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

Geoffrey Parker

Cambridge University Press 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997
The early modern period produced the improvements in military technology which were the foundation for the West's domination of the world. In The Military Revolution Parker analyses the key innovations involved.

He begins with the introduction of siege artillery and the "artillery fortress" capable of withstanding it, and with the use of firearms in battle and changes in infantry tactics (volley firing). Chapter two considers logistics, particularly the increase in the size of armies and the development by states of the fiscal apparatus and supply systems required to maintain them. At sea, the military revolution produced capital ships firing broadsides; chapter three traces their development and the struggle for naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean and Far East. Chapter four looks at the military revolution outside Europe, at variations in the spread of Western technology to different regions. The final chapter (of the original 1988 edition) argues that the end of the military revolution is most sensibly drawn with the French Revolution and the advent of the levée en masse. This edition has a new chapter addressing criticisms of the first edition, from which it is otherwise unchanged.

Whether explaining the failure of the Spanish Armada to use its guns effectively (physical difficulties reloading), describing the sultan of Aceh's siege of Malacca in 1629, or analysing conscription records from a Swedish parish, Parker has a fine grasp for detail; he also has the ability to move between that detail and broad generalisations without losing his footing. In this regard he reminds me not a little of Braudel: indeed The Military Revolution is complementary in many ways to Civilization and Capitalism, which described the early modern social and economic changes that set Western Europe apart from the rest of the world, but which largely ignored matters military. With seventy pages of notes, The Military Revolution is without question a scholarly work; with an impressive citation record after less than a decade, it is also a significant one. But the broad nature of the subject and the use of endnotes makes it accessible to anyone; those interested in military history will simply gobble it down.

March 1997

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%T The Military Revolution
%S Military Innovation and the Rise of the West 1500-1800
%A Parker, Geoffrey
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1996
%O paperback, 2nd edition, b&w photos, references, index
%G ISBN 052180079X
%P xix,265pp