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Posted on Feb 20, 2004 in Books and Movies

Military History’s Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Improbable Victories, Unlikey Heroes, and Other Martial Oddities – Book Review

Jim H. Moreno

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Besides the widely known facts about military history, I love to delve into the obscure. You know, those hard-to-find little tidbits of information that make high school history teachers grimace when you correct them. Well, my high school history teacher, anyway. Information such as this is what you can expect from M. Evan Brook’s handy book, Military History’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Improbable Victories, Unlikely Heroes, and Other Martial Oddities.

Published by Brassey’s, Inc., the book chronicles a list of military subjects almost as long as it’s title, all formatted into easy to read and follow ‘top ten’ lists, and at just under 400 pages. However, unlike the lists from a certain late night TV show, the facts and figures compiled within are actual events popular (and unpopular) regarding the lives and times of the professional (and unprofessional) warrior.

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Reading more like a commentary, or discussions one might overhear where military historians have gathered, Brooks covers genre topics ranging from the Greatest Captains and Admirals of history, military nicknames, submarine aces (American Richard H. O’Kane holds the #3 spot, even though he sunk himself with his own torpedo!), and even some top soldiers who later became top Hollywood actors.

In the second half of his book, Brooks takes time for a chapter on the daring task of listing his choices for the top ten most decisive battles. I probably spent the most time in this chapter, asking why this one and not that one, and waging my own battles in my mind against his choices. I’m sure other war historians may spend some time with Brooks’ choices, as well, which I would say was one of his goals in writing this compilation.

Another topic of great interest to me was the one where Brooks listed the great moments of “vertical insertion” – and, no, it’s not what you’re thinking. He writes about airborne ops, and even though I spent 10 years in the 82nd Airborne Division and know a few things about the subject, I learned the Red Army had a major airborne assault at Kanev in September of ’43, with the mission of halting a then retreating German army. A dreadful lack of Soviet army logistics kept the operation from any amount of success.

It’s very evident that Brooks took his time to make this a timely piece, even going so far as to include his take on War Games (from paper and the computer), Military Fiction and Military Science Fiction. I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Ender’s Game and read it, now.

Carefully sprinkling the work with quotes, black-and-white photos, and ingenious humor, Brooks has written a book that would do well with anyone even remotely interested in the world’s martial history. With both an index and a bibliography, this is a book with appeal to the beginner, the serious student, and the knowledgeable grognard. You may want to give this one permanent guard duty on the back of your favorite toilet.

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Stay Alert, Stay Alive!

Jim H. Moreno

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