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Pyrrhic Victory – A Book Review

Author: Robert A. Doughty

In Pyrrhic Victory, General Robert A. Doughty, formerly an instructor of military history at West Point for 20 years, writes an excellent, detailed history of the French Army’s strategies and operations during The Great War from 1914 to 1918. He meticulously covers every single major engagement on the Western Front through these years and provides what some have called the definitive, analytical study on the subject.

That being said, this is not a book for the casual reader of military history. In that it deals specifically with the analysis of combat operations during World War I, the focus of the book is narrowly focused on this area of study alone.

For such a study, Doughty does provide some very illuminating areas in his research but only a few times does his prose generate a sense of excitement over the subject matter. As a former West Point history instructor, one gets the feeling that his book was designed as a text for The Point as much as it was for commercial distribution. As a result, his writing at times becomes pedantic and dry at points. However, this should not lessen anyone’s interest in reading this text if combat operations is what you are interested in studying. No doubt, despite the failings of the prose at times, this book will definitely provide the reader with an in-depth look at how the French Army performed in these years.

The problem with the way the book is written is its inherent lack of color. Doughty appears to have written such a text as clinically as possible with little background information about the major actors on the battlefield in this tragic event. His intent is to only cover strategy and operations.

However, The French Army did not fight in a vacuum. Many complex factors provided the reasons why the French were on the battlefield in the first place; most importantly their loss in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, a conflict the French initiated, though some historians are of the opinion that Otto von Bismark, then chancellor of Prussia, provoked. France’s loss in the conflict forced them to concede Alsace and Lorraine to the Prussian Army, which incensed French politicians and the public at large right through 1918. And though Germany would later attempt to formulate its own security through several alliances with surrounding nations, France sought to literally surround Germany with an alliance with Russia, making Germany far more concerned about her security than she would have been had such an alliance not been developed.

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