cover image How to Lose a War: More Foolish Plans and Great Military Blunders

How to Lose a War: More Foolish Plans and Great Military Blunders

Bill Fawcett, . . HarperCollins, $13.99 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-06-135844-9

Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have sensitized Americans to the nuances of defeat in war. In this anthology, Fawcett, who rivals Jim Dunnigan as a general-audience military analyst, brings together 11 first-rate writers on military history to offer two dozen case studies of wars that should have been won—but were not. The conflicts range from the Peloponnesian Wars to the first Gulf war. The contributors range from established authors like Roland Green and Bill Forstchen to first-rate newcomers like Paul Thomsen. Their essays incorporate a combination of perceptive analysis and a light touch that earns the book a classification as history/humor without lapsing into the unsubtle mockery frequently informing writing on defeat. They understand that nobody sets out to lose—but the same impulses generating war can prefigure defeat. This can involve the arrogance of Napoleon in 1812 or the thirst for glory that dominated Pyrrhus of Epirus in the third century B.C. The common threads are underestimating the enemy and “being so taken with yourself and your army that you fail to learn from the mistakes others have made before you.” A chapter on Iraq will be correspondingly welcome in a second edition. (Aug.)