Reviews: Reference Books

Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations

Tsouras, Peter G., ed. Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations. London, UK: Greenhill, 2004. 574 pages. ISBN# 1853675865. Softcover. $24.95. 19.99.

The Greenhill Dictionary of Military Quotations

Historian Barbara Tuchman commented tartly that "Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general." Lt.-Col. Peter G. Tsouras (Ret.), a military historian and analyst, has compiled a huge wealth of comfort for the aspiring military mind. In this new paperback edition of a reference book first published in 2000 (which in turn was an update of the author's earlier Warrior Words) Tsouras offers around 6,000 quotations from more than 800 warriors and military thinkers arranged under nearly 500 ubject headings. Tsouras has revised, expanded and reorganized the previous work to produce this new edition.


Tsouras includes quotes from the dawn of history, the sack of Ur, in 2000 B.C.E. to the current Gulf War. Quotes range from the well-known to those selected by the editor himself for the utility. Tsouras states that that his intention was that the subject headings employed should be those which reflect the "essence of the profession of arms, the realm of ideas rather than objects." We get therefore sections on "Attack," "Operational Art," "Centre of Gravity" and "Unity of Command." Also included are topics concerning the human factors in war, "Morale," "Judgement," and "Comradeship and The Band of Brothers." Tsouras has chosen, where possible, to include the context of the quotes he has selected, rather than just the shorter pithier version.

Authors of quotes run the gamut from literary writers and historians like Homer, Plutarch and Ernie Pyle, "Great Captains" like Alexander, Caesar and Frederick the Great, military theorists such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Alfred Thayer Mahan, or "fighting men" like Marshal Ney, Joshua Chamberlain and Marshal Zhukov. For the Napoleonic era, the garrulous Napoleon gets almost 180 quotes, by far the most prolific. The comparatively taciturn Wellington by contrast has fewer than a hundred, Blucher a mere four and Archduke Charles only three. For other names from the era, Marshal Berthier gets nine quotes, Adm. Nelson gets 37, Clausewitz over 100.

Quotes range from the colorful, including General Lepic's "Heads up, for God's sake! Those are bullets not turds!" to the instructive, such as Clausewitz's "Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war Countless minor incidents the kind you can never really foresee combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls far short of the intended goal ." Compulsive browsing is always a danger with books of this nature.

Within the subject arrangement the quotes are arranged chronologically. Arrangement by subject matter and time allows for interesting juxtapositions of quotes such as Wellington stating, "It is necessary to attend to all this detail and to trace a biscuit from Lisbon into a man's mouth on the frontier and to provide for its removal from place to place by land or by water, or no military operations can be carried out." And Napoleon's statement, "If [a commander] allows himself to be guided by the supply officers he will never move and his expedition will fail." This arrangement is not, however, useful for finding a specific quote, but as mentioned elsewhere an index does provide page references to the most famous quotations. No keyword index, familiar to connoisseurs of quotation books, is included, but such an index would only increase the weight as well as the cost of the volume.

Finding aids include a table of contents listing all the topics included in the book and four useful indexes. These indexes include one for quickly locating "Well-Known Quotations" such as "England expects" or "An army marches on its stomach." About 600 quotes are so identified.

A second index, a "Biographical Index," lists alphabetically all the authors of the quotes, plus the authors' dates and a few words identifying them. Page references to all their quotes are given, but column or page location of a given quote is not indicated. With only about ten quotes to a page, locating an individual quote is not difficult. The editor does indicate, however, incidences where more than a single quote appears on a page. Also included is an "Index of Battles and Campaigns," where one can find such quotes as "next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained." (Waterloo) or "Soldiers! Forty centuries behold you!" (Battle of the Pyramids). Finally an "Index of Generals, Soldiers and War Leaders" is provided which points to quotes by others about famous military men, such as J.F.C. Fuller's comment, "Do not let my opponents castigate me with the blather that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, for the fact remains geographically, historically and tactically, whether the great Duke uttered such nonsense or not, that it was won on the fields of Belgium, by carrying out a fundamental principle of war, the principle of mass" Lastly, a bibliography of the works used in compiling this collection is included.

Every review must include a few quibbles and this one will be no exception. Tsoras references every quote, but in many instances these references are to secondary sources, rather than the original source. However one may in many instances find the origin of the quote from that secondary source. For example, the editor may reference C. Herold's Mind of Napoleon, and that work usually does provide a direct reference to the original source. A cross reference from a subject heading to related topics might be helpful, such as pointing from "Casualties" to "The Wounded" the difference between these two related topics may not be apparent to the reader at first glance. Tsouras quotes the so-called mot de Cambronne, adding that the "Guard dies but does not surrender" is apocryphal, but does not call the more earthy quote into question.

In the final analysis, Tsouras has continued to improve and expand this entertaining and informative volume. Whether you are a student looking for choice quotes for a paper, a military man seeking "comfort," or a military history buff, whether you are just browsing or looking for an apropos quotation, you will find much of value in these pages.


Reviewed by Tom Holmberg
June 2004


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