The best books on early modern European warfare

Cormac O'Brien Author Of Outnumbered: Incredible Stories of History's Most Surprising Battlefield Upsets
By Cormac O'Brien

The Books I Picked & Why

The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West 1500-1800

By Geoffrey Parker

The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West 1500-1800

Why this book?

In the year 1500 European civilization was fractured, deficient in natural resources, and unremarkable in its military technology. By 1800 it had gained control over one-third of the globe. How? This seminal work by Geoffrey Parker tackles that question with a sweeping assessment of global developments during the period, revealing the suite of innovations that allowed the West to expand so dramatically. Sparking a debate that continues to this day, it is a must-read on the subject of early modern technology, imperialism, and warfare.


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Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the 16th Century

By John Francis Guilmartin

Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the 16th Century

Why this book?

The great John Keegan called this “among the two or three very best works of military history I have ever read,” and it’s easy to see why. An authoritative, deeply researched examination of the Mediterranean system of warfare at sea in the age immediately following the introduction of effective gunpowder weapons, Guilmartin’s riveting book takes us deep into the interminable rivalries between Christians and Muslims across the inland sea, revealing the peculiar realities—technological, geopolitical, climatic, cultural—that shaped the era’s tactics and strategy. This is a book full of fascinating revelations about a largely misunderstood chapter of history.


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Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics

By Bert S. Hall

Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics

Why this book?

While the title of this book implies a pretty broad subject, its true focus is on the development of gunpowder weapons and the awkward, often halting, development of their use during the Renaissance. The scope and depth of Hall’s research is frankly arresting, which makes it so much fun to read. There is essentially nothing about the early days of gunpowder and the weapons it gave rise to that you won’t find in this book. You'll learn why artillerists became a highly paid guild of specialists, why urine was so crucial to gunpowder production, why the challenge of storing powder lead inadvertently to its dramatic increase in explosive force, and so much more.


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Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660

By Christopher Duffy

Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660

Why this book?

Christopher Duffy is a great go-to author for books on early modern warfare, and this is one of his finest—and most important--contributions to the subject. The transformation of the European landscape from a place littered with castles to one dominated by angular, masonry bastions, is an epic all its own, and here it is in all its complex glory. What emerges is a nuanced, nicely illustrated narrative of one of the greatest arms races in military history: increasingly destructive weapons vs. the fortified structures built to thwart them. There is plenty of action in this book, as well, as Duffy spares nothing in the telling of siege warfare and its grisly idiosyncrasies.


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The Thirty Years War

By C. V. Wedgwood

The Thirty Years War

Why this book?

The late, great C.V. Wegwood was one of the masters of narrative history who—like her contemporary Barbara Tuchman—became a legend for weaving a bounty of facts into a brilliant page-turner. In this classic, she takes on what is perhaps Europe’s most infamously complicated war and succeeds with characteristic genius. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was many things: the culmination of Europe’s religious wars, a struggle for the heart of a continent, a clash of empires, a collapse of civilization, and, perhaps most poignantly, a sprawling nightmare that still haunts the German people. Wedgwood covers it all in a crisp, witty narrative in which characters high and low virtually walk off the page. In English, this is probably still the reigning treatment of this bear of a subject, and it is a joy to read.


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