his first section about thinking about the future of war going back to the 1870s. He argues that strategists, futurists, and even novelists all focused overwhelmingly on technology in their predictions of future war because that's the one thing that can really be projected into the future. Political contexts, alliance, where the conflict will be, the national mood, diplomacy, etc, all these things that have an enormous impact on the conduct of war, are all far less predictable. This is ultimately Freedman's argument for caution in prediction and the value of history, which seeks to take in events in all of their complexity rather than reduce things to the "true" causes by comparing tons and tons of cases. I'd recommend this book for anyone looking for a relatively brief overview of security issues and military history. I appreciated that Freedman brought in a wide variety of thinkers about the future of war, not just the classic folks like Mahan or Douhet. I'd also recommend this to people teaching modern warfare or security studies type classes who are interested in accessible course readings.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Plowright

    The study of History cannot be justified on the grounds that it teaches ‘lessons’, as the past “is infinitely various, an inexhaustible storehouse of incidents from which we can prove anything or its contrary”. So said Sir Michael Howard in his Inaugural Lecture as Oxford Regius Professor of Modern History and it is to Howard as ‘Teacher, Mentor, Friend’ that Lawrence Freedman dedicates his book ‘The Future of War’. One might, then, expect Freedman to detail how all efforts to predict the nature The study of History cannot be justified on the grounds that it teaches ‘lessons’, as the past “is infinitely various, an inexhaustible storehouse of incidents from which we can prove anything or its contrary”. So said Sir Michael Howard in his Inaugural Lecture as Oxford Regius Professor of Modern History and it is to Howard as ‘Teacher, Mentor, Friend’ that Lawrence Freedman dedicates his book ‘The Future of War’. One might, then, expect Freedman to detail how all efforts to predict the nature and course of future conflicts have failed. The past is certainly littered with plenty of examples of generals assuming that the next war will be like the last one and thus devising strategies or tactics that seem bound to fail. A classic example is the Maginot Line. The French assumed that a Second World War would be like the Great War and accordingly devised a set of fortifications on the Franco-German border which represented a more elaborate version of the Western Front’s trench system, failing to appreciate that changes to warfare (to say nothing of the failure to extend the Line to the Channel) would render it virtually obsolete by 1940. But hang on a minute – if Maginot represents a failure to conceive the future of war by the French, shouldn’t the German proponents of Blitzkrieg, like Guderian, building on the insights of Basil Liddell Hart and J. F. C. Fuller into the potential of armoured warfare, be credited with correctly piercing the veil of the future? And isn’t Ivan Bloch an even better example of an accurate prophet of future war? It was Bloch, remember, who in the six volumes of his book ‘La Guerre, published between 1898 and 1900, stated that the lethality of modern firepower would drive men to dig trenches and that warfare would result in stalemate because frontal assaults against entrenchments would prove too costly. This is, then, the central problem with Freedman’s book. He has no difficulty showing that many military experts and some gifted civilian amateurs (such as Bloch and H. G. Wells) expended considerable energy musing about future war from the mid-nineteenth century onwards (when war became increasingly destructive and changes to technology and weaponry begged the question of how they would be employed militarily). Nor does he have any trouble in detailing how the way in which “people imagined the wars of the future affected the conduct and course of those wars when they finally arrived.” What he does not do, and in the nature of History cannot do, is provide a satisfactory overarching explanation of how a few got the future right but most got it very wrong. Hence the book concludes that, “If there is a lesson from this book it is that while many [future speculations about future wars] will deserve to be taken seriously, they should all be treated sceptically”. After almost 300 pages, in which there is admittedly much interesting material about imagined futures of past wars and even speculation about the future of war as an institution, one is nevertheless bound to question whether the journey was worth making for such a trite and anti-climatic insight.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Henry Davis IV

    Unlike this book's title, this is a purely a concise history of warfare which provides nothing more forward looking than stating many characteristics of warfare throughout the ages will persist into the future. If this was a well done history it might make a good text book in a Freshman level history course. Unfortunately, the chapters that should be some of the most compelling and updated are some of the least on both accounts. Specifically, the chapters in part three dealing with hybrid wars, Unlike this book's title, this is a purely a concise history of warfare which provides nothing more forward looking than stating many characteristics of warfare throughout the ages will persist into the future. If this was a well done history it might make a good text book in a Freshman level history course. Unfortunately, the chapters that should be some of the most compelling and updated are some of the least on both accounts. Specifically, the chapters in part three dealing with hybrid wars, cyberwar, robots and drones, and the concluding chapters. While these chapters do have some good material in them, they incorrectly minimize the military importance of emerging or current trends like cyberspace operations and "hybrid wars" (really full spectrum operations in current American military parlance). Despite this book's very attractive cover and some well-done overviews in earlier chapters, I do not recommend this book. There are a plethora of other concise military histories available which will provide readers much greater insight and provide to be more pleasant literary adventures than wandering down the blind path of this book with its great lack of "so what?"

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Lawrence Friedman is undoubtedly a maestro of his profession. He displays exceptional knowledge in The Future of War: A History. And yet, there were troubling aspects of his work. It sometimes felt more like a collection of tangentially related arguments than a single discourse on the topic. I found myself wondering more than once how all of these pieces were meant to relate to one another. How was this book going to become more than the sum of its parts? On this point, I was disappointed. The bo Lawrence Friedman is undoubtedly a maestro of his profession. He displays exceptional knowledge in The Future of War: A History. And yet, there were troubling aspects of his work. It sometimes felt more like a collection of tangentially related arguments than a single discourse on the topic. I found myself wondering more than once how all of these pieces were meant to relate to one another. How was this book going to become more than the sum of its parts? On this point, I was disappointed. The book contains three parts; each part rife with its own subjects and arguments. Part One, which is essentially a historiography of the evolution of thinking about war, is full of interesting analyses and relevant anecdotes. I was particularly struck by Friedman’s description of how the classical model of war – the one developed by Clausewitz and Jomini in the 19th century – has continued to underpin both the academic literature and professional discourse about war. All this despite the relentless progression of technology and the ever-swelling body of evidence testifying to the model’s limitations. More than once while reading my thoughts drifted to modern doctrine. Both Joint Publication 1 and Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 make allusions to such culminating moments and decisive operations. I wondered how things might have been different without the classical model. Regardless, I found Part One to be a lucid exploration of the history of thinking about war. It is well worth your time. Part Two is less consistent. The chapters in part two definitely contain some interesting material. Although somewhat dry. It was hard to feel especially excited about the chapters discussing the shortcomings of the correlates of war database, for example. But more than that, part two lacked some of the coherence of part one. To be sure each chapter contained their own brilliantly researched and cogent arguments, but together it felt more like a series of individual sermons rather than part of a broader contention. Part three was a welcome respite. He offers keen insights on a variety of topics that one might expect in a book about future war. He addresses drone technology, so-called hybrid warfare, crypto-conflict, and much else. Friedman’s analyses are astute. But he also exhibits humility. He proclaims the virtues of various forms of future war without promising a new “revolution in military affairs.” His reluctance to evangelize the merits of a particular vision exhibits his integrity and shows why he is such an authority in his field. It is a welcome dash of perspective in a field full of epistemologically unreliable prognosticators. I can’t say that I recommend this book for most readers. But if you have an interest in the subject, it is definitely worth your time. I feel like I will need to revisit this book on occasion. It is so packed with good material that I am certain that I missed some. That said, the flip side to this book is its density. It’s a challenge to get through; It is clearly the work of a master.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    War and its future has long had people speculating, ranging from academics, to policy makers, to novelists. The book itself is about the musings on the future of war, the anticipated developments, and how those developments played out. Sounds abstract, but it all makes perfect sense. As one would imagine, musings on the future of war have oscillated from sanguine (the abolition of war) to the predictably fatalistic. Among the most notable speculators on war's future were the novelists H.G. Wells a War and its future has long had people speculating, ranging from academics, to policy makers, to novelists. The book itself is about the musings on the future of war, the anticipated developments, and how those developments played out. Sounds abstract, but it all makes perfect sense. As one would imagine, musings on the future of war have oscillated from sanguine (the abolition of war) to the predictably fatalistic. Among the most notable speculators on war's future were the novelists H.G. Wells and much later Tom Clancy. H.G. Wells gravitated to the idea of One World Government dedicated to dispute resolution, an idea he postulated for many years with a limited reception. Yet his most notable predictions was harnessing the power of the atom, made around 1916. Tom Clancy, on the other hand, used a very well researched technical knowledge of weaponry to write entirely believable novels that caught the attention of Ronald Reagan. However, it must be noted that Tom Clancy's novels (Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising) didn't so much influence Ronald Reagan, but rather reinforced his pre-existing ideas of the winnability of a conventional war against the Soviets. Most of the early part of the book may be very familiar to any international relations specialists who have studied the evolution of war, however later chapters on the use of cyber war, drones and hybrid warfare are more notable as they conceptualise new and evolving concepts. Freedman's study is a very useful piece for anybody who wants to study the concept of warfare futurology and as a reminder that the prediction game is all too often a fool's errand. What matters is that this volume is insightful, filled with eye opening knowledge and thought provoking in the extreme.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    Superbly written as are all of Lawrence Freedman’s works. This book analyzes how theorists, strategists, futurists and others interested in predicting the evolution of conflict have faired over time. Starting generally from the early 19th Century Freedman covers themes and the precursors as well as aftermaths of war to analyze what authors predicted that came true, partially true or not all. Needless to say, few have ever gotten much right, which in itself is an important takeaway for those whos Superbly written as are all of Lawrence Freedman’s works. This book analyzes how theorists, strategists, futurists and others interested in predicting the evolution of conflict have faired over time. Starting generally from the early 19th Century Freedman covers themes and the precursors as well as aftermaths of war to analyze what authors predicted that came true, partially true or not all. Needless to say, few have ever gotten much right, which in itself is an important takeaway for those whose career it is to prepare for conflict, or plan and develop defense capabilities, or shape the conditions for peace and stability.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nick Quenga

    The first third was excellent: the history of predicting the future of war. The rest seemed a bit all over the place, then fell into the same traps of trying to predict the future without pulling from the past. Audio presentation definitely fit the theme of the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leroy Rodriguez

    Interesting and thoughtful study on the development of thinking about war. The acedemic thoroughness almost makes you forget that the sacrifice of women, children, and the underclass are the textbooks for this thinking. I expect the thinking of pre-emptive first strikes and acceptable losses is a way of naming the beast to try and control it but it feels like I’m looking in on feeding time at the demon’s cage. Fascinating....

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Rivera

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King's College London. Widely considered an expert on warfare and history, his book on the subject is an excellent history lesson in the evolution of warfare and clearly demonstrates his expertise in both classical subjects. His book, however, is not for the amateur reader. Freedman’s passive voice and almost poetic writing style can make the book difficult to absorb at times. It is aimed not only to the history buff, but also to the Sir Lawrence Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King's College London. Widely considered an expert on warfare and history, his book on the subject is an excellent history lesson in the evolution of warfare and clearly demonstrates his expertise in both classical subjects. His book, however, is not for the amateur reader. Freedman’s passive voice and almost poetic writing style can make the book difficult to absorb at times. It is aimed not only to the history buff, but also to the warrior who seeks to better understand their chosen profession. Professor Freedman covers a significant amount of history both from literature and from actual events in history. While he is a great historian and this book appears to be accurately researched, his arguments provide some contradiction. This is a superb story, but many parts are redundant. He articulates a point and continues to provide more examples. Additionally, he categorically criticizes the scientific method in war studies, presumably political science. Yet, he refers to studies, trends, statistics, and analysis to provide a source of evidence to some of his arguments. Finally, this book is not really about the future of war as much as it is about the documentation and speculation of future war and how that has played out in history. He makes no claim to predict future warfare and provides a clear warning of any one who claims to have a vision for future warfare. His criticisms of the literature and political science are both direct and passive. Yet, he is very clear on how wrong the majority of literature of future war has been as well as the inadequacy of data collection and numbness of analysis to the realities of war. Finally, his claim that while technology has changed the effects of war, it has not changed the purpose of war. His last chapter provides clear warnings that any prediction of future war is nothing more than speculation and imagination. Ultimately, there is a spirit throughout the book that the nation’s leaders must still be able to plan for the future.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The book is a review of the literature on how the future wars were historically predicted to be. I found the result disappointing, as I was left with the impression that the author intended to get it over with as I read through the chapters. I found the approach in the Balkan wars of the 90s superficial and I was surprised to find a couple of outright wrong dates on conflicts other than the major wars. I also found the use of punctuation marks terribly disappointing, ri the extent that I had to The book is a review of the literature on how the future wars were historically predicted to be. I found the result disappointing, as I was left with the impression that the author intended to get it over with as I read through the chapters. I found the approach in the Balkan wars of the 90s superficial and I was surprised to find a couple of outright wrong dates on conflicts other than the major wars. I also found the use of punctuation marks terribly disappointing, ri the extent that I had to read certain sentences a couple of times to understand what the author means.

  14. 5 out of 5

    TS Allen

    A meandering, delightful, thought-provoking, fundamentally pointless, misleading book. Just like a lecture at King's, really. I highly recommend Stephen Peter Rosen's reivew of this in Foreign Affairs "The Future Fights: Planning for the Next War" (February 2018) for a corrective. Still happy I read it. A meandering, delightful, thought-provoking, fundamentally pointless, misleading book. Just like a lecture at King's, really. I highly recommend Stephen Peter Rosen's reivew of this in Foreign Affairs "The Future Fights: Planning for the Next War" (February 2018) for a corrective. Still happy I read it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Interesting but disappointing. Amounts to nothing more than a literature review of how others have predicted what wars will look like. Author offers none of his own conclusions despite what was surely voluminous research.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bastiaan Huesken

    Most worthwhile.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Martin Samuels

    The question is often asked whether we can learn anything from history. In this book, Sir Lawrence Freedman, professore of war studies at King's College London, takes this a stage further, asking what we can learn from how people have tried to learn from history, and in particular exploring how people from the late 19th century sought to extrapolate the nature of future wars from the conflicts of the past. The book is divided into three parts. The first considers the different ways in which the f The question is often asked whether we can learn anything from history. In this book, Sir Lawrence Freedman, professore of war studies at King's College London, takes this a stage further, asking what we can learn from how people have tried to learn from history, and in particular exploring how people from the late 19th century sought to extrapolate the nature of future wars from the conflicts of the past. The book is divided into three parts. The first considers the different ways in which the future of war between the great powers was perceived, moving from the tensions preceeding the First World War, through the Second World War and into the nuclear age. What particularly comes out here is a concentration on warfare between sovereign states and a strong tendency to focus on the need for conflicts to start with a surprise blow that would knock the opponent out of the war quickly. Freedman draws the important point that, although the German Schlieffen Plan, Operation Barbarossa, and the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour were all major surprises, which became the centre of military analysts' attention for decades afterwards, none succeeded in defeating their enemy and all led to precisely the long-drawn-out war that the attackers had hoped to avoid, ending in their defeat. The second part looks at developments following the conclusion of the Cold War, when hopes that the seeming end of great power rivalry might also see an end to war were dashed by a growing number of civil wars and the advent of the 'war on terror'. Freedman here draws attention to the paradox of Western armies achieving overwhelming preponderance in conventional warfare, in part due to their technological superiority, yet finding that the wars they actually fought tended to be low intensity conflicts, where the greatest threat was the irregular armed with an AK-47 or a home-made booby-trap. Finally, the book concludes with a review of a number of features that may define warfare in the coming decades, especially the mixing of conventional warfare with other forms of conflict, the importance of information technology as a means of non-violent attack, robots as a replacement for soldiers, and trends and pressures that might (or might not) lead to warfare. Overall, this is a very readable book, with the chapters short, focused and engaging. Two things stood out for me. First, the complexity of society is such that it is impossible to predict the future. There are simply too many variables. The study of history may therefore give contemporary strategists and soldiers general pointers as to the relative importance of factors and ways of thinking about issues, but it cannot give them an answer, or even a formula for reaching one. Second, there must be questions over whether the central Western view of warfare, as being centred on decisive battles, remains a realistic approach to modern realities (if, indeed, it ever was). Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This is the book that I wish I had read while taking international relations for my undergraduate degree. In "The Future of War," Freedman sets out to trace the predictions about the future of war made by statesmen, scholars, and intellectuals from the late-nineteenth century through the modern era to today. Freedman covers a wide range of theorists and futurists. Giving as much reflection to prophetic value (or lack thereof) of 'invasion fiction' and science fictions writers like H. G. Wells as This is the book that I wish I had read while taking international relations for my undergraduate degree. In "The Future of War," Freedman sets out to trace the predictions about the future of war made by statesmen, scholars, and intellectuals from the late-nineteenth century through the modern era to today. Freedman covers a wide range of theorists and futurists. Giving as much reflection to prophetic value (or lack thereof) of 'invasion fiction' and science fictions writers like H. G. Wells as he does to strategists and statesmen like Herman Kahn and Henry Kissinger, Freedman's book is as comprehensive and concise a detailing of European and American thought on war as I have ever read. I have read literature reviews of individual subjects like international security and international relations before, and I've always been particularly interested in how fiction writing can be used as an analytical tool to understand conflict, but never before have I seen someone manages to give as thorough a picture and history of the interdisciplinary study of war. In particular, I appreciate his critical attention to both the heavy theoretical realist approaches to international relations personified by Kenneth Waltz and the more modern statistically oriented approach of scholars who use data sets like those maintained by the Correlates of War (COW) project. Freedman's advocacy for a more context-based and historical approach to the study of conflict is well taken and convincing. I always felt awkwardly more comfortable the methodologies prescribed by history and anthropology when I was an undergraduate studying international relations than I did with the large data sets and sophisticated quantitative techniques of modern political science, the overly broad and reductivist nature of which always put me ill at ease. After reading "The Future of War" I feel less guilty about not having bought into the statistics craze in my major. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in approaching the subject of conflict in a more systematic way. If you are new to the field, then "The Future of War" will offer you the roadmap that I wish I had 10 years ago. If you are like me and have been reading books about international conflict for a while, then Freedman's book will help you put your thoughts in context and fill in interdisciplinary blindspots. Either way, this book is well worth the read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    This was another book I decided to read based on the title without reading a summary. Which means the book was nothing like what expected. The Future of War: A history makes no predictions about the future of war other than that people who try to predict the future will be mostly wrong although they may succeed in getting the military to prepare appropriately. I found the beginning of the book the most interesting. He began by recounting what all experts predicted future wars would look like for This was another book I decided to read based on the title without reading a summary. Which means the book was nothing like what expected. The Future of War: A history makes no predictions about the future of war other than that people who try to predict the future will be mostly wrong although they may succeed in getting the military to prepare appropriately. I found the beginning of the book the most interesting. He began by recounting what all experts predicted future wars would look like for wars starting after 1900. The theme is that experts were wrong. They were wrong in thinking that a single, devastating surprise battle/battle plans could win a war (e.g., Pearl Harbor, Operation Barbarosa). Experts were wrong about the resilience of their enemies to recover from such blows. I don't remember everything in the middle; I didn't find it interesting. However, eventually he left the arena of urban and guerrilla warfare. He wrote about the science of war and the great difficulty in obtaining reliable statistics about deaths and casualties and impact on civilians. We don't even know how many men died in the American Civil War. Since many of the wars since 1989 have been civil wars, he explained how they start, how they end, their aftermath, and why outside countries try not to get involved. The end, where he finally addressed future war, he critiqued those who try to predict the future. Namely, that most futurists rely on America's enemies to do something improbable (and usually not in the enemy's best interest) to start a war. And I would say that is his main point - war is horrible, and decision makers should avoid it at all costs. Having read Graham Allison's book "Destined for War", I found Freedman's critique of him really interesting (and kinda of humorous). Be prepared for stats if you read this one!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I thought this was really interesting although it is a little dry. Be careful that you don't miss what this book actually is. It is not a prediction of what war will be like in the future. It is a historical review of how people believed war would look like in the future and then how it actually turned out. This is a really clever way to framing a discussion about the future and it totally worked. I thought Freedman's book was very informative. Freedman's writing might come off as a little acade I thought this was really interesting although it is a little dry. Be careful that you don't miss what this book actually is. It is not a prediction of what war will be like in the future. It is a historical review of how people believed war would look like in the future and then how it actually turned out. This is a really clever way to framing a discussion about the future and it totally worked. I thought Freedman's book was very informative. Freedman's writing might come off as a little academic to some. He doesn't really state his main thesis until the end of the book, although it certainly becomes clear as you are reading. Basically, states will prepare for the wars they think they will face. This preparation may stave off certain kinds of armed conflicts but not the conflicts that states aren't preparing for. Because states generally prepare for big, destructive, traditional wars, the conflicts most likely to start are those in weaker states that then spill over into other countries for some reason. Technology and military planning may end up being less important than local political, economic, and social factors. One thing I think I'll remember from this book is how Freedman described the influence of fiction writing on defense policy. He describes convincingly how fiction writing has caused enough fear about actual conflict to shape defense policies. These stories engaged in the kind of predictions that Freedman concludes aren't actually that helpful. Trying to predict the future of war may be less helpful than being observant and trying to understand the sources of armed conflict.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tammam Aloudat

    Whoever remembers history books from school being a dry boring recitation of old events with little thrill and character hasn't had the pleasure of reading good history books. What I mean by good histories is those that are critical, interesting, selective yet comprehensive, and written beautifully to address not only the past but the present and the future. This is the first book I read of Lawrence Freedman, I have wanted to read his book on Strategy for a while but didn't get to it yet. I am ha Whoever remembers history books from school being a dry boring recitation of old events with little thrill and character hasn't had the pleasure of reading good history books. What I mean by good histories is those that are critical, interesting, selective yet comprehensive, and written beautifully to address not only the past but the present and the future. This is the first book I read of Lawrence Freedman, I have wanted to read his book on Strategy for a while but didn't get to it yet. I am happy I picked this one. The book is beautifully written and well organised to address themes rather than a strict timeline and gives sufficient details and background to be understood and interesting. The concept is new to me. I picked the book of the shelve first because I thought it was a prediction or an analysis on how wars would progress. It is not that but a history of the idea of future of war going through the many stages of war progression from the chapters about decisive battles to indecisive battles and then total wars all the way to hybrid wars and cyber wars. Freedman uses histories, field manuals, sci-fi novels, and philosophy to explain how people thought wars of the future will be only to tell us about the many times they were mistaken and the rare occasions they were right.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Othón A. León

    This is the second book from L. Freedman that I have read (being "Strategy" the previous one). As nations are always predicting what the next war will be like, Mr. Freedman, an expert in military strategy, explains how is that this process has evolved throughout the years and he does it in a fascinating way. He explains both, the British and the American ways of going to war, beginning in the 19th century, when a consensus arose that wars were decided in a decisive battle (the idea of Waterloo or This is the second book from L. Freedman that I have read (being "Strategy" the previous one). As nations are always predicting what the next war will be like, Mr. Freedman, an expert in military strategy, explains how is that this process has evolved throughout the years and he does it in a fascinating way. He explains both, the British and the American ways of going to war, beginning in the 19th century, when a consensus arose that wars were decided in a decisive battle (the idea of Waterloo or Midway). Then, the Cold War implied that wars between nuclear powers became impossible. Then, after 9/11, it became clear that traditional military methods were out of date. Cyberwar appears and also remote ways of killing (drones). Mr. Freedman mentions worldwide, real cases. At the end, he reviews the "other" kind of wars, such as the so-called "war on drugs" in places like Mexico and finally, the probable role of China in future conflicts. Great book if you are interested in global affairs, strategy, etc.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Freedman traces the history of how military strategists, politicians and authors predictions of the next conflict based on their experiences and "lessons learned" from the last war. He then elucidates the actual history and compares and contrasts it to the predictions. Why I started this book: New CNO Professional Reading Program and I'm eager to read these books. Plus, it was available immediately on OverDrive. Win, win. Why I finished it: This was a fascinating book about the history of how we t Freedman traces the history of how military strategists, politicians and authors predictions of the next conflict based on their experiences and "lessons learned" from the last war. He then elucidates the actual history and compares and contrasts it to the predictions. Why I started this book: New CNO Professional Reading Program and I'm eager to read these books. Plus, it was available immediately on OverDrive. Win, win. Why I finished it: This was a fascinating book about the history of how we think and plan for the future, specifically the future battles and wars. Predictions, policies and plans shaped how ready armies were for combat, what weapons they had, and assumptions of how long the next war would/could be. We as humans have repeatedly worried about our enemies surprising us with a knock out blow, and are convinced that the next platform or weapons system is the one that is going to forever change the nature and speed of conflict, make the next war shorter... and consequently even more dependent on striking first. Wash, rinse, repeat.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Murphy

    The Future of War: A History by Lawrence Freedman is a surprisingly good book, and a very capable survey of the literature on the future of war throughout the ages. I wasn't expecting H.G. Wells to make an appearance, and he finds a companion with several others ranging from fiction writers to generals to strategists and planners. I found the middle section of the book to be the most useful, but that's probably because I knew the least about it. The book is surprisingly contented to avoid much i The Future of War: A History by Lawrence Freedman is a surprisingly good book, and a very capable survey of the literature on the future of war throughout the ages. I wasn't expecting H.G. Wells to make an appearance, and he finds a companion with several others ranging from fiction writers to generals to strategists and planners. I found the middle section of the book to be the most useful, but that's probably because I knew the least about it. The book is surprisingly contented to avoid much in the way of speculative approaches to the future of war, and also seems surprisingly light on current speculation on the future of war. Freedman is a voice of some moderation: the future of warfare is rarely what we suspect, and the domestic body politic is rarely as feckless and vulnerable as the most bellicose suggest. I had a fun surprise to see Dave Barno, a professor of mine at SAIS, get a quotation. Give it a read. 90/100

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hall's Bookshop

    In many ways an excellent book, blending figures and evidence with contemporary literature to achieve a really comprehensive view of theories of war and peace over the last hundred and fifty years. I also liked the structure, which blended themes with a broad chronological progression - the best way to write history, but difficult to manage successfully. The style, on the other hand, soon became extremely dry and formulaic, making some sections read a little like coursework submissions. I think In many ways an excellent book, blending figures and evidence with contemporary literature to achieve a really comprehensive view of theories of war and peace over the last hundred and fifty years. I also liked the structure, which blended themes with a broad chronological progression - the best way to write history, but difficult to manage successfully. The style, on the other hand, soon became extremely dry and formulaic, making some sections read a little like coursework submissions. I think the book may have been written quite quickly - there is really no craft to it at all, and the final chapter ends abruptly with just a couple of short paragraphs as a conclusion. With a proper concluding chapter (which a book like this really deserves and needs), as well as more care taken to write it well, this could have been a really fantastic read, as well as an important one. JM 09/07/18

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill Shavce

    Despite the title, this is not a prediction of warfare in the future. Rather, it is a synopsis of how thinkers believed future wars would play out at different points in history. Freedman uses works of fiction, along with other governmental sources, to describe how we envisioned future conflicts given recent war experiences and technological trends. Freedman illustrates that these predictions almost always proved disastrously wrong. Examples include the expectation that, after the Franco-Prussia Despite the title, this is not a prediction of warfare in the future. Rather, it is a synopsis of how thinkers believed future wars would play out at different points in history. Freedman uses works of fiction, along with other governmental sources, to describe how we envisioned future conflicts given recent war experiences and technological trends. Freedman illustrates that these predictions almost always proved disastrously wrong. Examples include the expectation that, after the Franco-Prussian War, future wars would feature initial decisive battles that would determine clear winners and losers. They failed to envision the static, prolonged fight that we saw with the First World War.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Will

    The book is a bit mis0-titled, it isn't really a futorological study of war, or any kind of history of the future. but instead it is really a history of the study of war. It looks at key philosophical/theoretial approaches to the study of war, covering the usual suspects like Clausewitz and Jomini, before moving into 20th century academic study (Carr, Schelling, etc.). As a history fo the study of war, the book is a bit dry but quite informative. But I found it a bit disapointing, as I thought i The book is a bit mis0-titled, it isn't really a futorological study of war, or any kind of history of the future. but instead it is really a history of the study of war. It looks at key philosophical/theoretial approaches to the study of war, covering the usual suspects like Clausewitz and Jomini, before moving into 20th century academic study (Carr, Schelling, etc.). As a history fo the study of war, the book is a bit dry but quite informative. But I found it a bit disapointing, as I thought it was going to adopt the approach of looking at conflict from a 'history of the future' perspective.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tony Selhorst

    It is in the title what the book is about: what mankind in the past envisioned the next war to be... what methods and wunderweapons would be used.... how the discussion on the next war informed their military and political leaders to invest in their armies.... and what the next war really looked like. The book starts in the near past, around the US Civil War and Franco-Prussian war at the the second halve of the 19th century, and ends with current day new methods (hybrid) and weaponry (cyber). A It is in the title what the book is about: what mankind in the past envisioned the next war to be... what methods and wunderweapons would be used.... how the discussion on the next war informed their military and political leaders to invest in their armies.... and what the next war really looked like. The book starts in the near past, around the US Civil War and Franco-Prussian war at the the second halve of the 19th century, and ends with current day new methods (hybrid) and weaponry (cyber). An easy read for everybody interested in current day discussions on the changing nature of warfare.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marce Scarbrough

    This book is about what we imagine the future of warfare is and how that vision turned out. The book is fairly exhaustive, covering many historical periods but spends a good amount of time covering recent periods (such as the cold war and 9/11). Professor Freedman does his usual comprehensive overview, but manages to cover fiction and popular media as well as military strategists. This is a good book for those interested in military strategy and military history. For the most part this book stic This book is about what we imagine the future of warfare is and how that vision turned out. The book is fairly exhaustive, covering many historical periods but spends a good amount of time covering recent periods (such as the cold war and 9/11). Professor Freedman does his usual comprehensive overview, but manages to cover fiction and popular media as well as military strategists. This is a good book for those interested in military strategy and military history. For the most part this book sticks to British and American views and outlooks.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Peter Harris

    This book was exactly the book I wanted. However, it covers too much about the past and not enough about the future. I don’t know if maybe I was looking for Top Secret information about our current military technological capabilities. It’s also not clear if the author has Top Secret Clearance and/or is divulging everything he knows about our current National Security situation. I like the author’s discussion of cyber war, but I wish he would have gone more into the idea of having a Command and C This book was exactly the book I wanted. However, it covers too much about the past and not enough about the future. I don’t know if maybe I was looking for Top Secret information about our current military technological capabilities. It’s also not clear if the author has Top Secret Clearance and/or is divulging everything he knows about our current National Security situation. I like the author’s discussion of cyber war, but I wish he would have gone more into the idea of having a Command and Control vehicle with a platoon of robots.

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