Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Synopsis

Historians have long understood that books were important to the British army in defining the duties of its officers, regulating tactics, developing the art of war, and recording the history of campaigns and commanders. Now, in this groundbreaking analysis, Ira D. Gruber identifies which among over nine hundred books on war were considered most important by British officers and how those books might have affected the army from one era to another. By examining the preferences of some forty-two officers who served between the War of the Spanish Succession and the French Revolution, Gruber shows that by the middle of the eighteenth century British officers were discriminating in their choices of books on war and, further, that their emerging preference for Continental books affected their understanding of warfare and their conduct of operations in the American Revolution. In their increasing enthusiasm for books on war, Gruber concludes, British officers were laying the foundation for the nineteenth-century professionalization of their nation's officer corps. Gruber's analysis is enhanced with detailed and comprehensive bibliographies and tables. Historians have long understood that books were important to the British army in defining the duties of its officers, regulating tactics, developing the art of war, and recording the history of campaigns and commanders. Now, in this groundbreaking analysis, Ira D. Gruber identifies which among over nine hundred books on war were considered most important by British officers and how those books might have affected the army from one era to another. By examining the preferences of some forty-two officers who served between the War of the Spanish Succession and the French Revolution, Gruber shows that by the middle of the eighteenth century British officers were discriminating in their choices of books on war and, further, that their emerging preference for Continental books affected their understanding of warfare and their conduct of operations in the American Revolution. In their increasing enthusiasm for books on war, Gruber concludes, British officers were laying the foundation for the nineteenth-century professionalization of their nation's officer corps. Gruber's analysis is enhanced with detailed and comprehensive bibliographies and tables.

Excerpt

This is a book about books—the books that shaped the British army in the age of the American Revolution. Although historians have understood that books were important to the eighteenth-century British army and its officer corps, they have never studied comprehensively the books on war that mattered most to the army and its officers in the age of the American Revolution. This book attempts to do just that. It is based on the careers and preferences of some forty-two officers who served Britain between the wars of Louis XIV and the French Revolution and who left records of the books that they owned, bought, read, recommended, and wrote. These officers had literally hundreds of books on war to choose among: histories, biographies, and memoirs; treatises on artillery and military engineering; classics of the ancient world; and essays on the art of war—to say nothing of regulations for drill, lists of officers, compilations of maps and plans, and books on such disparate topics as the laws of war and military medicine. What then were our officers’ preferences? How did their preferences change across time? And what can their changing preferences tell us about the lives they led and the wars they waged?

The books on war that our officers valued most can tell us about the eighteenth-century British army, its officer corps, and the history of warfare. Those books can help us understand not only how successive generations of British officers remembered the wars they had fought and prepared for wars to come but also how they shaped their careers in the army and adapted to shifting currents in warfare. How, for example, did they explain their failures in the War of the Austrian Succession? How did that explanation affect their preferences for books? And how, in turn, did books shape their attitudes toward themselves and their conduct in the ensuing Seven Years’ War and War for American Independence? In short, knowing what books British officers preferred from one era to another allows us to get a better understanding of the army, its officer corps, and the history of warfare—especially, the Military Revolution, the eighteenth-century military . . .

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