Victor Davis Hanson is a renowned historian and classicist who has written extensively on military history, politics, and culture. While he’s academic writer from Stanford University, his works are anything but dry. On the contrary, he’s quite controversial and has very strong views on war and politics (with conservative leaning), which makes his books such a brilliant read. You can skip his political works like “The Case for Trump”, which isn’t a bad book in itself, but I think it might be already a bit outdated, but you should certainly read his historical works.
If you want to get a sample of Hanson’s views, here’s his lecture on Patton:
Are you interested in classical warfare or World War 2? Then you should get to know his works, as Hanson is considered one of the most influential modern military historians. Here are three of his best books that I would recommend:
- “The Western Way of War“: In my first recommended book, Hanson examines the military culture of the ancient Greeks and the ways in which it influenced the Western way of war. He argues that the Greeks’ emphasis on individual heroism and courage in battle helped to shape Western military culture for centuries to come. This is especially interesting for fans of hoplite warfare like me, as it offers lots of interesting and some grim details. You can couple it with “A War Like No Other”, which I consider the best book on Peloponesian War.
One of the strengths of this book is Hanson’s ability to bring the ancient world to life. He describes the battles, sieges, and political intrigues of the war, and he provides a nuanced portrayal of the personalities involved. In particular, he offers compelling portraits of the Athenian leader Pericles and the Spartan king Brasidas, both of whom played key roles in the conflict. I’ve especially liked chapter on naval operations that potrayed difficult lives of Athenian and Spartan rowers. Peloponesian War was a real carnage and I haven’t found any other writer that could describe it as vividly as Hanson. “A War like No Other” is also a great starter book on this Greek city states conflict, even for beginners.
- “Carnage and Culture“: This book builds on the themes of “The Western Way of War,” but takes a more comprehensive approach. This time Hanson isn’t focusing on a single conflict, but rather analyzes the military histories of various civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, British, and Americans, and shows how their cultural traits have influenced their military strategies and tactics.Hanson also provides compelling explanations for why certain civilizations, such as the Mongols and the Japanese, were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to conquer Western nations. “Carnage and Culture” tries to explain why the West is always winning against the East, since Roman conquest to war against ISIS in Iraq.
- “The Savior Generals“: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost – From Ancient Greece to Iraq”: This is the first Hanson book that I’ve read and I was almost instantly blown away by his insights and compelling ideas. Hanson writing is clear, precise and simply provides a lot of fun. Each chapter is dedicated to one general that turned the war around and prevented failure.These generals are Themistocles, Belisarius (Justinian’s Reconquests after the fall of Rome), William Tecumseh Sherman, Matthew Ridgeway (Korean War) and David Petraeus. I’ve seen reviews that he overstates the importance of these individual leaders, and that he downplays the role of collective action and organizational structures, but regardless what you think about that, it’s another gripping read.
So there you have it. Here are actually four books that you should read to get insights into minds of brilliant commanders like Patton and Brasidas or that take different approach than the Osprey books. There are no maps or color plates, but plethora of interesting details and strong opinions should not only entertain you, but also give you some food or thoughts. And it will certainly help you get over the painting block, inspiring you to get back to work on your historical minis!