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Dragon Preservation Society > Book reviews
The Art of Warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, from the eighth century to 1340. J.F. Verbruggen, The Boydell Press, 1998. English translation of this excellent Belgian classic from 1954. Probably one of the best books on the subject, and in an enjoyable translation (which corrects some of Verbruggen's school-teacher style).
On War. Carl von Clausewitz. edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, 1976. This is a classic, but unfinished work, it's huge and somewhat unstructured, but not as inaccessible as it's sometimes described.
The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Christine de Pizan, Pennsylvania state university press, 1999. A 1410 book dealing with strategy (mostly based on Vegetius) and with laws of war, also giving detailed lists of fortification and siege equipment (and written by a woman).
The Art of War. Niccolo Machiavelli. Intro by Neal Wood. Da Capo Press, 1965. The intro by Neal Wood makes much of 'the art of war', claiming it to be a kind of synthesis of Machiavelli's socio-political theories. Originally published in 1521, it's interesting to compare it with the Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry by Christine de Pizan from 1410. Personally I like the earlier work more, Machiavelli's emphasis on the superiority of the Romans in all things is tiresome at times.
The Book of the Courtier. Conte Castiglione Baldassare, 1528. A book on the code of the Renaissance knight and courtier, and a great work of literature.
The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. Sydney Anglo, Yale University Press, 2000. A long overdue analysis of European martial arts, mostly (but not exclusively) from Renaissance manuals. Anglo discusses sword fighting, staff fighting, bare hands, daggers and knives, and mounted combat, and besides this, a considerable part of the book is devoted to the problem of recording combat techniques in manuals, and the various solutions adopted by the old masters. One of the main themes of the book is that European martial artists attached great importance to explaining their art (without which ability one was never considered a real master), which partly explains the great abundance of combat manuals created.
The secret history of the sword, adventures in ancient martial arts. J. Christoph Amberger, Unique Publications, 1998. Very interesting book on various sword related topics, including the psychological and initiatory aspects of weapons combat. Also discusses many of the myths and pseudohistory that surround the Western martial arts. Very much recommended. Visit the author's Secret history of the Sword website.
The Knight and Chivalry. Richard Barber, Boydell Press, 1970. A classic work on chivalry, its history and literature, and its connection to religion and the state. A little shallow on the 'practical' side, otherwise recommended.
A knight in battle. Ewart Oakeshott, Dufour editions, 1998. A description of what happened at 4 battles in different periods; Arsuf, Lincoln, Mauron and Marigano. Fascinating.
The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny - text, context, and translation. Richard W. Kaeuper, Elspeth Kennedy, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Contains the original text side by side with an English translation. One of the most important text on chivalry by "the most worthy and valiant of them all."
The Knight in History. Frances Gies, Harper Perennial, 1984. A short history of knighthood that includes interesting biographies of William Marshal, Bertrand du Guesclin and John Fastolf.
Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight, an illustrated history of weaponry in the Middle Ages. David Edge, John Miles Paddock. Crescent Books, 1996. A nicely illustrated history, contains pictures of most of the famous surviving swords and armors. Also deals briefly with armor construction.
The Armourer and his Craft. From the XIth to the XVIth Century. Charles Ffoulkes. Dover Publications, 1988. This is a reprint from a 1912 classic work on the subject. It contains several authentic texts in full, a polyglot glossary, and an interesting study of the weight carried by soldiers in history (1550: armor and helmet; 25lb, clothes and arms; 15lb. - 1911: British infantry service equipment; 59lb 11oz). It also deals with leather and textile armor. Recommended.
The Book of the Crossbow. Ralph Payne-Gallwey. Dover Publications, 1995 (orig 1903). A treatise on the construction and use of this often overlooked weapon through the centuries. The details on construction of the several models are sufficiently explicit that one is tempted to try and build one. There is even a preparation for poison arrows included. Flanders' famous crossbows are not neglected. It also includes the Chinese repeating crossbow and some material on the Turkish bow. There is an appendix on siege engines, with reconstruction plans by the author.
Arms and armour of the crusading era - 1050-1350 - Western Europe and the Crusader states. David Nicolle. Greenhill Books, 1999. A collection of some 2000 line drawings drawn from artwork as well as artefacts, organised by country. Each drawing is commented. Though the drawings often lack detail compared to the original artworks and the text is minimal, the book is nevertheless a great reference for graphic source material.
Greece and Rome at War. Peter Connolly, Stackpole Books, 1998. This combines stuff from earlier books by the author with new material and very nice artwork. Reconstructs weapons, armor and tactics of Greek and Roman armies. Also describes the Celts and other enemies of Rome. Recommended.
The archaeology of weapons, arms and armour from prehistory to the age of chivalry. Ewart Oakeshott, Dover, 1996. Highly interesting overview of the history of European warfare from the archaeology of weapons standpoint.
A knight and his weapons. Ewart Oakeshott, Dufour editions, 1997. Also discusses early firearms. Read the archaeology one first.
The book of the sword, with 293 illustrations. Richard F. Burton, 1884. Reprint Dover, 1987. Part 1 of a never completed 3 volume series on the history of the sword. From prehistory to the Roman era. Illustrated by drawings. Old but contains some interesting bits (I particularly liked the boomerang chapter).
The sword and the centuries. Alfred Hutton, Barnes and Noble reprint 1995. Descriptions of duels selected from a 500 year period, with such interesting details as types of wounds inflicted etc. Also includes various old manuscripts, and material on the London masters of defence. The author believes the sword improved through the centuries to reach perfection in the smallsword, but this doesn't make the duel descriptions any less interesting.
Swords, and hilt weapons. Barnes&Noble Books 1993 Peter Connelly, editor (various authors). This oversize illustrated work consists of a number of loosely related essays on swords, knives and other cutlery. The start is more or less chronological with more emphasis on post-1700 history, ending with modern fighting knives. The book then switches two swords of Islam, Japan, Asia, India, Africa and pre-conquest America. The book contains many interesting and nice illustrations and information, but is somewhat incoherent in its organisation.
Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction - the 14th century. Brian R. Price, Paladin Press, 2000. A voluminous, very nicely illustrated work on armour making. It deals with modern reproduction rather than historic armourers though, and is limited in scope to 14th century armour. Also scarce are actual patterns. On the other hand the book has detailed information on materials, tools and techniques.
Medieval Combat. Hans Talhoffer. A fifteenth century illustrated manualof swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat. Translated and edited by Mark Rector. Greenhill Books, 2000. A very nice English translation of Talhoffer's 1467 Fechtbuch. This is an excellent book, my only complaint is that it is based on a recent German edition of the 19th century edition of Hergsell, and doesn't include anything from the other works published by Hans Talhoffer. Links to on-line versions of other editions can be found on this site.
Renaissance swordsmanship, the illustrated use of rapiers and cut-and-thrust swords. John Clements, Paladin press, 1997. A synthesis of historical manuals and personal experience of the author attempting to recreate Renaissance swordsmanship. Interesting though the author spends a lot of pages denouncing the approach of other recreators, probably more than the general reader cares about (visit the author's HACA site).
Medieval Swordsmanship, illustrated methods and techniques. John Clements, Paladin Press, 1998. This book is better structured than Clements' previous work, it is also considerably larger (300+ pages) which allows a more detailed treatment of the subject. The book deals with sword and shield, and two-handed sword. The author has collected his rants in a number of appendices in this book, instead of spread around like in Renaissance swordsmanship. This greatly improves the flow of the text. This book is heavily geared towards the HACA training system, which is based primarily on sparring. This may be considered somewhat limiting: close fighting and armed grappling is somewhat neglected, presumably due to the difficulty and danger of using them in sparring. In appendix are a number of essays and rants, some of which can also be found on the HACA website. What the rants are about: John Clements wants to recreate medieval methods of combat, some organisations of re-enactment engage in forms of recreated combat, which could provide a large base for experimentation and feedback for his research. Unfortunately, it seems, most members in these organisations are more concerned about the period origin of the fibers in their underwear than with authenticity of their recreated combat techniques. For the researcher this must represent a frustrating case of missed opportunities. The book is clear and the illustrations, while ugly, are relatively easy to understand. This is currently the only book on the subject, so it's certainly recommended. A comprehensive list of explanations of terminology used in old combat manuals would have been appreciated. Like the Renaissance one, source references are lacking. (visit the author's HACA site).
English Martial Arts. Terry Brown, Anglo-Saxon Books, 1997. This book deals with the London Masters of Defence and their techniques and weapons. Covered are: broadsword, quarterstaff, sword & dagger, vs sword & buckler, the bill, and bare-fist fighting. Illustrated with clear photographs. It's interesting to see how a closed handguard can substantially change sword techniques. But how could they fight wearing shoes like that? I would have liked a more detailed discussion on how exactly these techniques were reconstructed, and how much they might be influenced by the author's Kung Fu background. (visit the author's Company of Maisters website)
Cold steel, techniques of close combat. John Styer, 1952. Reprint Paladin press, 1974. Bayonet, knife, stick and unarmed fighting, a consistent system based on fencing movements. Appendix on knife throwing (for entertainment). Photographs and text.
Get Though! How to win in hand-to-hand fighting, as taught to the British commandos and the US armed forces. Captain W.E. Fairbairn. Paladin Press (orig. 1942). A nice book on hand-to-hand, with drawings of British and German soldiers as the good and bad guys. Includes blows, releases, holds and throws, the knife, the smatchet, and pistol disarms, and some miscellaneous advice including securing prisoners and some stick techniques. Simple and sensible (and by now "historic") techniques.
Kill or get killed, for police and the military, last word on mob control. Rex Applegate, Paladin press 1976. A very complete handbook for personal (mostly armed) combat. Illustrated by photographs and some drawings. Useful reality check for would-be masters. Recommended.
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