Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century

  • Published
Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century by Matthew S. Muehlbauer and David J. Ulbrich. Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), 2014, 537 pp.


Matthew Muehlbauer and David Ulbrich's Ways of War is an ambitious undertaking, attempting to include in a single volume the entirety of the American wartime experience. The authors further seek to analyze and distill tactical, operational, and strategic highlights from over 400 years of conflict. Despite this noble, well-intentioned goal, the result is a shallow analysis that loses itself among the ranks of undergraduate surveys of niche American history.

Early in the work, Muehlbauer and Ulbrich recognize the vast span of their undertaking and try to find middle ground in the quagmire of sociopolitical relations inherent to the study of conflict and a purely tactical analysis of various engagements throughout history. They attempt to overcome the limitations of a manageable page count by supplementing the text with a website. The online information does an admirable job of adding to the printed material and allows the inclusion of updated analyses of modern conflicts. Regardless of the constraints of transforming such a vast topic into a manageable tome, Muehlbauer and Ulbrich do bring to light the evolution of the American "way of war" throughout our nation's comparatively brief history, from the unique evolution of militia-based defense forces that became the basis for our current National Guard and Reserve to the "chicken and egg" interaction between technological advances and associated tactical and operational evolutions.

One final shortcoming of the work is the lack of fundamental historiography. Intending the work for the novice historian, the authors had an opportunity to display a good, fundamental application of professional historical writings. However, the lack of references to primary sources and the use of vaguely associated endnotes in each chapter set a poor example of attributing source material, building a historical narrative, and supporting an overarching thesis.

In totality, Ways of War, tries to reach too far. Although it falls short of its premise, it effectively assembles a single narrative of the evolution of American warfare. Further, the book manages to do so without being overly trite or cliché. It provides a framework of knowledge that an inspired undergraduate could build on in pursuit of a higher understanding of a very complex and challenging topic.

Maj Phillip H. Drew, USAF
Laughlin AFB, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."