Angus Konstam, 100 Greatest Battles (Osprey, 2023)
We seem to live in a world of lists in this Internet Age. In particular, we can’t resist clicking on the ‘greatest’ list of whatever the subject happens to be, and most of us have an opinion on what qualifies. The prolific Angus Konstam has presented a list of the 100 greatest battles in the ‘old-fashioned’ book format, but the effect is the same. Many of the battles Konstam lists will receive knowing nods, but some will have you reaching for your red pen with a frown or perhaps even an expletive.
Konstam judges greatness for battles that have had a significant effect on a war or campaign, and he supports the ‘turning point’ thesis for them. He recognises, however, the subjectivity in his approach. The battles Konstam selects are organised into eras: the Ancient World, the Medieval World, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Napoleonic Era, the Age of Empires, World War I, World War II, and the Modern Age. Many of the battles should be obvious – Marathon, Waterloo, Gettysburg etc. – but I should note that Konstam selects just 9 of Creasey’s 15 famous, or infamous, decisive battles, and only 3 from outside the European sphere of influence. Each battle account is spread across two pages and is partnered with a painting of the fighting drawn from Osprey’s considerable gallery of work previously published in more specific books relating to that battle. Konstam provides some background and a brief overview of the battle and its consequences.
100 Greatest Battles is an odd little book, both in its physical appearance (a half-sized ‘coffee table’ book) and its concept (a list of ‘great’ battles). Konstam writes well enough, and the artwork is excellent, but there is not much meat on the bones. Nevertheless, like those internet click-bait lists that we can’t resist, I found myself arguing with some of Konstam’s choices while happily flipping through the pages, and that seems to be all that the author asks from his readers on this occasion. If so, job done.