22 Dec 2008

Osprey War Elephants

I've just picked up a copy of Osprey's much discussed book on War Elephants, so thought I'd do a quick review here.

The book is the standard Osprey-format paperback, 48 pages cover-to-cover and written by Konstantin Nossov with illustrations by Peter Dennis. Unlike older Ospreys, this book has colour photos or illustrations on virtually every double page spread.

The book is divided into sections covering different armies use of elephants, namely Indian, Alexandrian, Phyrrus, Carthage, Roman, South East Asia and "Elsewhere" (China and Persia), then an overview of types of elephant and their types of use.

Many of the illustrations and photos come from - unsurprisingly - India - where use of elephants has been well documented in art and on record, especially from the relatively recent Moghul and similar eras.

The use of elephants in Classical warfare is covered in as much depth as posible, especially where important recorded battles used elephants - but inevitably there are gaps in the historical record which the book wisely leaves open rather than assertively plumping for one or other possible historical interpretation.

Many of the key classical battles are covered in some depth with lengthy quotes from historical sources, and in particular the history of Indian war elephants gets a very in depth coverage, looking at armour, tactics, equipment and usage - and there is still no definitive statement on whether Carthaginian Elephants had towers!

Getting the balance right between in-depth and superficial coverage of the whole global historical record of elephant warfare in a 48-page booklet is always going to be a tough ask, especially when the historical record itself can often be quite thin or patchy, and so this book leaves you with a slight feeling that it "should" be better - but maybe it's impossible for it to be so.

At the end of the day we all already know that Elephants are big old beasts which frighten horses, skittle over unprepared infantry formations and knock down castle doors. They are scary for your enemies if they charge them, and even more scary if they panic and rout back through your own army.

This book says all of this, it has some great illustrations (especially of Indian/Moghul era elephants) and it also provides enough detail on some of the Classical era battles as well. Will it tell you anything astounding you didn't know - probably not, but thats maybe more of an issue with the subject matter rather than the book.

Buy the book here:

1 comment:

John M. Kistler said...

Good review. I agree with most of your comments on the new War Elephants book.

If you didn't know about it, I wrote a much more exhaustive book called War elephants for Praeger publishing three years ago, and it was reprinted as a paperback last year by Bison Books.

The Osprey book is a very pretty book with great illustrations, but little more than a condensation of my larger book. It is true that there are gaps and mysteries on the war elephants questions, but there is a more thorough work out there if you are looking for more info.

Enjoy!
John Kistler

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