Emile Simpson, ‘War from the ground up: Twenty-first century combat as politics’, Hurst/Columbia University Press; Steven R. Corman (ed.), ‘Narrating the Exit from Afghanistan’, Center for Strategic Communication.

Emile Simpson’s first book, in the words of the illustrious Michael Howard, “deserves to be seen as a coda to Clausewitz’s On War”. That is just one of the plaudits it has gathered. The Guardian described it as “an important and thought-provoking study.” Max Hastings echoed that thought in the Sunday Times (£), calling the book “fascinating and provocative” and strongly commending it to current Ministers.

The author served with the Gurkhas in Afghanistan, but ranges far more widely to make his case, drawing on British operations in 1960s Borneo, Aristotle and the English Reformation. He advocates for a conception of military action rooted in its communication effect, and if the idea is not entirely novel, he may be its best proponent yet.

That work, which seeks to generalize, sits happily alongside the slim volume of essays edited by Steven R. Corman. It brings together chapters on the Soviet exit from Afghanistan and the US exit from Vietnam, on Taliban narratives and the emotional mechanics of narrative formation, culminating in a chapter by Corman himself on the imminent end of current operations in Afghanistan. Its purpose is explicitly didactic, aiming to educate decision-makers and steer the debate at a crucial time, when the narratives of Afghanistan will begin to solidify into common wisdom.

‘Narrating the exit…’ has also gathered many plaudits. Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications at NATO SHAPE, called it “the right kind of book at the right time.” Ambassador Lt Gen Dell Dailey, formerly US Ambassador for Counterterrorism, went further, saying: “This book provides a critically essential history and ‘play book’” and “This is the book to read, learn from, and operationalize.”

The pair will help any thinker on war and communications better understand their modern character and uses, and will hopefully be read at the highest levels.

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