I read a lot of books. Some are shorter reads, and some are longer. While browsing a local used bookstore over last Spring, I picked up a pile of books. One of them was the topic for today, How to Lose a Battle, edited by Bill Fawcett. Now, all of the books I've reviewed prior to today were ones that I really enjoyed, however, this one wasn't nearly as good. Why did this one fall short for me?
How to Lose a Battle is a collection of various battles, ranging from 331 BC to 1967 AD. Written by five different writers and edited by Bill Fawcett, this book was published in 2006, and has not received a second edition as of time of this review. Each chapter details a battle, in which one side (or both) made significant mistakes that lead to defeat. Generally, each chapter ends with a list of the errors, and the lessons to take away from the battle.
Now, this makes for excellent quick reading. The longest chapters are no more than a 15-20 minute read, and as such, this book accompanied me while doing cardio at the gym. The majority of battles featured were ones that I had some cursory knowledge of, and a few standouts that I knew quite a bit about (Midway & Okinawa). I wasn't all that familiar with a lot of the pre-1500AD battles featured, so getting some insight into those was great.
Despite five different authors comprising the book, the writing style is very homogenous. Going from chapter to chapter, it did not feel disjointed, which may be due to Fawcett's editing. While there are no pictures in the book, there are maps in certain sections, which help to better imagine the order of events.
While I've been positive so far, there are some gripes that I've got with the content itself.
When writing a book that is attempting to cover history, a lot of research goes into gaining information. Generally speaking, the authors and editors will put the sources cited in the book. Generally, in the back, with footnotes through the actual content so that the reader can go and see the source. Well, How to Lose a Battle doesn't do that.
Now, I'm not trying to say that this means that any of the book has been fabricated from thin air, it's just something that I don't like to see. All of the battles featured have strong history, with tons of works done on them prior to the publication of this book. Why weren't the sources cited, and listed in the book? Was it to save ink and paper? Regardless as to the "why", I'm not happy that the sources have been omitted.
On top of not including bibliography, there are errors present in the book. Chapter 17, Gettysburg: The Battle has a massive error right on the heading. I don't think the battle happened in 1864, but that's what was printed. While that's an obvious typo, how did it make it into the final print copy?
There's a few other less obvious errors, ones that I didn't notice until I did more research on a few of the battles. This kind of soured my enjoyment of the book.
How to Lose a Battle was a quick read, something that I consumed in less than a week and a half. I paid about $5 for it, and feel as though I've gotten my money's worth, even with the errors. Would I recommend using this book as your only insight into the battles discussed? No, I'd recommend looking at works with actual sources. However, would I recommend this as a quick read? Sure, but only if you can snag it for cheap. I enjoyed my time with the book, but since there were no sources listed, I ended up doing research on my own to gleam more information about the battles discussed. If you decide to consume this book, do some more research if any of the battles featured pique your interest.
Book Recommendations & Patreon Link
While this book has issues, I still got my $5 worth out of it. However, I wouldn't spend any more than that on it. All of the books I've reviewed prior are ones that I'd recommend over How to Lose a Battle.
Check out the following previously reviewed books:
- Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway - Jon Parshall & Tony Tully
- The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors - James D. Hornficsher
- With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa - E.B. Sledge
- China Marine: An Infantry's Life After World War II - E.B. Sledge
- New Rules For War: Victory In The Age Of Durable Disorder - Sean McFate
- Black Hawk Down - Mark Bowden
- Generation Kill - Evan Wright
If you'd like to support me on Patreon, I've got the link for that here. Nearly everything that I do on Primer Peak is paid for out of my own pocket, and my content is not shilled or driven by manufacturers or companies. If you decide to donate, I'd really appreciate it, as it would allow for me to continue to bring you quality work.