Oh God . . . you know i would never, ever
want to piss you off, O'George. This:
I do enjoy the more vivid and dramatic storytellers and interpretors of history, but also know that, as in physics, the more closely one looks into smaller details the more elusive the truth becomes, and the more one realizes it could all have gone another way. Perhaps there's a quantum effect in everything.
. . . is a very cogent observation. There are levels of detail in history which one ignores at one's peril if other knowledgeable people are around. For example, it is my reading of history that although religion is often used to justify going to war, wars are only sustained based on economics or politics. I was making this point to someone recently, and used the Thirry Years War as an example. Walter immediately jumped on that, and pointed out, correctly, that there wasn't one war in that 30 years period, but more than a dozen. I wouldn't argue with that, but i was using "the Thirty Years War" as a short-hand for the point i was making. There was a major conflict for the balance of power in Europe which finally drew in France, and that was between the Empire (the Austrians) and France. Cardinal Richelieu began a program of providing subsidies to Sweden to keep them in the war against the Empire, and eventually committed French troops to the effort, even going so far as to engage in joint campaigns with the Swedes. So, basically, Catholic France (and it's Cardinal-Archbishop chief minister) supported and joined Protestant Sweden in order to curb the power of the Catholic HRE. Politics and economics trump religion every time in any war that doesn't end within the first few weeks. Walter was correct, but i was limiting myself to a level of detail which made my point without venturing into arcana
which can put people to sleep.
As for things having gone the other way, that's also an astute observation. There is not nearly the determinism in history which people like to believe, those who believe that events were inevitable. The take-over of France's government by Napoleon was certainly not inevitable, and in fact, he almost lost his nerve and might have failed in a matter of minutes if his brother had not put some spine into him--just as one example. There are also many accidents of history, events which lead to what others thought were inevitable ends, but which would not have occurred without other, earlier historical events. At the time that the Albigensian crusade began, Languedoc and the Occitan speaking regions of southwestern Europe (from northern Italy across southern France and right into Spain) were the industrial heartland of Europe, and in large part from the wool and woolen garments trade. The forty plus year war there ruined that dominance, and Flanders and England stepped into the gap, England in a rather unconscious way. The wealth of England was founded on wool, but it wasn't inevitable. The collapse of that industry in Languedoc gave the Flemish an entrée into the international wool textiles market which benefited England as the principle supplier to wool in Flanders. I'm sure the English would have done well by other means, but their real wealth was founded on wool, and that was an accident of history.
For "more vivid and dramatic storytellers and interpretors of history" i highly recommend Francis Parkman, who wrote a seven volume history of France and England in North America, and remains to this day THE English-language authority on that long-running conflict. His scholarship is faultless and his narratives engrossing. If nothing else, read his volume entitled Montcalm and Wolfe
, about the French and Indian war. His comments on Frederick II of Prussia and how he pissed off three women in Europe (Maria Theresa, Madame de Pompador and Elizabeth, the Empress of Russia), until they finally put aside their differences to attack Prussia are outrageous. Parkman is given to wonderfully entertaining flights of prose.
I've recently re-read Mahan, but given your professional background, i'm sure you've already read him. I do recommend to you The Naval War of 1812
, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., New York, 1881--it was published in paper bound withing the last 15 years. Roosevelt's scholarship was sound enough that when the Royal Navy was writing a history of their service in the 1890s, they commissioned Roosevelt to write the article on "the American War." Roosevelt also wrote several volumes on the history of American expansion into the west, but i don't have the titles on the tip of my tongue.
Just about anything by Christopher Hibbert, an historian and biographer. In particular, i rcommend The Days of the French Revolution
and Nelson, a Personal History
. The former refers to the journées
, the important days when significant events took place during the revolution. The latter is a biography of Horatio Nelson which gives short shrift to the military details of his career, because the man and his personal life are Hibbert's focus.
I could probably go on for a long time like this, but i'll put a period to it now.