Forts: An Illustrated History of Building for Defence.

Published: November 25th, 2018     
Product Image
Author: Jeremy Black
Reviewed by: 
Marc K. Blackburn, IPMS# 42892
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 978-1-4728-2763-0
E-Book ISBN #: 9781472827623
Other Publication Information: Hardback
Price: $50.00
Product / Stock #: GNM

In collaboration with Jeremy Black, Osprey has produced several coffee table style books to highlight the history of maps, naval charts, and now fortifications. Using photographs and illustrations from the National Archives of Great Britain, Black and Osprey have produced a concise history of fortifications from around the world. Black, to his credit, uses an international approach when telling the story of the development and evolution of fortifications. The books uses a chronological format, from the beginning of recorded history to the dawn of the 21st Century. The highlight of the book are the illustrations; there is not a great deal of text with each chapter. Black provides a broad overview to each time period and uses substantial captions with each chapter to expand the story. They are professionally produced and pop out as you go through the book.

Black approaches this topic with a broad definition of fortifications and uses a very broad definition of fortifications over the course of his narrative, covering both permanent and semi-permanent structures and strategies. Since this is a broad overview of an immense topic, each chronological chapter provides an overview of the development and use of fortifications, beginning with the cradle of western and eastern civilizations and moving forward from there. He effectively blends how technology and the skills of the builders evolves over time, recognizing the relationship between the development of fortifications and the technologies that destroy them, ie, as gun powder weapons develop, the large stout walls become less prominent and instead, complicated geometric patterns emerge to cover all of the angles of attack.

Black goes beyond the relationship between technology and the evolution of fortifications and touches on the cultural and economic value of fortifications, in particular in the centuries before the modern era. These were symbols of power and influence as well as places with a military function. Given his broad definition of fortifications, he does pay some attention to the growth and evolution of earthworks and field fortifications that emerge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While in the twentieth century, fortification systems and have been seen as an anachronism (the Atlantic Wall and Maginot Line come to mind), there is still value in fortifications in the era of asymmetrical warfare. While we have evolved in terms of technology, he brings home the point that there is still value in providing fortifications.

Osprey is, perhaps, one of the most prolific publishers when it comes to military topics. It is nice to see that they are branching out and blending the text of a well-regarded military historian with illustrations. You will not find an in depth review of fortifications in this volume. You will have to go elsewhere for that. That being said, the text provides an excellent summary of a complicated and interesting subject. If you are looking for a cross between a coffee table book and history text, this is it.

My thanks to IPMS and Osprey Publications for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

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