Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On War, Carl von Clausewitz, Choosing A Collectible Edition and/or a Reading Copy

The business of war seems to be doing well during these challenging economic times.  Why, war all the time?, is a valid question with many possible answers.  The most popular books of war are generally about war strategy and winning, thanks Machiavelli and Sun Tzu!  Less popular but more comprehensive is On War, by the 19th century Prussian soldier and scholar, Carl von ClausewitzOn War offers the most complete and modern philosophy of war in print, covering not only strategy and execution, but also war as government policy.  Absorbing von Clausewitz requires commitment and dedication (reading and translating 19th century German is extremely difficult) but his philosophy of war continues to impact serious thinking in military, scholarly, and one hopes, political circles!

Acquiring an appropriate edition of On War, in English, should be done carefully.  The first English translation was completed in 1872 by Colonel J.J. (James John) Graham (1808-83), and published by N. Trübner, London in  1873. This was not a very successful publication and only a few hundred copies were actually printed at the time.  The complete Graham translation is available on-line.  Later, a revised and somewhat edited version of the Graham translation, under the direction of F.N. Maude, was released and remained the primary English language edition until 1976.  While it would be interesting to acquire a copy of the 1873 edition it is a rare day when one is available.  The revised edition appeared in 1908 published by Kegan, Paul (London) in three volumes and a couple of copies are currently for sale.

The best English Language translation was published by Princeton University Press in 1976, a revised edition with enhanced index, appeared in 1984, and a paperback edition in 1989.  On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, Edited and Translated by Michael Eliot Howard and Peter Paret, 717 pages, 1976, Princeton University Press, is the edition to own.  The 1976 edition does merit collectible status as there are not many copies available and if you want a first edition of this definitive translation in your library, you should act quickly!  With careful handling the 1976 edition could also serve as a reading copy.  If your are looking simply for a reading copy, I would suggest either the Princeton University Press paperback or the Everyman's Library edition published in 1993 and universally praised as the most useful edition of the Howard/Paret translation (includes a nice chronology but the pagination is different from the PUP edition so citation challenges arise).

It is my hope that everyone interested in war, going to war or managing war, cease fire, stop commenting, and first, read On War.  Since that could take some time perhaps a period of sustained peace would provide ample opportunity to better develop a philosophy of war such that war would become a rare reality rather than a constant state of affairs.     

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