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Logistics: The Key To Victory

Jeremy Black
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Logistics: The Key To Victory by Jeremy Black is a “world history of logistics” - the intent is to fill a gap in both the history of warfare and the studies of military logistics. Black is a good individual for the task being a prolific writer and a renowned and dedicated scholar and lecturer. He's currently the Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Exeter so knows his stuff.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a history nerd/geek as well and I’ve been a logistician for over twenty years now so this book should be right up my street. In the main, it is but there are one or two areas where it was a bit tricky.

This is a big book, perhaps not physically but certainly conceptually. and I’ve always bought in to the sub-title of the book (and even had it said to me by non-logisticians once in a while) but I did pause when I pondered the author’s ambition. Writing a history of logistics across the breadth of time and space (a TARDIS would have been useful) is a challenge and I think it’s healthy – learning from narrow time periods (eg just one particular war) and/or one particular culture (eg from just one army) is, by definition, very restrictive.

The author has deliberately chosen eras that don't fit with a Western/European timeframe and historical examples that match this . The first chapter includes the fall of Constantinople, William and 1066, ancient warfare in the Mediterranean region, dynasties in China and the Mongols (amongst many others). This is where the book’s key problem lies. So much information, making so many valid points, leads to moments where you either feel a bit uneducated (I had to look up a few of the examples) or somewhat overwhelmed (re-reading paragraphs and pages as occasionally needed). At times, I felt I was moving from wavetop to wavetop and the depth just wasn't there. Arguably, the book’s editors could have leaned in a bit more and narrowed some of this down.

As the book progresses, the writing becomes tighter and the examples easier to follow (the American Civil War chapter is excellent). The chronology finishes in 2021 and presents some good lessons for the future and sound conclusions.

This is a great book and covers the whole range of logistic areas – how it shapes and is shaped by government policies, how it spans activity at strategic, operational and tactical levels and how it has changed (or not) throughout the centuries. In my opinion, it would have been better as a two- or three-volume series and, covering an arguably niche area as it does, this may have resulted in a more accessible format.

Should it be on your bookcase (having read it and not just for show)? It’s not one for Logistics 101 and entry-level stuff but it certainly adds value.: anyone who wants to understand logistics (and policy-making) better would be well-advised to read it.

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