There can be few military historians of my generation who have not been influenced by Michael Howard. It was reading his The Franco-Prussian War, published, it is shocking to observe, in 1961, that really made me want to be a military historian, and set a standard to which I have aspired, with more determination than success, ever since. He was the external examiner at my doctoral viva thirty years ago, and there too he showed just how the job should be done: with penetration and erudition, courtesy and humour, ending with a gentle suggestion that if I wished to tidy up the thesis for publication there were a couple of spots that needed some sandpaper.
Although I was aware that he had served in the Coldstream Guards and earned a Military Cross in Italy, I knew surprisingly little else about him. One of the many delights of this book is that the greater part of it deals with Michael Howard’s life before he