Sunday, May 19, 2019

Booknotes: Forts

New Arrival:
Forts: An Illustrated History of Building for Defence by Jeremy Black (Osprey Pub, 2019).

British historian Jeremy Black is the author of a great number of military and map history publications. His latest study is Forts: An Illustrated History of Building for Defence. From the description:

"Ever since humans began to live together in settlements they have felt the need to organize some kind of defense against potentially hostile neighbors. Many of the earliest city states were built as walled towns, and during the medieval era, stone castles were built both as symbols of the defenders' strength and as protection against potential attack. The advent of cannon prompted fortifications to become lower, denser, and more complex, and the forts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could appear like snowflakes in their complexity and beautiful geometry. Without forts, the history of America could have taken a very different course, pirates could have sailed the seas unchecked, and Britain itself could have been successfully invaded.

This book explains the history of human fortifications, and is beautifully illustrated using photographs, plans, drawings, and maps to explain why they were built, their various functions, and their immense historical legacy in laying the foundations of empire.

The text tracing the purpose, development, and use of fortifications is lavishly supported by full-color illustrations. With so many books reducing images of archival drawings and artwork to such a small size that text is rendered illegible and intricate details no longer discernible, this study utilizes its great size (11.5" square dimensions) to present maps in full-page reproductions that are vibrant in color and marvelously clear in resolution. In addition to many others, the painted maps of the various Vauban designs that protected French-held cities and ports stand out as beautiful works of art themselves.

The ancient world is not a focus of the study. One chapter is devoted to medieval castles and the remaining five to the sixteenth through twentieth centuries. The nineteenth century chapter has American Civil War coverage of both permanent (ex. Fort Sumter) and semi-permanent (ex. Fort Lyon) military installations. Though the western tradition is emphasized, the book is a world history of fort design and building. A quick thumb through the text revealed examples from Europe, North America, South America, India, China, Thailand, and other places.


  1. Osprey has also turned out some nice works on North American fortifications in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    1. I always enjoyed looking through the tall, spinning rack of Osprey titles that sizeable bookstores used to have. Rare to see now in my parts.


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