THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU

Everyone has their own approach to studying military history. For my own part, whenever I decide to investigate a past military engagement that either directly or indirectly involved American forces, the first source I invariably turn to is the “West Point Atlas of American Wars.” This is a large two volume set, originally published as an instructional resource for the study of military history at West Point. The first volume covers the American wars, 1689-1900. The second volume surveys the wars of the United States from 1900 to 1953. The editor, at the time of the book’s publication, was the Head of the Department of Military Art and Engineering at The United States Military Academy. Despite its title, however, this two-volume set covers, in addition to American conflicts, many other military campaigns in which American forces played no active roll. Even the 1939 Polish campaign and the 1940 Russo-Finnish War are analyzed, although the United States was not yet an active belligerent in World War II.

The “Atlas,” as might be expected, does not provide a detailed description of any of the campaigns that it surveys; for example, the Russo-German War, 1941-45, requires only forty-six pages to cover from beginning to end. Instead it presents a concise account of the significant military events of each campaign using a standard (one to one) balanced format of explanatory text and illustrative maps. Despite this economical style of historical presentation, however, the “Atlas” still manages to convey an excellent and surprisingly cogent overview of the events being described. These descriptions also, because they identify the key commanders and military units involved, provide an excellent starting point for anyone interested in continuing on to pursue more historical detail.

The explanatory prose, considering that this was published as an academic resource for military cadets, is surprisingly well-written and graceful. The maps are generally excellent: clear, detailed, and focused on the essentials being discussed in the accompanying text. The only nit that I would pick is with the smallness of some of the print used on the maps to identify secondary place names; I have personally found that, in a few of these cases, a magnifying glass comes in very handy.

The only real shortcoming of the “West Point Atlas” is that, because of the date of its original publication, it does not cover the military events that have occurred since the Korean War. In 1995, an updated and revised version of the first volume was published, but as yet, a modern revision to the second volume has not appeared. (The West Point Atlas of American Wars: 1689-1900 (West Point Atlas of American Wars, 1689-1900 Vol. 1)) The absence, from the “Atlas,” of concise surveys of the Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, the Afghan War, and Operation “Iraqi Freedom” clearly presents a historical gap from the Korean War to the present. None the less, for anyone interested in American military history, this is an incredibly useful resource. For that reason, I give “The West Point Atlas of American Wars” my strongest possible recommendation; I submit that it is an essential reference for anyone, like me, whose avocation is the study of military affairs.


Post a Comment