... richly eclectic ... not a long book, only 272 pages of text, but it’s as colorful and tightly woven as a Persian carpet, showing us not just the many ways that men and women make war, but how war makes women and men. In another scholar’s hands, War might come across as a work of dry political theory, but as anyone who has read Paris 1919 — her vivid account of the Versailles Conference at the end of World War I — can attest, MacMillan writes with enormous ease, and practically every page of this book is interesting, even entertaining ... The greatest pleasures of this book are the historical anecdotes, moments and quotations that MacMillan marshals on nearly every page to illustrate her points. They are bold, arresting and various, and they make the book come alive.
The book is divided into nine chapters that deal, in a remarkably comprehensive way, with a wide array of themes, such as the reasons for conflicts and the ways in which societies commemorate wars. In between, we find out how different societies at different times waged wars and what distinguishes pre-modern wars from modern conflicts. The result is an eminently readable reflection on armed conflict throughout human history ... As this brief overview of the multiple consequences of war suggests, MacMillan’s book is much more than an operational history of military campaigns. The author also poses the complex question of what future wars might look like ... despite this note of caution, the book is delightfully readable. The author wears the immense scholarship underpinning the book lightly. Her writing style is crisp and there is an enviable clarity of thought ... another fine achievement, and should be widely read by those wishing to understand how armed conflict has shaped, and continues to shape, the world in which we live today.
Clearly averse to viewing history through such a moralizing lens, MacMillan prefers cold-eyed scrutiny ... She offers up an enjoyable motley trot through many aspects of war ... The book is light on political theory but rich in factual detail; entirely devoid of polemic, yet full of sober analysis. Humans are described as they are, not as they ought to be. This is the approach of a traditional diplomatic historian, steeped in the realism predominant in her field. She prefers, characteristically, to avoid value judgments, though on occasion her own values slip out ... But this effort falls short of its predecessors. Originating as the prestigious Reith Lectures for the BBC (previous invitees: Robert Oppenheimer, John Kenneth Galbraith, Edward Said), it has no central narrative. That’s because a lecture series better lends itself to argumentation than storytelling. But since MacMillan is so suspicious of big ideas, War struggles to demonstrate a raison d’etre. For a scholar who seems happiest weaving a compelling story out of long-buried diplomatic papers, a book that contains no original, archival research has a diminished chance to shine.