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

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Beginning with the first insurgencies in the ancient world—when Alexander the Great discovered that fleet nomads were harder to defeat than massive conventional armies—Max Boot, best-selling author and military advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, masterfully guides us from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire up through the horrors of the French-Indochina War and the Beginning with the first insurgencies in the ancient world—when Alexander the Great discovered that fleet nomads were harder to defeat than massive conventional armies—Max Boot, best-selling author and military advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, masterfully guides us from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire up through the horrors of the French-Indochina War and the shadowy, post-9/11 battlefields of today. Relying on a diverse cast of unforgettable characters—not only Mao and Che but also the legendary Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi, the archaeologist-turned–military commander T. E. Lawrence, and the “Quiet American” Edward Lansdale, among others—Boot explodes everything we thought we knew about unconventional combat. The result is both an enthralling read and our most important work on nontraditional warfare.


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Beginning with the first insurgencies in the ancient world—when Alexander the Great discovered that fleet nomads were harder to defeat than massive conventional armies—Max Boot, best-selling author and military advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, masterfully guides us from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire up through the horrors of the French-Indochina War and the Beginning with the first insurgencies in the ancient world—when Alexander the Great discovered that fleet nomads were harder to defeat than massive conventional armies—Max Boot, best-selling author and military advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, masterfully guides us from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire up through the horrors of the French-Indochina War and the shadowy, post-9/11 battlefields of today. Relying on a diverse cast of unforgettable characters—not only Mao and Che but also the legendary Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi, the archaeologist-turned–military commander T. E. Lawrence, and the “Quiet American” Edward Lansdale, among others—Boot explodes everything we thought we knew about unconventional combat. The result is both an enthralling read and our most important work on nontraditional warfare.

30 review for Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. - Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West With all due respect to prostitutes, war is mankind’s oldest profession. And guerrillas, Max Boot writes in Invisible Armies, were the It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. - Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West With all due respect to prostitutes, war is mankind’s oldest profession. And guerrillas, Max Boot writes in Invisible Armies, were the oldest warriors, predating the conventional warfare made possible by the development of agricultural societies. Think David (of the sling) and his raids on Amalekite and Philistine settlements. Think Scythians pestering the Persians under Darius in Mesopotamia. Even with the creation of professional standing armies, guerrillas remained an important force. A way for the weak to stand up to the strong, using tactics such as assassination, terror, ambush, and attrition. Guerrillas existed at the dawn of recorded history. They are with us still today, refining their tactics with Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, along with old standbys such as homemade bombs. Boot’s stated purpose in Invisible Armies was to produce a history of these guerrillas for the general reading public. I’ve seen some negative reviews bemoaning Invisible Armies’ perceived lack of military-scientific rigor. It’s not at all like On War by Clausewitz! they cry. Well, boo-hoo. This isn’t written for a professional audience; this isn’t a textbook for Staff College. This is an accessible survey of a somewhat esoteric subject, and I applaud Boot for attempting it. If you're interested in the topic, start here. Then check out the massive bibliography for more dedicated reading. These guerrillas go by many names: insurgents; freedom fighters; terrorists. Their legitimacy, as Boot rightly notes, depends on your worldview. It's a thorny question that Boot ignores almost entirely. Invisible Armies spends precious little time on the context in which insurgencies erupt. You do not, for instance, get a lot of background on why American colonists revolted against Great Britain, or why the Vietcong turned on France. The root causes of Fidel's Cuban Revolution are barely hinted at. Instead, Boot focuses on the contours of the insurgency itself. He looks at how the insurgency was conducted and combated, and the lessons that can be drawn therefrom. The lack of context is unfortunate, if understandable due to Boot's ambitious scope and page limitations. The first issue, before you can even start any insurgent history, is defining the parameters of what constitutes a guerrilla. Boot takes three pages to explain that there really isn’t a definition, aside from the literal meaning of guerrilla, which is “small war.” Thus, state actors such as the Vietcong, quasi-state actors such as American Indians, and non-state terrorists all sort of get lumped together. In the end, Boot gives up on precision. Like pornography, you know guerrillas when you see them. The scope of Invisible Armies is massive. It has 555 pages of text, and spans from 2334 BC to 2011. Boot does a good job corralling this mass of information by carefully structuring the book into thematic sections. The chapters within these sections are short and typically chronological. The table of contents is an excellent road map. Getting lost is not a problem. The problem is inconsistency. Not all chapters are equally well done. Some of them should have been excised altogether. The chapters set in the ancient world, for instance, are entirely unnecessary. They are usually really brief and lacking in information. I understand Boot’s desire to have classical antecedents, but I found the early going to be a bit of a slog. The pacing picks up a lot once we leave Book I (on the origins of guerrilla warfare) and move into Book II (on the rise of liberal revolutions). At its best Invisible Armies is entertaining history. Boot relies on set-piece storytelling and personalities. He hones in on individual battles and does a good job with thumbnail portraits of the participants, from Robert the Bruce to Che Guevara. While the overall sweep is epic, the in-chapter coverage is rather more intimate and human scaled. Boot is a conservative historian who believes in a robust foreign policy. I suppose this probably colors his interpretations of events. Vietnam, for instance, is an example of an insurgency he thinks could have been successfully defeated, if only a little more elbow grease had been applied. This is a debatable proposition, but one that he passes off with glib self-assurance. His bias bleeds into his presentation of characters. When he talks about Che, he is sure to highlight his poor hygiene; meanwhile, when introducing David Petraeus, he goes into raptures about how many pushups he is able to pump out at a time. I didn't think this was a huge deal. I don’t like books where the history is interpreted through modern-day politics. You should follow the evidence, rather than shaping the evidence to fit the thesis. I didn't sense Boot trying to cram a worldview down my throat. This isn’t Carnage and Culture, which twisted, ignored, or misstated facts in order to prove a thesis. He is definitely advancing his viewpoint, but not in an off-putting, polemical fashion. Boot provides what he calls his “Twelve Articles” (borrowed from T.E. Lawrence’s “27 Articles”) summing up the lessons of Invisible Armies. He talks about and applies these lessons throughout the book; however, he does not do so in a methodical way. The comparisons he makes between insurgencies are often fairly breezy. He doesn’t go into great depth. Certainly, this isn’t structured as a technical analysis. Like I said before, this is foremost a popular history meant for laypeople interested in the subject. Decent storytelling is its primary goal. Still, I found value in many of Boot’s insights. Certainly, it is interesting to apply Boot’s Articles to events such as the American Revolution or the American Indian Wars, and to view them through the paradigm of insurgency/counterinsurgency. Invisible Armies was published in 2013, meaning that Boot could still write about David Petraeus’ ability to avoid “indiscretions” with a straight face. Of course, this means that ISIS - now the world’s preeminent insurgency – is not covered. Still, this feels a timely volume. Boot’s observations transfer neatly, making Invisible Armies a helpful tool in understanding a planet atremble with asymmetrical warfare.

  2. 4 out of 5

    happy

    This is an all-encompassing look at irregular warfare thru the ages. In the opening chapter Mr. Boot recounts the destruction of a Roman legion by what would now be termed irregular forces in Palestine before the epic Jewish Revolt in 66-70 AD. He then traces the conflicts between established militaries of the various states in history and irregular forces thru to the present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In looking at irregular warfare through the ages, Mr. Boot makes the assertion that This is an all-encompassing look at irregular warfare thru the ages. In the opening chapter Mr. Boot recounts the destruction of a Roman legion by what would now be termed irregular forces in Palestine before the epic Jewish Revolt in 66-70 AD. He then traces the conflicts between established militaries of the various states in history and irregular forces thru to the present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In looking at irregular warfare through the ages, Mr. Boot makes the assertion that while regular armies don’t want to fight these types of enemies and wars, they are the normal type of warfare. Irregular wars have been much more common that set piece battles. I personally thought it started slowly, but as it progressed to more modern times it picked up steam. Not only does the author look at the evolution of guerrilla/irregular warfare he looks at the evolution of terrorism as a mode of war, starting from the Hassani, the Moslem sect that gave the world the word Assassin, through to the modern Islamic terrorists. Some of the terrorist groups he looks at include the KKK of the Post American Civil War, The Anarchists of Eastern Europe of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the German Bader-Meinhof gang/Red Brigades of the 1970s/’80s. While some were successful in obtaining there goals, specifically the KKK, for the most part the purely terrorist groups were failures. In exploring the guerrilla wars, the author looks at those that were successful, specifically the North Vietnamese against the French and US and Castro in Cuba and draws some lessons on what it takes to run a successful guerrilla/insurgency operation. He also looks at the guerilla operations that were not successful, especially Malaysia and draws conclusions on how to fight a guerrilla enemy and conduct counter insurgency operations (COIN). In looking at modern insurgencies, Mr. Boot explores the importance the media has gained to both the insurgents and the gov't. He makes the point that the media war has almost become more important than what is happening on the battlefield. He uses the American experience in Viet Nam and the French experience in Algeria to illustrate this point. In both cases the gov't forces had militarily defeated the insurgents, but lost the media war and thus lost the overall war. The author also looks at the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East how COIN operations are working in the current conflicts. Of necessity, some of the material is a bit superficial – Mr. Boot covers 3000 yrs in 570 pages, but I found this tome both enlightening and a good read. Solid 4 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ecoute Sauvage

    Who writes that stuff, the publisher's PR person? ".......As fitting for the twenty-first century as von Clausewitz’s On War was in its own time, Invisible Armies is a complete global history of guerrilla uprisings through the ages......." Whoever wrote this has never read a single page of On War (Vom Kriege). Mr Boot has put together a collection of anecdotes but no structural analysis. Von Clausewitz's masterpiece does the opposite. Calling Boot's compilation "epic" is bordering on the ridiculous Who writes that stuff, the publisher's PR person? ".......As fitting for the twenty-first century as von Clausewitz’s On War was in its own time, Invisible Armies is a complete global history of guerrilla uprisings through the ages......." Whoever wrote this has never read a single page of On War (Vom Kriege). Mr Boot has put together a collection of anecdotes but no structural analysis. Von Clausewitz's masterpiece does the opposite. Calling Boot's compilation "epic" is bordering on the ridiculous - must be the same PR person who did that - and never mentioning his vile systematic bias against Islam due to whatever personal issues afflict the author really lets the reader down. The only reason I gave this book 2 stars is that I believe the author is genuinely incapable of assessing his own bias - not least because it leads to policy prescription directly opposing the principles on which the United States was founded. No piling on of detail can alter that fundamental flaw.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    As with all nonfiction, no rating. Although if I did rate this book, it wouldn’t be very highly. What initially attracted me to Invisible Armies was really the subtitle, An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present . My impression was that this would be a serious work of scholarship that would provide some sort of a well researched, well thought out survey of the evolution of guerrilla warfare from its ancient roots to the present, looking at both insurgency and counteri As with all nonfiction, no rating. Although if I did rate this book, it wouldn’t be very highly. What initially attracted me to Invisible Armies was really the subtitle, An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present . My impression was that this would be a serious work of scholarship that would provide some sort of a well researched, well thought out survey of the evolution of guerrilla warfare from its ancient roots to the present, looking at both insurgency and counterinsurgency and how each side has adapted both to new technologies and new tactics deployed by the other. Looking at the prologue, I’m sure that was Max Boot’s goal as well. Ultimately though, I’m disappointed because this is more of a superficial look behind the history of guerrilla warfare that goes from some basic facts about each conflict mentioned to a conclusory chapter at the end of each of the eight parts that makes some bold assertions based on the facts provided, but follows only on a generic level. It’s also quite clear that ancient history is way outside of Boot’s area of expertise, and Part One is a total mess as a result. The other parts are better as Boot’s familiarity with the subject matter improves, but most chapters still read like a mix between a history lesson, a bio of the important figures involved in the given conflict, and some political shilling, with not nearly enough emphasis on the tactics and takeaways of what actually happened. The best chapters deal with the Iraq War and War on Terrorism, which seems to be Boot’s real area of expertise, but they end up reading more like cheer-leading for the US government’s current counterinsurgency policies than an actual critique or analysis. Basically, this would’ve been a much better book had Boot focused on the modern conflicts and then introduced lessons learned from conflicts past, rather than trying to write about so many different guerrilla wars and getting this really superficial and not at all epic ‘history’ instead.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex Nelson

    Probably the worst book I've read this year. The author makes many assertions, and provides nothing to back it up (I've reviewed his book elsewhere). What do I mean by this? For example, Boot notes how Bin Laden's rag-tag militia botched an attempt to capture Jalalabad in 1989. What happened? Well, Boot tells us Bin Laden experienced a "costly" lost. How? We'll never know. But, rest assured, Bin Laden "knew how to turn battlefield defeats into propaganda victories" (p 519). How? Again, Boot leave Probably the worst book I've read this year. The author makes many assertions, and provides nothing to back it up (I've reviewed his book elsewhere). What do I mean by this? For example, Boot notes how Bin Laden's rag-tag militia botched an attempt to capture Jalalabad in 1989. What happened? Well, Boot tells us Bin Laden experienced a "costly" lost. How? We'll never know. But, rest assured, Bin Laden "knew how to turn battlefield defeats into propaganda victories" (p 519). How? Again, Boot leaves it to the reader's imagination to fill in the vast blank. Boot discusses how Bin Laden rebuilds his organization during the early 1990s, while coping with severe financial constraints. How? He "raised funds" from "Gulf businessmen" and "Muslim charities" (p 522). What did he do? Boot never specifies, nor refers the reader to other literature. Just horrible for anyone interested in military theory/history...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    A total letdown. If your back of the book blurb is going to compare your book to Clausewitz, you'd better bring something better organized, better researched, and better executed than this. If you can't carry off an 'epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present', it's perfectly fine to limit yourself to a particular timeframe you can handle with competence and coherence. Having chapters (or sections, or whatever the author intended them to be) a page and a half long that d A total letdown. If your back of the book blurb is going to compare your book to Clausewitz, you'd better bring something better organized, better researched, and better executed than this. If you can't carry off an 'epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present', it's perfectly fine to limit yourself to a particular timeframe you can handle with competence and coherence. Having chapters (or sections, or whatever the author intended them to be) a page and a half long that dispose of entire wars or even centuries' worth of history is ridiculous. Immensely disappointed in this, as it was a waste of time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Berman

    Meh. I'm not giving it a rating, since I didn't read enough to do so fairly, but here are my thoughts. First, this was a "first this happened then that happened then another thing happened" kind of history. Not especially interesting. Second, I'm not sure that the author says anything all that new. Yes, guerrilla warfare (or asymmetrical warfare) has been around for a long time and is challenging to fight against. I read the newspaper, I get it. Third, it's very disorganized and the chapters are Meh. I'm not giving it a rating, since I didn't read enough to do so fairly, but here are my thoughts. First, this was a "first this happened then that happened then another thing happened" kind of history. Not especially interesting. Second, I'm not sure that the author says anything all that new. Yes, guerrilla warfare (or asymmetrical warfare) has been around for a long time and is challenging to fight against. I read the newspaper, I get it. Third, it's very disorganized and the chapters are too short to have any heft to them. Chapter 1, Romans vs. Jews, AD 66, was 3 pages long. The next chapter (4 pages) then covers 426 BC to 132 AD, and covers the material in the first chapter, in part. Maybe it gets better after page 75, but I'm not going to find out.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eugene

    "A Cursory History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present" would have been a more apt subtitle. This book would have been better served if Mr. Boot spent half as many words detailing actual battles as he does giving biographies of the personalities involved. While it's a fun bit of trivia that Robert the Bruce had a dog trained so well that he could track Robert's scent from miles away, this hardly gives insight into his military strategy. Furthermore, I don't care that T.E. Lawr "A Cursory History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present" would have been a more apt subtitle. This book would have been better served if Mr. Boot spent half as many words detailing actual battles as he does giving biographies of the personalities involved. While it's a fun bit of trivia that Robert the Bruce had a dog trained so well that he could track Robert's scent from miles away, this hardly gives insight into his military strategy. Furthermore, I don't care that T.E. Lawrence was considered a "misfit" by his countrymen due to the nature of his birth, at least not in the context of this book. I would much rather read detailed accounts of their battlefield accomplishments and failings than of their personal lives.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Didn't finish this one, kinda boring.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Loyalhistorian

    Summary: This is a survey of how guerrilla warfare (and/or terrorism) has been used by various groups to try to usurp a larger foe. By extension, it also highlights the counterinsurgency attempted to quell such insurrections. It in no way attempts to be the end-all-be-all authority on guerrilla warfare. It is giving an overview of guerrilla warfare throughout history and the people who fought. This is NOT a military analysis of the tactics used, being broken down and examined in West Point f Summary: This is a survey of how guerrilla warfare (and/or terrorism) has been used by various groups to try to usurp a larger foe. By extension, it also highlights the counterinsurgency attempted to quell such insurrections. It in no way attempts to be the end-all-be-all authority on guerrilla warfare. It is giving an overview of guerrilla warfare throughout history and the people who fought. This is NOT a military analysis of the tactics used, being broken down and examined in West Point fashion. This is a summary of how guerrilla warfare has been implemented over time and the key players involved. Layout: It is divided into eight parts, with roughly 6 to 12 chapters in each part. Each chapter gives a summary of the guerrilla group (or groups) and the historical event in which they played a role. Throughout the book, Boot goes over what makes a guerrilla versus a terrorist; what ploys and tactics worked the best; and how the overall core of guerrilla warfare has stayed the same over centuries yet uses the advancements of the times to its advantage. Here is the breakdown of the book: Part 1, Barbarians at the Gate: Origins of Guerrilla Warfare (ancient examples) -Romans vs. Jews, AD 66 -The Peloponnesian War, Alexander the Great in Central Asia, the Maccabees, and the Bar Kokhba Revolt, 426 BC-AD 132 -Tribal Wars of Mass Destruction -Mesopotamia, 2334-2005 BC -Persians vs. Scythians, 512 BC -Origins of Counterinsurgency in Assyria and Rome, 1100 BC-AD 212 -The Barbarian Invasions, AD 370-476 -Ancient Chinese Warfare beyond Sun Tzu -Xiongnu vs. Han, 200 BC-AD 48 -Why the Weak Beat the Strong -Scotland vs. England, 1296-1746 -The Counterinsurgents' Advantage (summary of Part 1) Part 2, Liberty or Death: The Rise of the Liberal Revolutionaries -Hussars, Pandours, and Rangers, 1648-1775 -The Revolution against Britain, 1775-1783 -The Peninsular War, 1808-1814 -The Haitian War of Independence, 1791-1804 -The Greek War of Independence, 1821-1832 -Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Struggle for Italian Unification, 1833-1872 -The Liberal Achievement (summary of Part 2) Part 3, The Spreading Oil Spot: The Wars of Empire -Why Did So Few Guerrillas Resist the European Advance? -The "Forest Wars" in Eastern North America, 1622-1842 -Braves vs. Bluecoats, 1848-1890 -The Holy War against Russia in Chechnya and Dagestan, 1829-1859 -The First Anglo-Afghan War, 1838-1842 -Britain and the Pashtuns, 1897-1947 -Lyautey in Morocco, 1912-1925 -Britain's Near-Defeat in South Africa, 1899-1902 -Why Imperialism Carried the Seeds of Its Own Destruction (summary of Part 3) Part 4, The Bomb Throwers: The First Age of International Terrorism -The Assassins, AD 1090-1256 -John Brown: The Terrorist Who Helped Start the Civil War, 1856-1859 -Ku Kluxers and the War against Civil Rights, 1866-1876 -Anarchists, ca. 1880 -ca. 1939 -The Nihilists on the Trail of Alexander II, 1879-1881 -Socialist Revolutionaries in Russia, 1902-1917 -The Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921 -Sinners or Saints? (summary of Part 4) Part 5, The Sideshows: Guerrillas and Commandos in the World Wars -Blood Brothers and Brownshirts, 1914-1945 -"Lawrence of Arabia," 1916-1935 -The Birth of the Special Forces in World War II -Wingate: A "Wayward Genius" in Palestine, Abyssinia, and Burma, 1936-1944 -Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, and the Limits of Scorched-Earth Counterinsurgency -Did Commandos Make a Difference? (summary of Part 5) Part 6, The End of Empire: The Wars of "National Liberation" -The Slipping European Grip -Mao Zedong's Long March to Power, 1921-1949 -The Indochina War, 1945-1954 -The Algerian War of Independence, 1954-1962 -Briggs, Templer, and the Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960 -Why the British Succeeded - at Least Sometimes (summary of Part 6) Part 7, Radical Chic: The Romance of the Leftist Revolutionaries -The Guerrilla Mystique in the 1960s-1970s -Edward Lansdale and the Huk Rebellion, 1945-1954 -South Vietnam: Lansdale and Diem, 1954-1956 -The Limitations of Firepower in Vietnam, 1960-1973 -Castro's Improbable Comeback, 1952-1959 -Che's Quixotic Quest, 1965-1967 -The Raid on Entebbe and the Terrorism of the 1970s -Arafat: What Terrorism Did and Did Not Achieve for the Palestinians -The End of the (Marxist) Affair in the 1980s (summary of Part 7) Part 8, God's Killers: The Rise of Radical Islam -Tehran, Mecca, Islamabad, and Kabul, November 4-December 24, 1979 -The Red Army vs. the Mujahideen, 1980-1989 -The "Party of God" (Hezbollah) in Lebanon, 1982-2006 -Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, 1988-2011 -Al Qaeda in Iraq since 2003 -David Petraeus and the Surge, 2007-2008 -The Failures and Successes of the Global Islamist Insurgency (summary of Part 8) Epilogue Twelve Articles, or the Lessons of Five Thousand Years (12 lessons learned from the book) My Review: Overall, I found this book to be well-researched and in-depth in terms of an overview of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and counterinsurgency. Yes, each chapter had to be very concise on the subject addressed, otherwise this book would have needed to be multiple volumes long. For a single-volume study encompassing five thousand years of irregular warfare, I think it did a good job. It gives you a good jumping-off point to start at. From there, I think it's your job to look into the subject further by deciding which sub-topic or era you want to pinpoint your studies.

  11. 4 out of 5

    E.P.

    A compelling survey of irregular warfare from the pre-Christian era to the present, "Invisible Armies" covers both guerrilla fighting, which Boot calls "the oldest form of warfare," and terrorism, which he considers "strikingly modern." While exhaustively researched, this is not a scholarly tome, but a lively account, betraying Boot's journalistic training, of when and how non-regular armies, be they partisans, guerrillas, or terrorists, have managed to achieve their aims--and when they haven't. A compelling survey of irregular warfare from the pre-Christian era to the present, "Invisible Armies" covers both guerrilla fighting, which Boot calls "the oldest form of warfare," and terrorism, which he considers "strikingly modern." While exhaustively researched, this is not a scholarly tome, but a lively account, betraying Boot's journalistic training, of when and how non-regular armies, be they partisans, guerrillas, or terrorists, have managed to achieve their aims--and when they haven't. In a nutshell, Boot's argument is that small, irregular forces can win against larger armies when the smaller forces have popular support at home, ideally combined with external support and/or the approval of the broader public. Foreign occupiers trying to impose their will by main force will, no matter how great their firepower, have an uphill battle to fight, as the US found to its dismay in Vietnam. Successful counterinsurgency tactics will almost always rely on a combination of force with public relations; apparent exceptions, such as the Russian use of scorched-earth techniques in the Second Chechen War, actually prove the rule, as the Russian army was, technically, on its own territory, and was allied with the Kadyrov family. While the concept is simple, arriving at it has not been, and Boot traces the fortunes of various insurgents and counterinsurgents through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to medieval Scotland, the American West, Algeria, Indochina, Afghanistan, and back to modern Mesopotamia, aka the Middle East. The circular structure is no accident, as Boot is, above all else, a master storyteller, and every chapter in the book is full of punchy phrases and vivid action. As I said above, this is an exhaustively researched piece of non-fiction, as well as weighing in at in impressive 700+ pages, but it is anything but dry. Serious scholars of warfare may find it too shallow for their liking, but readers looking for an introduction to the topic of irregular warfare are likely to find this informative, thought-provoking, and an absolutely cracking read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chad Manske

    A very thorough, comprehensive and fascinatingly readable treatise on the history of guerrilla warfare, Max Boot del vets his Opus on the subject. Boot expertly traces the history of the topic in detail yet does so in a manner the reader wants to continue turning on ages to the end. From antiquity to present day, Boot’s flair for research and detail shines through. Not content to stop at this history review, he provides a complete implications and database at the end, allowing readers and resear A very thorough, comprehensive and fascinatingly readable treatise on the history of guerrilla warfare, Max Boot del vets his Opus on the subject. Boot expertly traces the history of the topic in detail yet does so in a manner the reader wants to continue turning on ages to the end. From antiquity to present day, Boot’s flair for research and detail shines through. Not content to stop at this history review, he provides a complete implications and database at the end, allowing readers and researchers alike to continue their personal and/or professional studies and satisfy their curiosities, making it a true gem for the genre.

  13. 5 out of 5

    JoséMaría BlancoWhite

    A difficult task it is; I can't deny it: thousands of years of fighting history into one single book... how can that be done? Only by making short chapters and each one filled with interesting pieces of information. And so has this book been created. But that is not enough for my taste. It's in the end a collection of many little chapters, however amusing, that sooner or later will wear you down. Sometimes adding subtracts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    N. N.

    This is one of the worst books I have ever read, by one of the most consistently terrible political writers active today.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

    A superb and comprehensive review of over 4,000 years of guerrilla warfare. Detailed and thoroughly researched. Through the force of scholarship he describes the successes and failures of insurgents and counter-insurgents over the centuries. Providing invaluable insights available for policy-makers and policy-implementers alike should they choose to seek them. Had the pleasure of meeting the author during my time in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010. The scope and sweep of this historic survey of irr A superb and comprehensive review of over 4,000 years of guerrilla warfare. Detailed and thoroughly researched. Through the force of scholarship he describes the successes and failures of insurgents and counter-insurgents over the centuries. Providing invaluable insights available for policy-makers and policy-implementers alike should they choose to seek them. Had the pleasure of meeting the author during my time in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010. The scope and sweep of this historic survey of irregular warfare is reminiscent of a much shorter paper written by George S. Patton as a young officer at the War College. By breaking this history into five era Boot shows the evolution of the guerrilla form of irregular warfare and its companion use of terrorism. He makes a compelling case that "low intensity" irregular and unconventional warfare rather than the conventional war of tanks and artillery has been the most prevalent form of warfare in history. His use of narrative provide case-studies that illustrate historic trends and recurring patterns. Boot's first-hand observation and experience lend credibility, context, and texture to "Invisible Armies." His work builds on insights from his earlier work, "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002)." The word "guerrilla" he explains literally means "small war." His prescriptions for success in this type of conflict are easily stated but far more difficult to implement. Knowledge, or intelligence, he observes has been "a cornerstone of counterinsurgency operations since the days of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar," echoing the dictum of Army doctrine that operations need to be driven by detailed and accurate intelligence. But gaining insights on foreign culture present huge challenges as operations over the past decade can attest. He provides five key points that describe the common insights which this work illustrates: 1) Low-intensity conflict has been ubiquitous throughout history and of vital importance in shaping the world. 2) Political organizing and propaganda have been rising in importance as factors in low-intensity conflict over the past two centuries. 3) Guerrillas and terrorists have been growing more successful since 1945, in large part because of their ability to play on public opinion, a relatively new factor in warfare. 4) Outside assistance - whether in the form of arms supplies and safe havens, or even better, the provision of conventional forces to operate in conjunction with the guerrilla - has been one of the most important factors in the success of insurgent campaigns. 5) "Population-centric" counterinsurgency has been an essential part of most successful counterguerrilla campaigns.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dergrossest

    This summary of guerilla warfare and terrorism from the Roman occupation of Palestine to America’s ongoing misadventure in Afghanistan is a sobering testament to the stubborn destructiveness of mankind. It is peppered with interesting historical comparisons, between 19th Century Anarchists and 20th Century Radical Islamists (neither of which cared one whit about murdering innocent men, women and children), Zionist terrorists blowing up British diplomats and Arab terrorists blowing up Jews (what This summary of guerilla warfare and terrorism from the Roman occupation of Palestine to America’s ongoing misadventure in Afghanistan is a sobering testament to the stubborn destructiveness of mankind. It is peppered with interesting historical comparisons, between 19th Century Anarchists and 20th Century Radical Islamists (neither of which cared one whit about murdering innocent men, women and children), Zionist terrorists blowing up British diplomats and Arab terrorists blowing up Jews (what goes around . . .), the flamboyantly effective Garibaldi versus the grossly overrated Guevara (why is that murderous incompetent on anyone's t-shirt?), and many others. There are also very efficient summaries of the counter-insurgency campaigns waged by various imperialists and occupiers, including the British in America, the French in Algeria, the Americans in Viet Nam, the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Americans (we distressingly keep turning up like a bad penny) in Iraq. However, what the author does not offer much of, despite expending an inordinate amount of text as to same, are many compelling conclusions. Indeed, while I was not expecting a magic formula to effectively combat insurgents and terrorists, I would have thought that the author could offer more insight than the obvious fact that: “an occupying power cannot subdue an insurgency which is popular with the majority of citizens and supplied by an extra-national source.” No kidding. Perhaps the author’s time would have been better spent examining the differences between the Occidental and Oriental and the fool’s errand each side engages in when it attempts to impose its completely different belief systems on the other. Anyway, the larger annoyance is that, for a book on asymmetrical warfare, the book is suffocatingly conventional in organization and presentation. Also, the author has an unfortunate professorial tendency to endlessly summarize and repeat himself. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, this is a very informative book which every civilian and military leader should read. It should also be on every responsible citizen’s bookshelf since it relentlessly highlights the consistent failure of leaders to learn the costly lessons of History. Finally, it might also provide valuable insight into the ongoing American question of “why do they hate us?” (spoiler: it is not because of our freedom).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    There are at least two issues that one can have with reading epic histories [1] like this one.  First, one has to allot the time to read them, which can be a challenge when one has a pace of a couple of books to finish per day and lives a relatively busy life.  Additionally, how does one account for the balance of what one thinks and feels about such a volume as this one where there is inevitably some level of disagreement but also a considerable amount of respect for the obvious achievement of There are at least two issues that one can have with reading epic histories [1] like this one.  First, one has to allot the time to read them, which can be a challenge when one has a pace of a couple of books to finish per day and lives a relatively busy life.  Additionally, how does one account for the balance of what one thinks and feels about such a volume as this one where there is inevitably some level of disagreement but also a considerable amount of respect for the obvious achievement of such a sprawling text.  There are about 600 pages of readable material in this book, including an appendix that gives a look at the guerrilla conflicts known to history over the course of human history and their outcome.  One thing I greatly appreciate about this book is the way the author is totally open about his agenda in writing this book, and spells out his points and his perspective openly, something I can get behind.  In reading this book one does not have to worry about ulterior motives because the author's agenda is both sensible and reasonable as well as transparently obvious, which are qualities I definitely appreciate. The book's contents definitely deserve the overused term epic to describe them.  The author takes an in-depth look at five thousand years of guerrilla history from its beginnings in the empire of Sargon the Great and his successors to contemporary conflicts.  This book is divided into eight smaller "books" with a total of 64 chapters.  Here goes:  The author begins with the origins of guerilla warfare (I), with essays the Jewish revolt of 66-70AD (1), guerrilla warfare in classical conflicts (2), tribal wars of self-destruction (3), the origins of insurgency in Akkad (4), asymmetric warfare between the Persians and Scythians (5), the origins of counterinsurgency in Assyria and Rome (6), Rome's downfall due to barbarian invasions (7), refutations of guerrilla warfare as a quintessentially Eastern way of war (8), warfare between the Xiongnu and Han (9), an examination of the guerilla paradox (10), a look at Scottish versus English warfare (11), and the advantage counterinsurgents face because of preservation of historical memory (12).  After this the author looks at the rise of liberal revolutionaries (II) with a discussion of colonial and European irregulars (13), guerrilla warfare during the American Revolution (14), the Peninsular War (15), the Haitian War of Independence (16), the Greek War of Independence (17), Garibaldi's role in Italian Unification (18), and the liberal achievement in adding the angle of international pressure to guerrilla warfare (19).  After this the author looks at the wars of imperialism (III) and discusses the many guerrilla wars that weren't during this period (20) as well as the forest wars against native Americans (21), the winning of the West against plains Indians (22), the Chechen and Dagestani holy war against Russian expansion (23), the first Anglo-Afghan War (24), the Pashtun insurgency in the Northwest frontier of Pakistan (25), winning hearts and minds in French Morocco (26), the Boer War (27), and the way that imperialism was often self-defeating (28).  After this the author discusses the first age of international terrorism (IV) with a look at the medieval Assassins (29), John Brown of Civil War fame (30), the successful effort of Southern whites to end reconstruction (31), anarchist anarchy (32), Russian nihilists (33), Russian socialist revolutionaries (34), Irish revolutionaries (35), and a look at the terrorist mind (36).  The author then covers guerrilla and commando sideshows during the World Wars (V) like European efforts during the so-called "thirty years war" (37), Lawrence of Arabia (38), British special forces (39), Wingate's wars (40), Yugoslavian resistance in World War II (41), and the difference that "supersoldiers" made (42).  The author moves on to the wars of national liberation after World War II (VI) with an examination of the slipping European grip over the world (43), the rise of Communist China (44), the end of French Indochina at Dien Bien Phu (45), the Algerian War of Independence (46), the successful efforts against the Malayan Emergency (47), and a look at occasional British success in counterinsurgency (48).  The author takes a harsh look at the romance of leftist revolutionaries (VII) with a discussion of guerrilla mystique (49), the Quiet American's success against the Huk Rebellion (50), the Quiet American in South Vietnam (51), limitations of firepower in Vietnam (52), Castro's comeback in Cuba (53), loco focos in Bolivia (54), the raid on Entebbe and terrorism in the 70's (55), Arafat's mixed record (56), and the end of Marxist romances in the 1980's (57).  Finally, the author turns to the rise of radical Islam (VIII) with a discussion of the end of 1979 (58), Russia's Afghan adventure (59), the Lebanon problem (60), Al Qaeda (61), Al Qaeda in Iraq (62), Patraeus' surge (63), and the mixed record of the Islamist insurgency (64), after which the author gives a lengthy and detailed appendix showing guerrilla attempts and their success rate. There are at least a few massive takeaways of considerable importance that one can gain from this massive book.  For one, the author makes it pretty clear that guerrilla warfare is not a quintessentially "Eastern" or "non-Western" way of war but that there is a clear set of preferences that all states or would-be states have for warfare where the stronger prefer conventional warfare, the weaker fight as guerrillas because they must, and those who cannot fight even as guerrillas resort to terrorism. Additionally, the author takes a great deal of time and attention to examine what is necessary to win as a counterinsurgent by gaining legitimacy and combining targeted rather than indiscriminate violence against terrorists or insurgents with efforts at building up states and infrastructure and demonstrating to others that supporting them is clearly supporting the winning side.  Given the disproportionate strength of the contemporary American military, this sort of warfare isn't going away anytime soon, and so since we are going to be engaged in counterinsurgency we had better be prepared to win it consistently and well. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Miller

    Full disclosure. I have never been a big fan of anthologies. This book, however, may change my thinking. I found Boot’s collection of stories to be a terrific way to fill gaps in my knowledge. For example, I probably would never make the time to read a whole book about Mesopotamia 2000 years before Christ. But the section Boot devoted to it was still fascinating. And I much enjoyed his look at insurgencies in eras and parts of the world I’m more familiar with such as 1960s Vietnam. All in all, a Full disclosure. I have never been a big fan of anthologies. This book, however, may change my thinking. I found Boot’s collection of stories to be a terrific way to fill gaps in my knowledge. For example, I probably would never make the time to read a whole book about Mesopotamia 2000 years before Christ. But the section Boot devoted to it was still fascinating. And I much enjoyed his look at insurgencies in eras and parts of the world I’m more familiar with such as 1960s Vietnam. All in all, a great read for somebody who either has a real interest in Guerrilla warfare or wants to hop, skip and jump around global history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Boot's account of the history of guerilla warfare may not be exhaustive, but it does cover a lot of ground. Though, as with any overview volume, there were aspects I wish he'd spent more time on, but the later chapters in particular, where he covers US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, offer some new insights. Of particular interest to writers: his twelve articles which deliver in brief the key elements of nonconventional warfare.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Dort

    Extremely readable, relevant history of guerrilla warfare. Tries to do too much and as a result is spread thin on some very interesting sections. While most sections attempt to be balanced, sections on certain leaders (such as Mao) tend to be veiled in retrospective contempt. Worth reading as a "history repeats itself" treatise.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Azniv

    I saw the author interviewed on BookTV. He said he got a bullet with his name on it sent to him. Another fan...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allen

    Did not finish. The history may be OK but once it gets into more modern stuff it simply becomes a mouthpiece for the official version of American foreign policy. Waste of time and money

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yofish

    It’s quite thorough. Really too thorough. There’s just too much to digest. He goes through a full history of guerrilla warfare, and then some. He defines it, more or less, as irregular fighting against a regular (representative of some state actor) army. In contrast to terrorism, which is more like irregular fighting but against civilians instead of an army. He talks about that, too. Because how else to get to 550 pages? I carp a little on this, but, well, that’s the impression. He doesn’t do a It’s quite thorough. Really too thorough. There’s just too much to digest. He goes through a full history of guerrilla warfare, and then some. He defines it, more or less, as irregular fighting against a regular (representative of some state actor) army. In contrast to terrorism, which is more like irregular fighting but against civilians instead of an army. He talks about that, too. Because how else to get to 550 pages? I carp a little on this, but, well, that’s the impression. He doesn’t do a very deep dive into any particular uprisong/rebellion/whatever. He makes some attempt to tie things together into a theme of some sort, but it doesn’t quite work. It even detracts a little, as then we have to scurry to remember what he’s comparing things to. (The book is arranged chronologically, so if he’s comparing to something in the future, well, you’d better sort of know about it already.) It did certainly fill in some gaps in my knowledge: about Mao’s long march; about Castro’s rise (apparently he had only a few hundred ‘soldiers’ on his side at the time that Batista had to flee); about Russia’s difficulties in Afghanistan (apparently they went in originally because they were trying to prop up a Communist leader), as well as England’s; about how the Communist Vietnamese beat the French and then the Americans (it helped to have Russia and China nearby helping). The author seemed to be overly fond of David Petraeus. Maybe I learned about the fall of the Roman empire, but I mostly forgot it by the end of the book. I don’t doubt the author’s great knowledge of the material. Somehow it’s a (long) series of magazine articles, or a dissertation, more than it is a book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gaetana DiRoberto

    5 for research, 4 for style Max Boot's Invisible Armies deserves 5 stars for his thorough research. I would recommend this book to a casual student of history interested in conceptual military history. To enjoy this book, you must have a broad, if superficial, knowledge of major world events during the years ~150BC-2010. Without this, the book would be unreadable as Boot references a famous event, person, or process in nearly every paragraph. I found myself highlighting passages to research late 5 for research, 4 for style Max Boot's Invisible Armies deserves 5 stars for his thorough research. I would recommend this book to a casual student of history interested in conceptual military history. To enjoy this book, you must have a broad, if superficial, knowledge of major world events during the years ~150BC-2010. Without this, the book would be unreadable as Boot references a famous event, person, or process in nearly every paragraph. I found myself highlighting passages to research later, but since I had at least heard of a majority of these references, the book helped cement them in my memory rather than frustrate me. The prologue and Twelve Articles were well done, thoughtful bookends to prepare you for and remind you of the book's arguments. That said, these arguments sometimes got lost in the intervening chapters; especially when Boot wrote of a specific person (e.g. David Petraeus as a general/individual vs the war in Afghanistan as a whole). He described these individuals well and I would probably read a biography written by Boot. I enjoyed learning a bit about key figures (e.g. Lansdale, Guervera, Michael Collins, etc.) , but felt that certain descriptions went on to the point they felt like mini-biographies separate from the book rather than a supportive element to the overall history of guerrilla warfare.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tania Diroberto

    Max Boot's Invisible Armies deserves 5 stars for his thorough research. I would recommend this book to a casual student of history interested in conceptual military history. To enjoy this book, you must have a broad, if superficial, knowledge of major world events during the years ~150BC-2010. Without this, the book would be unreadable as Boot references a famous event, person, or process in nearly every paragraph. I found myself highlighting passages to research later, but since I had at least Max Boot's Invisible Armies deserves 5 stars for his thorough research. I would recommend this book to a casual student of history interested in conceptual military history. To enjoy this book, you must have a broad, if superficial, knowledge of major world events during the years ~150BC-2010. Without this, the book would be unreadable as Boot references a famous event, person, or process in nearly every paragraph. I found myself highlighting passages to research later, but since I had at least heard of a majority of these references, the book helped cement them in my memory rather than frustrate me. The prologue and Twelve Articles were well done, thoughtful bookends to prepare you for and remind you of the book's arguments. That said, these arguments sometimes got lost in the intervening chapters; especially when Boot wrote of a specific person (e.g. David Petraeus as a general/individual vs the war in Afghanistan as a whole). He described these individuals well and I would probably read a biography written by Boot. I enjoyed learning a bit about key figures (e.g. Lansdale, Guervera, Michael Collins, etc.) , but felt that certain descriptions went on to the point they felt like mini-biographies separate from the book rather than a supportive element to the overall history of guerrilla warfare.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Austin

    Mr. Max Boot earns five stars for accomplishing exactly what he set out to; "The aim of Invisible Armies is [tell] the story of irregular warfare from its origins in the prehistoric world to the contemporary conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. The aim is to show low-intensity conflict in its most important variations and manifestations over the centuries. The primary focus is on the last two centuries, but the first part of the book examines guerrilla warfare in the ancient and medieval Mr. Max Boot earns five stars for accomplishing exactly what he set out to; "The aim of Invisible Armies is [tell] the story of irregular warfare from its origins in the prehistoric world to the contemporary conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. The aim is to show low-intensity conflict in its most important variations and manifestations over the centuries. The primary focus is on the last two centuries, but the first part of the book examines guerrilla warfare in the ancient and medieval worlds in order to place more recent developments in perspective. Mr. Boot has written an insightful narrative that illustrates the outsized effect irregular warfare has on history and current events. Even as I consider myself a student of military history, this book has changed the way I look at conflicts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    North Landesman

    A truly epic history of guerrilla war. This book changed many previously-held ideas I had, mainly that guerrilla war is almost impossible for a democratic society to defeat. In fact, thanks to Boots delightful league table, counter-insurgents win around 2/3 of the time. Some important big ideas: 1. Guerrilla warfare has always existed. It is not new. 2. Guerrilla warfare is not "Eastern" it is the universal war of the weak. 4. Insurgencies have been getting more successful since 1945, but still lo A truly epic history of guerrilla war. This book changed many previously-held ideas I had, mainly that guerrilla war is almost impossible for a democratic society to defeat. In fact, thanks to Boots delightful league table, counter-insurgents win around 2/3 of the time. Some important big ideas: 1. Guerrilla warfare has always existed. It is not new. 2. Guerrilla warfare is not "Eastern" it is the universal war of the weak. 4. Insurgencies have been getting more successful since 1945, but still lost most of the time. 7. Mass terror does not work against guerrillas, unless the guerrillas are in your own territory. 11. Guerrillas are most effective when able to operate with outside support. For me, the importance of outside support was new and fascinating. I recommend this book highly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jim Dulin

    Well researched and written as was The Road not Taken. Boot has persuaded me that our overemphasis of conventional war fighting with our superiority in firepower has made us fight counterinsurgency poorly. We can't take them, our allies, from where they are to where we want them to be without allowing them to handle the controls some. We can't win hearts and minds when we bomb them and shoot artillery into their homes. As Boot pointed out, we need to use both conventional and irregular warfare c Well researched and written as was The Road not Taken. Boot has persuaded me that our overemphasis of conventional war fighting with our superiority in firepower has made us fight counterinsurgency poorly. We can't take them, our allies, from where they are to where we want them to be without allowing them to handle the controls some. We can't win hearts and minds when we bomb them and shoot artillery into their homes. As Boot pointed out, we need to use both conventional and irregular warfare cooperatively. What I said up there. If you can't make these surveys simpler for old people you will have to live with young, inexperienced opinions.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Overall I enjoyed the quick summaries of the different conflicts that Max Boot highlights. There is little difference between guerrilla and terrorist to Boot and that allows him a lot of flexibility in looking at conflicts from the mid nineteenth century to the present without having to split hairs or determine which groups are more terrorist or guerrilla group. Boot focuses more on the political mechanisms that guerrillas use, rather than on specific tactics of warfare. The greatest weakness of Overall I enjoyed the quick summaries of the different conflicts that Max Boot highlights. There is little difference between guerrilla and terrorist to Boot and that allows him a lot of flexibility in looking at conflicts from the mid nineteenth century to the present without having to split hairs or determine which groups are more terrorist or guerrilla group. Boot focuses more on the political mechanisms that guerrillas use, rather than on specific tactics of warfare. The greatest weakness of this book is no fault of the author, but that the book has already aged since it was published. Since the 2013 publication, the downfall of David Petraeus and the rise of ISIS leaves a lot of the conclusions that Boot comes to up in the air. I would love to see revised edition.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Smh624

    A truly epic history (as the author entitled the book) covering 5,000 years of of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. Although at times the book is a little think-tank wonky, I learned a lot more about many different conflicts about which I previously only had a superficial understanding. His writing about the 20th century conflicts, perhaps because I lived through many of them, was particularly interesting. I'm glad I read this book.

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