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Invisible Armies

An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present


Max Boot (View Bio)
Hardcover: W.W. Norton, 2013.

Invisible Armies

Time and again, guerrilla warfare seems to be superseded by the "new new thing"—industrial warfare in the 1910s, aerial warfare in the 1930s, nuclear warfare in the 1950s, network-centric warfare in the 1990s—and yet each time it reasserts itself with a vengeance. In fact, since World War II, insurgency and terrorism have become the dominant forms of conflict, a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

From Algeria and Vietnam to Afghanistan, Chechnya, Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq, insurgents in modern times have shown a consistent ability to humble great powers. Americans got an unwelcome reminder of how potent irregular tactics could be on September 11, 2001, and in the wars that followed. Suddenly understanding the nature of guerrilla warfare has become a matter of life and death.

This is a comprehensive history of guerrilla warfare—an account of many conflicts through the ages: the Jewish War against Rome, the Scottish-English wars, the American Revolution, the French Indochina War, the British in Malaya, and many others. Boot dispels myths while illustrating some of the most salient points about guerrilla warfare in a narrative of absorbing style and mastery.

With 8 maps and 70 illustrations
One of the “Must Reads of 2013”—The Daily Beast
“What to Read in 2013”—Foreign Policy
A Selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club

"Enormous, brilliant and important…. Boot, whose grasp on history is amazingly broad, gives examples of traditional warfare from prehistory to today, with concise and enlightening chapters on the great 'guerrilla' leaders of the past, from a Jewish victory over a Roman army in 66 A.D. to our present difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrific…. He has a wonderful biographical as well as a narrative gift…. Endlessly fascinating…. Astute…. Boot’s Invisible Armies should be required reading in the White House and Pentagon—the breadth of his knowledge, his first-hand experience, and his sensible point of view make this the best and most realistic book on the subject since that classic work Colonel C. E. Caldwell’s Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, with the additional advantage that it is well-written, and as readable as a novel…. Lucid, enlightening, and highly readable.... I hope it is a huge bestseller—he deserves it, and it would do almost everyone in this country who thinks about war a world of good to read it." — Michael Korda, The Daily Beast

"A sweeping panorama that ranges over a vast terrain…. Thoughtful, smart, fluent, with an eye for the good story." — Mark Mazower, The New York Times Book Review (front page review)

"Invisible Armies is a magisterial account of insurgency and counterinsurgency across the ages, peppered with fascinating personalities such as Robert the Bruce, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Che Guevara, Edward Lansdale, Osama bin Laden and David Petraeus. Out of narrative emerges cogent analysis: The author offers important insights relevant to any modern power faced with a guerrilla opponent. Hard lessons are, however, delivered with elegant prose. Leaving aside what Invisible Armies teaches us, this is a wonderful read." — Gerard DeGroot, The Washington Post

"Invisible Armies, after an exhaustive but brisk canter throughout the small wars of history, brilliantly sums up the lessons of the centuries." — Martin Walker, The Wilson Quarterly

"A definitive survey of the long history of irregular warfare…. One of the most pleasing aspects of Invisible Armies is the superb character sketches that Mr. Boot provides of some of the most important individual actors in military history, insurgent leaders like Washington, T.E. Lawrence, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Osama bin Laden…. As America's leaders contemplate a pivot away from the long, hard wars of the past decade, they would do well to contemplate the dozen 'Implications' with which Mr. Boot concludes his magisterial work. He summarizes the lessons of 5,000 years…. Mr. Boot's impressive work of military history is destined to be the classic account of what may be the oldest as well as the hardest form of war." — John Nagl, The Wall Street Journal

"Fresh... Pithy... Works rather well. Even when the author is rattling through fairly familiar territory, such as the failures of the French against the Vietminh, he usually finds something fresh or pithy to say…. Counter-insurgency may be out of fashion again, but it remains necessary to know how to do it. Mr. Boot offers a timely reminder to politicians and generals of the hard-earned lessons of history." — The Economist

"Remarkably comprehensive... Boot sustains the reader’s interest with lively writing and sharp characterizations." — Lawrence Freedman, Foreign Affairs

"Invisible Armies is an excellent survey of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. Numerous guerrilla and terrorist campaigns and leaders are analyzed over the course of more than 60 chapters and a dense 784 pages. Boot’s writing style is engaging and his book reads more like a novel than a typical dry tome of military history…. The book is fair, well researched, and shows the difficulty in confronting and countering guerrilla warfare…. [A] masterful work…. Invisible Armies weaves together numerous, diverse guerrilla campaigns and leaders into a cogent and well-researched narrative. For this accomplishment alone, Max Boot deserves the attention of students, scholars, and experts of security studies and international relations. The book is an account that combines the history of guerrilla warfare with an analysis of the future. Scholars and practitioners would be wise to study what is likely to remain the dominant form of warfare across the globe." — Bradley Martin, International Affairs Review

"The word “magisterial” is bandied about far too freely these days, but in the case of Max Boot’s sweeping and deeply researched history of guerrilla warfare, it proves fair." — Lucas Wittman, The Daily Beast

"For the historian and journalist Max Boot to use the phrase ‘an epic history’ in the subtitle of his own book implies a magnificent lack of modesty in his own capabilities. The work more than matches the hype…. This path-breaking book should thus be on the reading list of every NATO officer hoping to defeat an insurgency." — Andrew Roberts, Commentary

"There’s no better guide to both the past and the future than Invisible Armies, the tour de force of a scholar as well as a man who’s seen American adversaries and soldiers at work up close." — The Weekly Standard

"Not only does Boot, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, show the dominance of this form of war over a few millennia, he manages to draw an entertaining picture of individual insurgents and the counterinsurgents. Boot brings these characters to life across a stretch of history from the Maccabees to McChrystal. The value of such a compilation comes from the perspective that it gives its reader. ... Boot's mammoth book is destined to become a classic with few imitators." — Joseph J. Collins, Armed Forces Journal

"A military historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Boot presents a sweeping, well-written, and comprehensively documented history of guerilla war. For Boot, guerrilla warfare and terrorism are distinct but synergistically linked. Terrorism is the use of violence, primarily by nonstate actors, against noncombatants. Guerrilla, which means ‘little war,’ is the organized use of hit-and run tactics against governments. What they have in common is their use by fighters ‘too weak to employ conventional methods,’ although these unconventional methods may have higher prospects of success. Boot begins by tracing their roots, from prehistoric tribal war to the medieval grappling on the Anglo-Scottish frontier. He goes on to address terrorism and guerrilla warfare through the centuries and around the world, from medieval assassins to irregulars’ operations during 19th century the liberal European revolutions between the 1770s and to the 1880s to guerrilla movements generated by imperialism, terrorism, from the medieval Assassins to the IRA, and guerrilla operations in the world wars. He concludes with an analysis of national liberation movements, recent Leftist revolutionary upheavals and Islamic terror. The result is a compelling narrative and perceptive analysis: a must read in today’s world." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Max Boot is an ideal guide to offer such a timely and, in some ways, reassuring history of guerrilla warfare.... A considerable achievement that will ensure Invisible Armies remains a valuable scholarly research tool as well as popular history.... [A] magisterial study." — Victor Davis Hanson, The New Criterion

"Characterized by stealth, raids, and retreats, irregular warfare is a strategy of the weak against the strong, and has been, according to military-affairs writer Boot, ever since Alexander the Great was stymied in modern Afghanistan. Cataloging unconventional wars by the dozens, Boot considers factors that led to victory or defeat, factors common to rebels, whether motivated by tribal loyalty, nationalism, political ideology, or religious militancy. Ultimately distilling his massive historical survey into several precepts for analyzing insurgency, Boot concludes that a rebellion will most likely succeed if its irregular fighters cooperate with its conventional units; if it receives foreign assistance; and if it produces effective propaganda. Boot cites the American Revolution as a template and, likewise, Garibaldi’s unification of Italy and Ho Chi Minh’s Communist victory in Vietnam. Receiving Boot’s equal attention are strategists who defeated twentieth-century insurgencies in the French and British Empires. Few but specialists know of Louis Lyautey; that his counterinsurgency ideas are ancestral to current U.S. military doctrine illustrates the current-affairs importance of Boot’s presentation, which is impressively researched, astutely synthesized, and eminently readable." — Booklist

"Boot follows the long, quirky history of insurgency, from Bar Kokhba to Bin Laden. The slippery definition of guerrillas underscores the challenging task faced by the author. In this systematic though not always chronological study, Boot examines how guerrilla forces have always ‘employ[ed] stealth, surprise and rapid movement to harass, ambush, massacre, and terrorize their enemies while trying to minimize their own casualties through rapid retreat,’ tactics that have proven highly effective throughout history, especially as the fight moved into the realm of winning public opinion. The author divides his narrative into various epochs, beginning in Mesopotamia and continuing through the long-running struggle against the Roman Empire, warfare in China around the time of Sun Tzu, the centuries of battles between England and Scotland, the Haitian and Greek wars for independence, the struggle for Italian unification, the ascent of Mao Zedong and present-day battles with terrorist organizations. He also examines the many examples of guerrilla warfare in America, including the revolution against Britain, the ‘forest wars’ of the eastern U.S., the battles of the Ku Klux Klan and civil rights agitators. The creation of the ‘guerrilla mystique’ in the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to Castro, Guevara and Arafat, emphasized radical ideology as the guerrilla motivation, paving the way for the next deadly wave by parties of God, jihadists and suicide bombers. An expansive nuts-and-bolts historical survey from a keen military mind." — Kirkus Reviews

"Guerrilla wars will dominate our future, and in this valuable and fascinating book, Max Boot recounts their historic antecedents—beginning with the barbarians at the gates of the Roman Empire. It is filled with many lessons on how to wage effective counterinsurgencies. But it is also simply a wonderful and readable historic narrative filled with colorful characters" — Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin

"Sweeping, meticulous, and exceptionally thoughtful. Max Boot's Invisible Armies is an important, compelling contribution to our understanding of how men make war." — Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle

"Max Boot has produced the most definitive and comprehensive work to date on the dominant form of warfare of our times. From the origins of guerrilla warfare to current conflicts the reader travels through the centuries of time understanding the nature and character of unconventional warfare yet because of the power of Boot's narrative and sheer ability to tell a story, the reader can live the experience. A must read for scholars, military and government professionals, and a fascinating journey for the general public." — General (ret.) Jack Keane, former Army Vice Chief of Staff

"This is the definitive treatment of guerrilla warfare through the ages—a tour de force by a preeminent military historian who has advised generals, policymakers and political leaders on the subject" — Senator John S. McCain

"With precision and a quiet passion, Max Boot has written a landmark book about a perennial and important challenge: guerrilla warfare. A scholar with a great gift for storytelling, Boot takes us on a grand and vivid tour of millennia of a kind of conflict that confronts us even now." — Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and Franklin and Winston

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