Argues that American generals Sherman and Patton, as well as Athenian general Epaminondas, were the greatest military leaders in history.
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On first glance, The Soul of Battle appears to be three different books: biographies of two well-known generals--Sherman and Patton--and one who is virtually unknown today, the ancient Greek leader Epaminondas. Yet Victor Davis Hanson, a classics professor and author of The Western Way of War, makes a compelling connection between these three men. They were "eccentrics, considered unbalanced or worse by their own superiors" who led democratic armies on missions of freedom. Epaminondas crushed Sparta's military dominance of Greece in a single winter, Sherman delivered a deathblow to the slaveholding South in the U.S. Civil War, and Patton was the general most feared by his Nazi enemies in the Second World War. Hanson disputes the conventional notion that soldiers fight only for their buddies, rather than abstract ideals. He writes: "Theban hoplites, Union troops, and American GIs were ideological armies foremost, composed of citizen-soldiers who burst into their enemies' heartland because they believed it was a just and very necessary thing to do. The commanders who led them encouraged that ethical zeal, made them believe there was a real moral difference" between what they and their opponents stood for. Epaminondas, Sherman, and Patton each became extremely controversial for his success, but Hanson argues persuasively that their efforts demonstrate "that on rare occasions throughout the ages there can be a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle." With this idiosyncratic approach, Hanson makes a unique contribution to our understanding of not only these three men and their troops, but also the role of the military in a democratic society. --John J. MillerFrom the Inside Flap:
Victor David Hanson, author of the highly regarded classic The Western Way of War, presents an audacious and controversial theory of what contributes to the success of military campaigns.
Examining in riveting detail the campaigns of three brilliant generals who led largely untrained forces to victory over tyrannical enemies, Hanson shows how the moral confidence with which these generals imbued their troops may have been as significant as any military strategy they utilized. Theban general Epaminondas marched an army of farmers two hundred miles to defeat their Spartan overlords and forever change the complexion of Ancient Greece. William Tecumseh Sherman led his motley army across the South, ravaging the landscape and demoralizing the citizens in the defense of right. And George S. Patton commanded the recently formed Third Army against the German forces in the West, nearly completing the task before his superiors called a halt. Intelligent and dramatic, "The Soul of Battle is narrative history at it's best and a work of great moral conviction.
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