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Carl von Clausewitz

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NOTE: This version of Carl von Clausewitz's On War is the long-obsolete J.J. Graham translation of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (1832) published in London in 1873. The 1976/84 Howard/Paret version is the  standard translation today; for the most accurate text one should always consult the 1943 Jolles translation. Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below.

Book Cover, ON WATERLOOOn Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow (Clausewitz.com, 2010). ISBN: 1453701508. This book is built around a new and complete translation of Clausewitz's study of the Waterloo campaign [Berlin: 1835], which is a strategic analysis of the entire campaign (not just the Battle of Waterloo), and the Duke of Wellington's detailed 1842 response to it.

Jolles translation, book coverBuy the best translation—recommended for serious readers. The Book of War (The Modern Library, February 2000). ISBN: 0375754776. Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War in one volume. The translation of Clausewitz's On War is the 1943 version done by German literary scholar O.J. Matthijs Jolles at the University of Chicago during World War II—not today's standard translation, but certainly the most accurate.

On War, Princeton ed.Buy the standard English translation of Clausewitz's On War, by Michael Howard and Peter Paret  (Princeton University Press, 1976/84). ISBN: 0691018545 (paperback). Kindle edition. This quite readable translation appeared at the close of the Vietnam War and—principally for marketing and copyright reasons—has become the modern standard.

Book coverDecoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War (University Press of Kansas, 2008). By Jon Tetsuro Sumida. ISBN: 9780700616169. *This is perhaps the most important recent book for anyone seeking to understand Clausewitz's thinking. Sumida contends that Clausewitz's central value lies in his method of reenacting the psychological difficulties of high command in order to promote the powers of intuition that he believed were essential to effective strategic decision-making. Sumida also correctly notes Clausewitz's argument that the defense is a stronger form of war, and goes on to explore the implications of that fact.

NOTES ON THIS TRANSLATION
OF CLAUSEWITZ'S ON WAR

by Christopher Bassford

 

BACKGROUND. This on-line version of On War is the first English translation, done in 1873. It is one of very few (if any) complete versions available on the Internet, containing all 8 books. It was made by Colonel James John Graham and published in London by N. Trübner. We have stripped out most of the materials added in 1908 by COL F.N. Maude, an editor who inserted many anachronistic, Victorian-era, imperialist, and social-Darwinist perspectives, which confused generations of readers as to Clausewitz's own ideas. (We have, however, included Maude's introduction, since it is of historical interest.) Most available paper versions of the Graham translation are copies of the Maude version. (For some unexplained reason, Maude's dated comments were included in the very misleading 1968 Penguin abridgement made by Anatol Rapoport, and thus the social Darwinism of Maude has come to be attached erroneously to Clausewitz himself.) Our on-line edition includes  the prefatory material and notes provided by Clausewitz himself and by his wife (who edited and published his works after the author's death). It does not include the appendices, primarily Clausewitz's 1812 essay, "Summary of the Instruction Given by the Author to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince in the Years 1810, 1811, and 1812." This document is on-line elsewhere on The Clausewitz Homepage (in a 1942 translation) as the Principles of War.  For more information on Graham, his translation effort, and other aspects of Clausewitz's translation into English, see Christopher Bassford, Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America, 1815-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp.56-59.

 

LIMITATIONS. This translation, based on a German edition that deviated in minor ways from the original, is obsolete. Written in Victorian English but overly literal and excessively deferential to the original German sentence structure, it is also difficult to read (i.e., more difficult than intrinsically necessary). We have made only a few concessions to modern usage, and have added a very few explanatory notes. It is, however, complete, owing to the contribution of David Reed, who scanned it for us. We believe it to be the only complete version available on-line—most other postings include only the first four Books (of eight). The current standard version is not available on-line, and it is not likely to be posted to the internet anytime soon. That standard version is currently Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans./ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976/84), though that version is notably less accurate than the 1943 "American" translation by German literary scholar Otto J.M. Jolles. The Howard/Paret translation is based on much better scholarship and a more authentic German edition than Graham's. It contains some useful introductory material and is much easier to read than the Graham version. The Paret translation also suffers from a poor index, far less useful than Graham's, but The Clausewitz Homepage provides a word-and-phrase index to it that helps make up for this deficiency. Jon Sumida has provided a superior "Concordance" that is conceptually more useful than any of the various Englsh translations' indexes. See our page on indexing On War.

 

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