Victor Davis Hanson, a former classics professor, is a renowned conservative scholar of ancient history and military affairs who's recently become a nationally syndicated columnist and blogger. The author of 17 books with titles like "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War," "An Autumn of War" and "Mexifornia: A State of Becoming," he is the senior fellow in residence in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus. Hanson, whose scholarship and interest in individual freedom recently earned him a 2008 Bradley Prize worth $250,000 from the Bradley Foundation, was on his farm near the central California town of Selma when I called to ask him about his favorite war books.
Q: What's the greatest book on war ever written?
A: I think Thucydides' "Peloponnesian War" is the most astute. It's the second-earliest history of war and it's not only a testament to the use of source material and the ability to provide a coherent narrative, but it's analytical and it becomes almost philosophical in its dissection of human nature.
Q: Has everyone else been trying to rise to those standards ever since?
A: Yes, I think so. The adjective "Thucydidean" is pretty much a standard brand now that people understand that ideally a historian would have three components in a successful history: One would be that they would use source materials in an analytic rather than prejudicial manner; and two, they would be able to draw together a lot of sources and provide an engaging narrative; and then three, that their history would speak to readers in terms of philosophy beyond just the particular history or period or era they are narrating.
Q: What was the best book about World War II?
A: I think Gerhard Weinberg's "A World at Arms" (1994: Cambridge University Press). It's a single-volume (1,208-page) history of World War II. What's so good about it is, he looks at it in a holistic fashion, so we understand for the first time how the Balkan uprising affected German war plans. Or what was going on in the Japanese empire in places like Korea or Taiwan or Mainland China and how that affected the war with the British. Or what were people in the Nazi Party talking to Hitler about in terms of alternate plans rather than what actually happened. He understands source material very well and he has an eye for trying to give us a world at war other than just Britain, Germany and the United States. It shows how their ideas filtered out into so many different theaters and how the ultimate result of that is how lucky we were to win.
Q: What's the best anti-war book?