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The Pursuit of Power

Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

In this magnificent synthesis of military, technological, and social history, William H. McNeill explores a whole millennium of human upheaval and traces the path by which we have arrived at the frightening dilemmas that now confront us. McNeill moves with equal mastery from the crossbow—banned by the Church in 1139 as too lethal for Christians to use against one another—to the nuclear missile, from the sociological consequences of drill in the seventeenth century to the emergence of the military-industrial complex in the twentieth. His central argument is that a commercial transformation of world society in the eleventh century caused military activity to respond increasingly to market forces as well as to the commands of rulers. Only in our own time, suggests McNeill, are command economies replacing the market control of large-scale human effort. The Pursuit of Power does not solve the problems of the present, but its discoveries, hypotheses, and sheer breadth of learning do offer a perspective on our current fears and, as McNeill hopes, "a ground for wiser action."

An audiobook version is available.

416 pages | 5.40 x 8.40 | © 1982

History: General History

Table of Contents

1. Arms and Society in Antiquity
2. The Era of Chinese Predominance, 1000-1500
Market and Command in Medieval China
Market Mobilization beyond China’s borders
3. The Business of War in Europe, 1000-1600
Pioneering the Business of War in Northern Italy
The Gunpowder Revolution and the Rise of Atlantic Europe
The Market Asserts Control
4. Advances in Europe’s Art of War, 1600-1750
Geographical Spread
Improvements in the Control of Armies
Standardization and Quasi-Stabilization of European Armed Forces
5. Strains on Europe’s Bureaucratization of Violence, 1700-1789
Disequilibrium Arising from Frontier Expansion
Challenges Arising from Deliberate Reorganization
6. The Military Impact of the French Political and the British Industrial Revolutions, 1789-1840
The French Formula for Relieving Population Pressure
The British Variant
Postwar Settlement, 1815-40
7. The Initial Industrialization of War, 1840-84
Commercial and National Armaments Rivalries
A New Paradigm: The Prussian Way of War
Global Repercussions
8. Intensified Military-Industrial Interaction, 1884-1914
Decay of Britain’s Strategic Position
Emergence of the Military-Industrial Complex in Great Britain
Naval Armament and the Politicization of Economics
The Limits of Rational Design and Management
International Repercussions
9. World Wars of the Twentieth Century
Balance of Power and Demography in World Wars I and II
Managerial Metamorphosis in World War I: First Phase, 1914-16
Managerial Metamorphosis in World War I: Second Phase, 1916-18
Interwar Reaction and Return to Managed Economies during World War II
10. The Arms Race and Command Economies since 1945

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