The Art of War

Art of War JominiThe Art of War by Antoine Henri Jomini, translated by Capt. G. H. Mendell and Lieut. W. P. Craighill, 4/5

I’m sure people who know things could have a spirited discussion about the merits of Jomini’s theories, especially vs. those of his contemporary, Clausewitz.  Sadly, I am not one of those people, having but a feeble grasp of the workings of war and having read Clausewitz’s On War too long ago to remember much.  But judging merely from the viewpoint of style, I found Jomini much preferable.  His writing is concise, cogent, and reasonably readable.  He seems more confident than Clausewitz, less defensive and more interested in proving theories right or wrong instead of proving himself right and others wrong.  (Though he isn’t above the occasional bitchy remark, such as referring to “General Clausewitz, whose logic is frequently defective…”).

Without a map of Europe on hand, and lacking a detailed knowledge of Napoleon’s campaigns, I probably absorbed about 10% of this book’s intended effect.  Because I got lost in the historical parts, my favourite sections were the practical ones, with nitty-gritty details, specific scenarios and diagrams (such as the entertaining chapter on “Different Orders of Battle”).  Jomini’s ideas are easily boiled down into compact sentences and I believe this one summarizes the basic logic behind the entire work: “Every maxim relating to war will be good if it indicates the employment of the greatest portion of the means of action at the decisive moment and place” (295).

[Why I read it: I found it in a box of my brother’s books and set it aside to read later.  Many years later.  No doubt, he has given it up for lost and will be surprised to be reunited with it soon.]



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