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Still riding the Trojan horse The Shield of Achilles War Law and the Course of History by Philip Bobbitt 960pp Allen Lane This is a book of extraordinary ambition It could well have been called A General Theory of War Peace and History For that is what it proffers at least for political history over the last half-millennium as perceived through European and American eyes And it has a message that as Sir Michael Howard puts it in his magisterial foreword mankind could be facing a tragedy without precedent in its history Even Achilles behind his great and massive shield was neither secure nor victorious at Troy Nor are we the parliamentary democratic nation-states today These are big themes and the architecture and style of the book are suitably grand drawing on a wealth of classical and modern scholarship as well as on the authors extensive experience in the highest reaches of American government as an expert and policy-maker on security and international law In order to subdue and organise the immense field of modern history within the compass of a single overarching theory - or set of theories - Bobbitt generates a degree of abstraction that might discomfit traditional historians of the British empirical school at one point even needing explanatory diagrams Even so London and Oxford with Washington DC and Texas are his spiritual and actual homes and the almost Germanic structure of his argument is relieved by his engagingly fresh English prose The book starts giving no quarter to the fears of nervous publishers with over four straight pages of Homer albeit in translation It is the celebrated passage in The Iliad in which the armourer of the gods forges for Achilles a magnificent shield on which are emblazoned exquisite peacetime scenes - weddings markets dancing athletics the arts agriculture wine-making and law - as well as battles This says Bobbitt is the main point that I wish my readers
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