Leadership In War

Leadership In War

Correlli Barnett
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Correlli Barnett’s Leadership In War has been out for a few years now (it was first published in 2012 and then again as a revised edition in 2014). It examines national leaders, both political and military, across a number of wars and is not shy of criticising or praising its subjects.

The author has covered a number of leaders from Napoleon Bonaparte to Winston Churchill and each subject area is covered in a short essay which frequently interlinked. The book is broken into three parts which cover, in turn, the nineteenth century (Napoleon Bonaparte, the American Civil War and the establishment of Germany), the First World War (here as The Great War) and the Second World War.

The great thing about this book is that you don’t have to agree with the author but he certainly makes you think, if only to challenge his views. He does not pull his punches and is more than willing to challenge stereotypes or historical myths. In writing about particular leaders, Barnett has chosen either a wide-ranging approach (eg Napoleon Bonaparte, Zhukov, Yamamoto) or focused on a specific area within their career (eg Haig in 1918, Petain and the French mutinies in 1917). The choice of leaders is excellent and Barnett has linked them together well. Some of the choices are perhaps the obvious ones (Slim, Churchill, Hitler); others are perhaps less widely-known (Ramsay, Napoleon III). This makes for a great variety for the reader and opens up some interesting lines of enquiry.

By choosing such a wide topic, Barnett has had to limit himself. Some of essays feel a bit short and I had the occasional sense that more could have been written. This feels a bit churlish when Barnett is writing about eighteen different leaders but there were times when I felt that he was assuming a degree of knowledge on the part of the reader that wasn’t warranted. Also, some of the other possible candidates who would seem obviously linked to the selected subjects (eg Wellington, Blucher, French, Roosevelt, Marshall, Alanbrooke) didn’t make the cut which is a great shame as they would have allowed for a great compare-and-contrast).

By way of recommendation, I had to work to keep hold of this book in order to review it. Friends and acquaintances who saw it frequently picked it up to read it (and in one or two cases walked off with it) and, when I retrieved it, the invariable question was “Can I borrow it when you’ve finished with it?”. This is a good book that makes a number of sound points and is worth learning from. Anyone interested in leadership at the strategic or operational level will benefit from it and it’s a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

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