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The Shield of Achilles

War, Peace and the Course of History


Philip Bobbitt (View Bio)
Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002; Paperback: Anchor Books, 2003.

The Shield of Achilles

As ambitious as THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS or THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS, this is a brilliant work of history by Philip Bobbitt, A. W. Walker Centennial Chair in Law, University of Texas, Austin, and Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford, who also has served the National Security Council at the White House as Director for Intelligence, 1997—1998, Senior Director for Critical Infrastructure, 1998—99, and, most recently, as the Senior Director for Strategic Planning.

An Economist Book of the Year
Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2002

"What makes Bobbitt different from most commentators...is that he is prepared to be prescriptive, outline a strategy on which the generals and the other directors of an increasingly complex security effort might plan.... This is a bold book, a brave book, and a worthy primer for the essential study of where we go from here." — Allan Mallinson, The Times (London)

"Thought-provoking... [a] wide-ranging, ambitiously conceived and intelligently argued book.... The real, practical purpose of the book is Bobbitt's analysis of the new international environment. It is here that he brings to bear to good effect his academic insights and practical experience." — Times Literary Supplement

"This seems to me not merely an innovative but also an extremely important book‹one which could make a real contribution to the way statesmen, journalists, bankers, international lawyers look at the world, its problems and its future. If it is widely read and is properly understood, I believe it could be one of the key texts at the birth of the new century." — Philip Ziegler, historian and author of MOUNTBATTEN, among other prize–winning biographies

"This is clearly a very serious subject but this is an accessible and provocative book that is short on dry and unfathomable analysis and rich on color, anecdote and people. It will be read by educated men and women everywhere and will be required reading in the corridors of power around the world. It will be a call to arms to all of us who recognize an uncertain future and want to understand the challenges that lie ahead." — James Adams, author of THE NEXT WORLD WAR

"This is a majestic book." — Simon Jenkins, The Times (London)

"This is a book of extraordinary ambition. It could well have been called A General Theory of War, Peace, and History. For that is what it proffers, at least for political history over the last half-millennium as perceived through European and American eyes. And it has a message: that, as Sir Michael Howard puts it in his magisterial foreword, 'mankind could be facing a tragedy without precedent in its history. Even Achilles behind his 'great and massive' shield was neither secure nor victorious at Troy. Nor are we, the parliamentary democratic nation-states, today. These are big themes, and the architecture and style of the book are suitably grand, drawing on a wealth of classical and modern scholarship as well as on the author's extensive experience in the in highest reaches of American government and as an expert and policy-maker on security and law." — The Guardian (Scotland)

"This book is a magnificent accomplishment from which I learned a huge amount. Although very long, it is well-paced and often truly exciting: a pleasure to read. The book will he important in situating our thought about the coming century." — Mark Sagoff, former Director of the Center for Philosophy and Public Policy and currently Guest Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

"This big book is provocative and richly textured." — Publishers Weekly

"Philip Bobbitt is to be saluted for undertaking an epic struggle to sort through an extraordinarily dynamic time in international affairs." — Washington Post

"Objections to Bobbitt's theory of the course of history must be taken, ultimately, as a compliment to the depth and variety displayed in the book.... This book will certainly stimulate a needed discussion of America's foreign policy, especially as we drift into a state of endless war against an amorphous foe." — Christian Science Monitor

"No one else is likely to look so far back at human and political organization. No one else has looked so hard at nuclear weapons, at the full potentialities of terrorism and the consequences for sophisticated civilizations." — Walt Rostow, former National Security Advisor and author of THE GREAT SPIKE AND AFTERWARDS: Reflections on the Twenty-First Century

"Massive and extraordinary.... Arresting and provocative.... This is a rich and complex analysis.... No-one can deny the intellectual force of many of the arguments and the awesome scope of the conspectus as Bobbitt ranges freely across the centuries and the immensely complex political, environmental, economic, and cultural issues of our own era. Insightful...awesome in scope...it is a fascinating tour de force of historical enquiry and futuristic speculation. All interested in the present condition of the human race and the choices before us ought to read it." — The Herald (Scotland)

"It's a book so ambitious, and so often interesting, that those who make it through the more than nine hundred pages are likely to forgive its failings.... Fascinating.... This is a big book — in both senses of the term. THE SHIELD OF ACHILLES should become required reading not only in the academy but for the military and civilian decision-makers of the industrialized world." — The Weekly Standard

"It is tempting to call Philip Bobbitt's huge magnum opus majestic. But that is only half the truth. It is also argumentative, opinionated, [and] brilliant.... It is a triumph.... Awe inspiring." — Evening Standard (London)

"It is easy to feel, as Virginia Woolf once said about an earlier cataclysm, that after Sept. 11 human consciousness changed, that beforehand no one could have guessed at the kinds of traumas and transformations that were about to unfold. But judging from this book — which, after a decade of work, must have been all but complete at the time — the historian Philip Bobbitt had a pretty good idea.... This book is magisterial in its scope and ambition, and...inspires reflection even when it provokes disagreement." — Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"Even at those times of the day when I read just for fun, I found myself reaching for [the] book. [Bobbitt's] learning is impressive and [his] perspective is fresh enough so that even when the historical narrative goes over familiar ground, it is lively and interesting." — Steven Weinberg, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum field theory and author of THE FIRST THREE MINUTES and DREAMS OF A FINAL THEORY

"Blockbuster...[an] extraordinary study.... This is a remarkable book." — The Independent (London)

"Beautiful prose." — The Times (London)

"[A] very important book.... [Bobbitt] knows his stuff, but rarely struts it: he is earnest but seldom pompous, well-informed but never grand.... He plays hardball with a sense of the importance of the rules as well as muscle. What review could do justice to the range and intelligence of a work so full of ideas, proposals and fears and hopes for the future of civilization? Closely argued...chilling...persuasive.... This tome is readable...for its sustained intelligence and honesty." — Sunday Times(London)

"A brilliant, disquieting essay on geopolitics, warfare, and the future of the state. War brings us peace for only a short time, argues Bobbitt. More commonly, war brings sweeping changes in the progress, which is one reason warfare is a constant in human history. A case in point for the author is the so-called Long War that raged around the world from 1914 to 1990. This epochal conflict produced the emergent 'market-state,' just as the so-called Long Nineteenth Century produced the modern nation-state. Of this market state Bobbitt writes rather vaguely — necessarily, given that no such government now exists and that the world's fortunes can turn in many possible directions (many of them terribly bad) over the next few years. Clearly, he argues, the nation-state is outmoded on several fronts. The contemporary world, for instance, is more and more inclined to insist that states respect the human rights of citizens no matter what their internal laws, thus legitimizing interventions in places such as Afghanistan or Bosnia and weakening the old idea of sovereign polity that can do just about whatever it wishes within its territorial borders. Advances in finance and communications have also left the nation-state behind: 'There is a grotesque disparity,' Bobbitt writes, 'between the rapid movement of international capital and the ponderous and territorially circumscribed responses of the nation-state, as clumsy as a bear chained to a stake, trying to chase a shifting beam of light.' How a government concerned with providing services and dominating the market will be more responsive to extra-mercantile issues remains to be seen, but throughout this largely ambitious treatise, Bobbitt poses scenarios that for ardent democrats will range from the scarcely comforting to the bleak, with rays of hope in very short supply. Few historical studies are as daring and engaging as this." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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