The Shape of Battle

The Shape of Battle

Allan Mallinson
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This book has a commendably limited aim of being a study of why some battles were fought as they were. The author states that he will be satisfied if this book serves to show what an enigmatic business war is. He achieves his aim comprehensively.

The format is straightforward, six battles campaigns spanning almost one thousand years are described sequentially. Each one has a background briefing that covers the historical context, any relevant technology and the preliminary events leading to the denouement of the battle. This is described in detail, starting with the ground. It is here that the author’s military skill comes to the fore; not only does he understand ground (unsurprising in a former cavalry brigadier) but he can explain it succinctly and engagingly.

The author is also a novelist (the Matthew Hervey series) and so his prose is light and engaging; this is a detailed factual account but it is as pleasurable ad easy to read as any well written novel. The maps are excellent, the pace is a brisk canter; I found this book hard to put down. There are some utterly joyfully arid asides and footnotes that made me laugh aloud.

There are some concluding remarks; in accordance with the author’s aim there is no comparing and contrasting and no suggestion as to how a future war might look. This makes the end rather abrupt; one is left wondering what could have come next. One hopes that will be the author’s next book.

This book is simply superb. Buy it. Read it. Give it to anyone with an interest in military matters – or indeed anyone without an interest in such things as this book will seduce them.

Five Mushrooms Heads – only because there aren’t six.

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