Cathal Nolan's The Allure of Battle shows that while wars have shaped the history of the modern world, their outcomes are decided by many other factors. The book argues that major battles are not decisive to the outcome of wars; rather, wars depend on longer-term attrition in which the side that wins gradually and remorselessly overwhelms the other with larger arsenals and greater reserves of manpower. To illustrate his argument, Nolan draws on conflicts throughout the world and throughout history (aside from classical or medieval warfare, which, he argues, had greatly different characters from each other and from early modern and modern warfare).
The Allure of Battle systematically examines a series of great battles, each described in the standard literature as the "turning point¨of the war in which they occurred. It asks how they actually fit in the histories of those wars and military history more generally. In each case Nolan will show that even huge and important battles, which are widely considered to have been decisive, actually and mainly contributed to victory or defeat by compressing attrition, which is what in the end led to the outcome of each and every war. He will also illustrate how the character of longer wars of attrition also fundamentally shaped extended periods of postwar peace, that military, moral, and materiel exhaustion rather than battlefield supremacy per se was determinative. Nolan is not proposing to have discovered linear or universal laws about modern military history, nor is he attempting a "theory of war. " His point is to look at battles within the context of the wider conflict in which they took place. The result will be an accessible, provocative, and even entertaining book that will reflect fresh thinking in the historical community about the conduct of warfare in terms that will appreciated by a wider readership.
Cathal Nolan is Associate Professor of History and Executive Director, International History Institute, Boston University.
IntroductionChapter I: Battle in History