Clausewitz: His Life and Work

Donald Stoker. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-935794-9
Carl von Clausewitz is better known as a scholar of war than a soldier, but Stoker, of the Naval Postgraduate School, demonstrates that Clausewitz’s theoretical writings were, in fact, heavily informed by extensive field experience. Clausewitz first saw combat in 1793 as a 13-year-old—as Stoker clarifies, not uncommon for the time—and he “discovered the Enlightenment” two years later while awaiting peace. Prussia’s quick collapse in the Jena campaign of 1806 made Clausewitz aware of the “non-material elements of war.” During the Reform Movement during the years of Napoleon’s ascendancy, Clausewitz perceived the need for developing a theory of war that synthesized permanent and circumstantial principles by integrating the approaches of Immanuel Kant into the study of political and history. He also “dreamed of distinguishing himself on the battlefield” and smelled more than a whiff or two of grapeshot between 1812 and 1815—though from a distance. Stoker convincingly argues that the Russian and Prussian armies in which Clausewitz served made optimal use of him on staffs, where his skills as planner and administrator were at a premium. This practical knowledge informed his voluminous postwar writings on history, politics, and war itself. On War “shows us how to think about war,” Stoker notes, but it is shaped by how wars are made: that remains Clausewitz’s special legacy. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/08/2014
Release date: 11/01/2014
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