Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550

Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550 - Yuval Noah Harari An analysis of the role of what we think of as "special ops" in Medieval warfare. That is, the use of variously sneaky and underhanded tactics to achieve military (or political) aims, without having two armies politely show up and fight each other. Of course, I say sneaky, but really this kind of thing actually usually got things done with less bloodshed, and usually only the blood of the noble jerkwads involved, so theres something to that.

Anyway, theres a thesis bit with like academic theorizing and stuff, which is kind of interesting but not particularly memorable (that is, I read it last year and I don't remember it.) The meat of the book is an analysis of seven special-ops campaigns, from the Crusades and France. These pretty much rock.

Harari is just not above spinning a good yarn then way sheep are not above being woolly. It's all wacky cloack-and-dagger, buckle-and-swash, derring-do with a touch of stupidity so magnificent it still shines after all the centuries. Assassinations, betrayals, disguises, divorces, marriages, lies, princesses put in towers, princesses rescued from towers, (one instance of a princess rescuing herself from tower,) midnight rides, many gates and walls climbed over, etc, etc. It's great.

If anything, theres a little too much political and historical context some times - who cares why they were doing it, just tell me how. Harari is also pretty good about analyzing the sources and mentioning their likely biases and contradictions (which are pretty interesting themselves.) Mostly, it's just a bunch of the kind of weird detail and personal stories I wish dry history books (then the king did this. Then the duke did that. NO THEY DIDN'T. They didn't do anything. Some soldier did that. What was it like?) had more of, that give some a sense of the day-to-day way wars were conducted.

The Middle-East chapters were slightly more interesting then all the French stuff, but I really just think the material there is better - bickering Crusaders who can't swim and Assassins and sun-worshiping Armenians and things. The French and the Burgundians are positively reasonable by comparison, as the entire Levant in the 12th century comes off like a giant collection of sociopathically violent frat boys playing murderous pranks on each other.