I picked this book up unsure whether I was going to commit to it. I like Max Boot, as I’ve said before, but I’m not a huge fan of military history, which can be a little on the dry side. Luckily, Boot doesn’t bog down his prose with tactical descriptions of battles (I can never follow these anyway), but instead offers a higher level view of overall campaigns.
Invisible Armies is a book about guerrillas. The subtitle pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Though it follows a loose chronology, beginning with ancient Mesopotamia and Rome and ending with modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan, the book’s structure is primarily by theme, rather than time period. Boot covers liberal uprisings of the 18th century, anarchists of the late 19th, communists of the early 20th, through to the Islamic rebels of today. He makes a useful distinction between guerrillas and terrorists, with the former encompassing loose military units that fight largely military targets, while terrorists are smaller and primarily target civilians.
I was disappointed that he didn’t talk about Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who was the man, but despite this omission he covers a lot of ground. There were several people who I’d heard of very vaguely and appreciated learning more about—T.E. Lawrence, Yasser Arafat— as well as I people I hadn’t heard of at all (Massoud). The spreadsheet at the end was a nice little bit of wonkiness. I wonder if he lets people download it as an excel file.