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Oh, what an entertaining war!


The Shape of Battle, by Allan Mallinson

THIS book has the commendably limited aim of being a study of why some battles were fought as they were. The author states that he will be satisfied if it serves to show what an enigmatic business war is. He achieves his aim comprehensively.

The format is straightforward; six battles in campaigns spanning almost 1,000 years are described sequentially. Each one has a background briefing that covers the historical context, any relevant technology and the events leading to the denouement. This is described in detail, starting with the ground. It is here that the author’s military skill comes to the fore; not only does he understand ground (unsurprising in a former cavalry brigadier) but he can explain it succinctly and engagingly.

Mallinson is also a novelist (the Matthew Hervey series) and so his prose is light and engaging; this is a detailed factual account but it is as pleasurable and easy to read as any well-written novel. The maps are excellent, the pace is a brisk canter; I found this book hard to put down. Some arid asides and footnotes made me laugh aloud.

There are some concluding remarks; in accordance with the author’s aim there is no comparing and contrasting and no suggestion as to how a future war might look. This makes the end rather abrupt; one is left wondering what could have come next. One hopes that will be Mallinson’s next book.

The Shape of Battle is simply superb. Buy it. Read it. Give it to anyone with an interest in military matters – or indeed anyone without an interest in such things as this book will seduce them.

This review originally appeared on the Army Rumour Service website and is republished here with kind permission.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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