Book Review: Invisible Armies, by Max Boot

Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, by Max Boot, Liveright Publishing, New York, 2013, $35

Invisible Armies, by Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is an authoritative and superbly written examination of the evolution of guerrilla warfare and its close cousin, terrorism. Boot contends these forms of warfare are more prevalent throughout history than conventional state-on-state conflict because they are inexpensive and do not require a great deal of skill to prosecute. This makes guerrilla warfare the perfect weapon for the weak and disenfranchised. Boot contends that, despite the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan, we have not seen the end of these wars. Precisely because the United States is so dominant in conventional war, likely enemies in the future will engage in irregular combat in an attempt to even the odds.

Invisible Armies first examines guerrilla warfare in the ancient world, where Boot introduces the paradox of why guerrilla warfare, a weap-on of the weak, is so effective against organized militaries. He then examines revolutionaries, including rebels in the American Revolutionary War, Spanish guerrillas fighting Napoleonic armies and the Italian war for independence. Following chapters detail guerrilla conflicts contesting Western imperialism, the advent of international terrorism, guerrillas and commandos in the world wars, the wars of national liberation and rise of leftist revolutionaries after 1945, and the recent conflicts involving radical Islam. Boot provides context and color to each of these eras, along with a thorough examination of how guerrilla warfare and terrorism evolved in each period.

Boot has mined numerous archival sources and personal papers, as well as the copious secondary literature. He was also a frequent guest of senior commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his observations add depth to his views on these conflicts. Boot sums up his findings in a conclusion entitled “Twelve Articles, or The Lessons of 5,000 Years.” His comments on guerrilla war in this section, along with the meticulously researched database of guerrilla conflicts that follows, add immeasurably to our understanding of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

Invisible Armies is a book general readers will enjoy, and it should be mandatory reading for policy makers and military leaders, for, as Boot states in conclusion, “Only the dead have seen the end of guerrilla war.”

—Peter Mansoor

3 Responses

  1. Paul

    Dr Monsoor,

    What book on the subject is considered the best work for academics/serious scholars concerned with the subject of guerilla warfare and insurgencies, as you state this book is good for the general reader (of which I am one)?

    Thank you.


  2. Brian

    I’ve been a big fan of Max Boot ever since I read his first book “Out of Order”.

    His writing has improved by leaps and bounds ever since. But still I have fond memories of his first. I’ve read almost every book he’s written, with the exception of his latest… “Savage Wars of Peace”.

    I’ll be getting to it soon enough though. You can find his whole repertoire on Amazon.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.