Book Review 2009 #4: Chariot

More history this time, this time the history of what was once the cutting edge in military technology.


Chariot, From Chariot to Tank, The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World’s First War Machine, by Arthur Cotterell is a history of the chariot.
Between the domestication of the horse, and the use of stirrups and other techniques to make horse-riding warfare more practical, the primary uses of horses in warfare was by means of the chariot. Cotterell begins with the description of one of the major battles in the ancient world, the Egyptian-Hatti Battle of Kadesh in which 5000 chariots on both sides participated. From this basis, Cotterell describes the history of the use of the chariot in time and space from Rome all the way to China.
There is an enormous amount of detail in the book, but its marred by digressions, poor organization and badly formed repetitions. Cotterell mentions battles and places, only to return to them again and again. That would not be a problem, but there is no sense of building on what was already written, or an awareness that there is something new to be said in the narrative. He mentions battles, and then comes back to them again, talking about them as if we had not already read about it earlier in the novel. It was extremely frustrating to this reader.
I learned a lot from the novel, my conception of what good the chariot was and how it was used has expanded. I particularly appreciated that Cotterell did not restrict himself to the Middle East and Europe, as he extensively talks about the role of the chariot in India and China. Cotterell, in the typical haphazard fashion in this book, extends the mandate of the book beyond the war machine role of the chariot to discuss its use as symbol and mythological object ranging from Rome to China.
It’s all a pity, though. I really wanted to like and recommend this book, but the disorganized writing and jumbled information just made this book a chore to read, rather than a joy. The scholarship and information is all there, but its more work than its worth, in my opinion, to reach and get it out.