rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 1: p. 71
Sources: Battles that Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict
Evan Davis

Evan Davis, Librarian, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Historians have been fascinated by lists of great battles since at least 1851, when E. S. Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles first appeared. Battles that Changed History is in many respects an admirable addition to the genre, but it only partially develops the theme of its title.

The volume consists mainly of 212 lucid, chronologically organized entries chosen for such reasons as decisiveness of the battle, the impact of charismatic leaders and demonstration of human will. Each entry includes a small chart with information about the combatants and an explanation of why the battle was important. The index and bibliography are extensive, and there are references at the end of each entry. Maps are few but detailed. There are no color illustrations.

It would seem that any battle can be said to have “changed history;” a discussion of how the author interprets that phrase would have been welcome. For instance, can a battle be said to have changed history more if it was relatively recent, or if it occurred a long time ago? The answer here favors more recent battles; half of those chosen occurred since 1800.

As for coverage of world conflict, there are some entries from China and other Eastern regions, but the great majority of entries involve Europeans or North Americans. Five battles fought by Alexander the Great are addressed, and five by Napoleon, but none, very surprisingly, by Genghis Khan. Also entirely missing in action are the Assyrians, who carved out multiple empires over hundreds of years.

Two books that bear comparison to Tucker’s are Paul K. Davis’s 100 Decisive Battles From Ancient Times to the Present (ABC-Clio, 1999) and The Seventy Great Battles in History, edited by Jeremy Black, (Thames & Hudson, 2005). There is considerable overlap in the battles chosen for the three books. Davis does briefly spell out his criteria for inclusion in his list, and he includes a greater proportion of premodern battles, but the geographic mix is about the same. Though he describes fewer battles, the essays are longer, and there are more maps. Seventy Great Battles emphasizes relatively well-sourced battles that marked milestones in strategy, tactics and technology. This book also features abundant use of full-color illustrations.

Though not as comprehensive as its number of battles would suggest, Battles that Changed History is a serviceable resource for public and high school libraries, especially for notable battles that are not included in other authors’ lists.

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