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To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, from Achilles to Al Qaeda

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In the tradition of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Leebaert tells the stories of small forces that have triumphed over vastly larger ones and changed the course of history -- from the Trojan Horse to Al Qaeda. Maps and charts.


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In the tradition of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Leebaert tells the stories of small forces that have triumphed over vastly larger ones and changed the course of history -- from the Trojan Horse to Al Qaeda. Maps and charts.

30 review for To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, from Achilles to Al Qaeda

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    The book had many interesting facts and I personally enjoyed the earlier chapters. Eventually, the structure of the book became too predictable for me and at moments it felt more like a history class than an argument for the benefits of special ops. If you're planning on reading this for general knowledge, pick the time period you are most interested in, and read those parts instead. It will definitely enrich your facts and makes you see events in a different light. The book had many interesting facts and I personally enjoyed the earlier chapters. Eventually, the structure of the book became too predictable for me and at moments it felt more like a history class than an argument for the benefits of special ops. If you're planning on reading this for general knowledge, pick the time period you are most interested in, and read those parts instead. It will definitely enrich your facts and makes you see events in a different light.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ensiform

    The author, a former Marine, a government consultant, and a professor at Georgetown, offers a dramatic thesis: that "special operations” – daring, small, commando missions led by people who think outside the box and not the massive thrusts of conventional armies – have repeatedly changed the course of human events. To prove this, Leebaert takes the reader on a fascinating tour of Western military history, from the siege of Troy through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He not only chronicles military h The author, a former Marine, a government consultant, and a professor at Georgetown, offers a dramatic thesis: that "special operations” – daring, small, commando missions led by people who think outside the box and not the massive thrusts of conventional armies – have repeatedly changed the course of human events. To prove this, Leebaert takes the reader on a fascinating tour of Western military history, from the siege of Troy through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He not only chronicles military history but also provides readers with a political, diplomatic, technical and cultural tide of events; taken together, this rush of facts, states, empires and timelines constitutes nothing less than a (sometimes overwhelming) overview of Western civilization over 600 pages. (There’s no Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan or Tamerlane, and little on Soviet forces.) The reader is introduced to Ulysses and Gideon, Alexander the Great (and his undreamt of scaling of a mountain pass guarded by Oxyartes) and the Roman Empire, of course, but also meets the Carolingians, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Huguenots, Joan of Arc, Cortez, Pizarro (recast as special operators) and the pirates of the Caribbean. After more than 250 pages, we arrive at the American Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Civil War and, by around page 450, World War II. This shows admirable sweep; Leebaert spends almost as much time putting the conflicts in context as he does describing the special operations themselves. (I found myself wishing I could read a whole chapter about a mad brave escapade that Leebaert devotes a few lines or a paragraph to, but the author, and the sweep of history, moves remorselessly on.) Within the context of each era, he offers nuggets of fascinating, bold, decisive actions, from taking down castles to robbing Spanish gold under false flags to Nazis landing gliders on Eben Emael, all of which attest not only to soldiers’ ingenuity and daring but also to the value of the unexpected in military operations. Finally, Leebaert concludes with a dry, understated, but nevertheless scathing attack on the self-professed experts and armchair generals of the futile Iraq invasion. Leebaert uses his dozens of examples to assert that a few men with imagination, self-sufficiency, a knowledge of psyops, guile, a lay of the land, stealth, speed, unpredictability, imagination, a willingness to divert from the rule book, and clever use of the fear factor can change the history of the world (one prominent example is the assassination of Pearl Harbor raid architect Isoroku Yamamoto). However, he has some impressive (and depressing) things to say about the track record of special ops when intelligence agencies are not properly aligned, when control is disputed, when patience and language training and planning are tossed out in favor of flooding the market with commandos. While it’s clear from the book that special ops are no panacea, the lessons it preaches on the subject – that cowboy diplomacy, brutal tactics, and imperial arrogance are counter-effective and antithetical to the special ops philosophy – are worth hearing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Greg Heaney

    Leebaert's work of history is hefty, very well documented, and ambitious. Unfortunately, the writing itself comes up short of the courageous subject matter he deals with. The book claims to be a history of special operations stretching across the entirety of recorded history, but it is almost exclusively about the modern world, make no mistake. His descriptions of the special operations taken by Odysseus in the Trojan War reads like something just less than a Wikipedia plot. In fact, the first ti Leebaert's work of history is hefty, very well documented, and ambitious. Unfortunately, the writing itself comes up short of the courageous subject matter he deals with. The book claims to be a history of special operations stretching across the entirety of recorded history, but it is almost exclusively about the modern world, make no mistake. His descriptions of the special operations taken by Odysseus in the Trojan War reads like something just less than a Wikipedia plot. In fact, the first time he really sinks his teeth into an engagement by explaining the key players, strategy, tactic, and technology used by the special operators is 150 pages in, concerning Cortez's conquest of the Aztecs. Until this point, Leebaert gives the reader little more than basic information concerning the special operators and the situations they found themselves in. There are two ironic things about this book. The first is what I've alluded to here: It takes 150 pages to get to the 1500's, which seems like plenty of space to cover the pre-modern world. However, at 600 pages, it is disproportionate, to say the least. Still, I suppose a talented author can do a lot of good in 150 pages. This is the second bit of irony. To Dare and to Conquer is a wordy, thick book that uses a lot of words to say very little. The reader is relayed the same basic information (what makes a special operation special, how fewer men are frequently better, what role technology does or does not play,) over and over and over, in equally unclear terms. We are frequently left with a very poorly painted picture of exactly who the commandos are, what side they are fighting on, what limitations they face, or, most importantly, exactly what differentiates special operations from not-exactly-mainstream military tactics. As a historian, Leebaert has done a good job, but I don't believe that he ultimately lives up to the ambitious goal he sets himself at the beginning: to tell the untold story of special operations, frequently overlooked by the more strategic, birds eye view historical texts of others. The main problem is that I don't think this point is all that valid. Obviously, a historical overview of a certain military action must stick to the general facts, and that does mean that smaller, special operations frequently get left behind. However, it's equally true that what often stands out are the unique stories that break the mold. The siege of Tyre, for example, is wildly different from the way war was typically waged, but this uniqueness makes it more widely known, not less. Leebaert covers situations that are unique, but not exclusively situations that are unknown or even under-researched. At best, To Dare and to Conquer explains a few of history's more interesting military maneuvers within a grander context that is frequently forgotten by other historians. At its core, however, it is a well-researched but poorly written attempt to retell stories that have already been covered in better, clearer, and more interesting detail elsewhere.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    This book has its ups and downs. My biggest problem with it is the author's use of the term special operations is too broad. Sometimes he called operations special when I think the term espionage would suffice. Nonetheless, this book is impressive in the way it covers so much ground, so many interesting turning points in history. My favorite chapter is the one on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire -- not that it was the result of what we would call a special operation, but there are parall This book has its ups and downs. My biggest problem with it is the author's use of the term special operations is too broad. Sometimes he called operations special when I think the term espionage would suffice. Nonetheless, this book is impressive in the way it covers so much ground, so many interesting turning points in history. My favorite chapter is the one on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire -- not that it was the result of what we would call a special operation, but there are parallels to what is expected today of SEALs and their bretheren. I also like how the author uses popular fiction of the times that he describes as source material. In a chapter on the British conflict with Napoleon's France, he writes about how a real-life British hero, Thomas Lord Cochrane, perhaps the first great special ops leader at sea, inspired C.S. Forester to write his Horatio Horblower novels. I've never read any of the Hornblower books, but that's about to change. I just bought the first in the 11-book series and look forward to entering Forester's world of daring deeds and memorable characters.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    AVOID "To Dare and To Conquer" by Derek Leebaert. The book was billed as a history of special forces/special operations going back to the Trojan Horse. Reading a book should be like having a conversation with the author over a pint of brew at your local bar. You listen and learn. But Leebaert is too eager to impress you with what he knows, even to the point of not letting you in on it because he assumes you know it already. Example: David Stirling gets captured by the Germans and one of England' AVOID "To Dare and To Conquer" by Derek Leebaert. The book was billed as a history of special forces/special operations going back to the Trojan Horse. Reading a book should be like having a conversation with the author over a pint of brew at your local bar. You listen and learn. But Leebaert is too eager to impress you with what he knows, even to the point of not letting you in on it because he assumes you know it already. Example: David Stirling gets captured by the Germans and one of England's leading rugby players takes over command of the SAS, How about giving us the guy's name, Leebaert? Is that too much to ask? He is keen on listing U.S. SOF failings. He makes little or no mention of Afghanistan 2001 or Iraq/Kurdistan 2003. Desert One gets more ink. This guy needed an editor to make him tell the story rather than carving it on stone tablets and cracking them over the reader's head.

  6. 5 out of 5

    SA

    This is a fantastic combination of history and military criticism; very academic, but endlessly fascinating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    This is a thorough and well-written study of military special operations (i.e. commando and special forces) and the influence they have had on history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    AWL

    Interesting read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Page

    Leebaert has composed an outstanding account of Special Operation Warfare. The book is a heavy read but the narrative has a beautiful language with the right amount of detail.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    With extensive footnotes and bibliography there is a good chance you can find something better to read on the subject.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Awsome, great insight into special warfare from 1200 B.C. to present.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marty Allen

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick Ziemba

  14. 5 out of 5

    Troy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liam

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wil S

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan Sirotkin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Don Frost

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaktus

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hans Richardt Kall Schmidt-Nielsen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sumegh Sodani

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shooter

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Trudeau

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Burns

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gian Ciacci

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karl

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs Van

  29. 5 out of 5

    Portague

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick gregovich

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