Features December 1999
Was World War I necessary?
Upon the publication of The First World War by John Keegan & The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson.
One of the most popular books of Victorian Britain was Sir Edward Creasy’s The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, originally published in 1851. The copy I have is from the illustrated third edition published by Macmillan in 1905, by which time the book had been in print continuously for fifty-four years and reprinted no less than forty-five times. There was an edition published in London as late as 1960, and Da Capo Press reprinted it here in 1994 (404 pages, $16.95). Creasy wrote the work after his return from serving as Chief Justice of Ceylon. Although he would now be dismissed as a “gentlemanly amateur,” the scholarship he brought to the work was respectable enough and better than that of many academics writing today. Still, there is such a gulf between his work and current assumptions about the way history should be written that Creasy and his book, no matter how popular or scholarly they might have once been, are today...
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