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The Shortest History of War



Gwynne Dyer

Collingwood, VIC: Black Inc Books, 2021

Paperback   256 pp    RRP: $27.99


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, February 2024


Dyer has proved that ‘good things come in small parcels’. This fascinatingly concise study of warfare explores every aspect of fighting since humans first walked on Earth. Running parallel to homo sapiens are the primates who, when suffering food shortages, attempt to invade other groups’ territories to supplement their own supply.

The strength of armies is not unlimited. Countries need to keep their economy and their food production running in order to support their combatants. A miniscule three percent of most populations are the maximum combatants most countries can afford. Napoleon supported his massive forces through the proceeds of plundering all countries he invaded. The Asian Steppes only had sufficient fodder to feed a large, but finite, number of cavalry horses. The Third Reich had hundreds of thousands in battle but was ultimately unable to support them with reinforcements and materiel.

The reasons for going to battle, how combat and the combatants has changed over the millennia have all been explored. The Second World War resulted in casualties and destruction on an ‘industrial scale’ – with the Atomic Bomb finally putting an end to the slaughter. Today there are numerous ‘standoffs’ between the powerful nations, with probably too much to lose by provocation of any type. While there has been world peace for a number of decades, there are still conflicts resulting from actions taken by religious and political non-state entities. Dyer thoroughly examines why there have been so many wars in the past but concludes his work with how a permanent peace can be achieved.

This is an easily readable work, punctuated with sketches of historic battles, weapons and miliary hardware, ‘flowcharts’ that explain cause and effect of actions, and pertinent quotes from contemporaries of the day. It is an absolute must for any military history buff to share Dyer’s pertinent insight into war.


The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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