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The Hinge Factor


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What decides victory in battle? Superiority--in numbers, leadership, strategy or fighting ability--is certainly a factor. Military historian and war correspondent Durschmied, who lives in France, reminds us that chance--known in military terms as the Hinge Factor--can also play a decisive role. In this fast-paced study, Durschmied (Don't Shoot the Yanqui, etc.) analyzes battles both famous and obscure, showing how chance has enabled inferior armies to defeat superior opponents, thus changing the course of history. Serious readers will approach some chapters with tongue firmly in cheek. Few might accept, for example, that a slap on the face set in motion events that brought on the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia or that a parcel containing three cigars extended the American Civil War for four years. Other episodes are more plausible. Durschmied makes a good case that a swarm of angry bees decided the outcome of a key battle between British and German forces in German East Africa in 1914. Similarly, he shows how weather, which has bedeviled field commanders throughout the ages, played a decisive role in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The author concludes each chapter with a series of provocative questions designed to draw armchair strategists into a spirited game of What-if? More entertaining than scholarly, this will nevertheless please military buffs. Maps. (Mar). Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

In the fog of war, a battle can be won or lost in an instant owing to a fluke, a mistake, a trivial detail undone, stupidity, or simply the capriciousness of fate or bad luck. Durschmied, a war correspondent with three books under his belt, provides a refreshingly lively look at 17 battles and campaigns, from the Trojan War to the Gulf War, that turned on a seemingly insignificant event with far-reaching impact. The outcome of great events can hinge on the smallest detail--the mud at Agincourt, the lack of nails at Waterloo, the stupidity at Balaclava, and the lost cigars at Antietam. Best, however, are the chapters on lesser-known but equally fascinating battles and their hinges--the barrel of schnapps at Karansebes in 1788, angry bees at Tanga in 1914, and how a slap in the face in Manchuria in 1905 decided the epic World War I Battle of Tannenburg nine years later. World War II, Vietnam, Berlin, and the Gulf War are not nearly as well presented as earlier conflicts, and the epilog is sappy and melodramatic, but the overall effect of this book is both entertaining and informative. Recommended for all public libraries.--William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Sebascodegan Island, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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