Carl von Clauswitz, ON WAR

Carl von Clauswitz, On War. Everyman’s Library. New York, London and Toronto, 1993. Translated from the German by Michael Howard and Peter Paret.

Why, you might ask, did I read On War? It is seven hundred and seventy-one pages (excluding the modern commentary) in this edition, and the print is not noticeably large.

Well, why not?

Clauswitz is one of those intellectual figures who’s frequently quoted – “War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means,” and, “War is an instrument of policy,” among the most famous quotes – but seldom read, and that’s a shame. Because Clauswitz is surprisingly readable for a theorist of 19th-century warfare, and many of his points remain valid for today. Especially the first chapter of the first book of On War, entitled “What Is War?” – it should be required reading for everyone with a passing interest in politics and international diplomacy. (The second chapter, “Purpose and Means in War,” and the seventh, “Friction in War,” are likewise particularly illuminating reading.)

On War was unfinished at the time of Clauzwitz’s death, and the complete rewrite that he indicates he intended was never completed. But it’s still an immensely interesting look at war as phenomenon, in its context.

6 thoughts on “Carl von Clauswitz, ON WAR

  1. It’s long. Took me two months of snatching pages here and there. But, on the other hand, it’s one of those books where reading it is an achievement in itself.

  2. It’s a book that needs more anecdotes. Clausewitz was at Jena, Borodino, and Ligny, but you’d hardly know it from the abstract treatment in On War.

  3. Back in my military officer days, I read both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. They’re both wonderful books in the chewiness of the material and how much they make you see patterns in the world you might otherwise not have, and they thoroughly inform my thinking on military might to this day.

  4. Sun Tzu is on my list. At the moment I’m bouncing off an abridged best-of-Lenin. (Either the translation’s crap, or the man just couldn’t write for beans.)

    …I appear to have talked myself into a “Read significant nonfiction in your spare time” project.

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