Reviewing a historical dictionary is often a rather thankless task. Typically compiled from brief essays contributed by a variety of scholars they often lack a coherent perspective, leaving the reviewer to offer vague generalisations regarding the overall quality of the entries or selection of topics.
Just over a quarter of a century ago, it seemed, you couldn’t buy interest in the international history of the American Civil War. American scholars appeared especially uninterested in a subject that, as Don Doyle’s splendid new book reveals, is ripe with possibility.
In 1984, Ernest May published Knowing One’s Enemies which examined intelligence assessments of enemies made by various nations before both the First and Second World Wars.
Susan Pedersen’s title misleads. The unwary might think that it deals generally with the League and imperialism, centring on the well-known paradox that an institution created primarily to ensure stability in Europe was undermined and then effectively destroyed by its failure to stop imperialist aggression in Asia and Africa.
As Antoinette Burton points out in the introduction to her newest work, The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism, there has been no shortage of blockbusters about the British Empire to be found on the shelves of local booksellers. Many of these take for granted the rise and fall narrative of Empire.
Despite the back cover declaring Lloyd Gardner’s The War on Leakers ‘the essential backstory to understand the Snowden case, NSA eavesdropping, and the future of privacy’, and its subtitle promising a study ‘from Eugene V. Debs to Edward Snowden,’ it would be inaccurate to describe this book as a historical work.
Hardly had the fighting petered out on the Somme in November 1916 than one American reviewer, W. S. Rusk, was warning scholars that much writing about the Great War would be lost to the ‘winnowing flail of time’.(1)
The Cold War, understandably, was for a long time viewed through a prism of the confrontation between the Soviet Union, it allies and the United States-led West. Conflicts, even in what used to be termed the Third World, were often described as proxy wars.
In Understanding the Imaginary War: Culture, Thought and Nuclear Conflict, 1945–90, Matthew Grant and Benjamin Ziemann present a collection of essays offering a new interpretation of the Cold War as an ‘imaginary war’.
Civil war plagues our times. As David Armitage notes in his brilliant work, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, the idea of the ‘Long Peace’ after the Second World War is in many ways misleading as intrastate conflict has become far more common than in previous centuries.