x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Perilous Glory: conquering the East took more than a little luck

John France examines the triumphs of western empires in the East in the 18th and 19th centuries, concluding that their successes owed a lot to good timing.

Perilous Glory: The Rise 
of Western Military Power
John France
Yale University Press
Dh10
Perilous Glory: The Rise of Western Military Power John France Yale University Press Dh10

What caused the western world to develop a military advantage that resulted in it having ascendancy over most of the globe by the early 20th century?

It was not solely down to the development of more advanced ways of waging war, argues John France. Instead, the triumphs of western empires in the East in the 18th and 19th centuries were by pure chance, as economic demands for expansion coincided with political frailty in the conquered lands.

This is the main thrust of France's book, Perilous Glory, which overall is an accessible and well-argued analysis of three millennia of military history. It does have imperfections, however. Some will notice his scant regard for referencing, meaning you're left unsure how well founded some of his factual claims are. Also, better and more maps would be helpful. For example, unless you have a comprehensive knowledge of the topography of southern Greece, you'll find his narratives of the Greco-Persian Wars somewhat unfathomable. Nevertheless, in an age where the fragility of established superpowers is increasingly evident, this study into the fleeting glory of empires seems especially timely.