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Motivation in War
The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe


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  • Date Published: February 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316618103

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About the Authors
  • This book fundamentally revises our notion of why soldiers of the eighteenth century enlisted, served and fought. In contrast to traditional views of the brutal conditions supposedly prevailing in old-regime armies, Ilya Berkovich reveals that soldiers did not regard military discipline as illegitimate or unnecessarily cruel, nor did they perceive themselves as submissive military automatons. Instead he shows how these men embraced a unique corporate identity based on military professionalism, forceful masculinity and hostility toward civilians. These values fostered the notion of individual and collective soldierly honour which helped to create the bonding effect which contributed toward greater combat cohesion. Utilising research on military psychology and combat theory, and employing the letters, diaries and memoirs of around 250 private soldiers and non-commissioned officers from over a dozen different European armies, Motivation in War transforms our understanding of life of the common soldier in early modern Europe.

    • Formulates a new model for military motivation by applying modern psychological research to contemporary sources
    • Employs the largest collection of firsthand accounts by old-regime common soldiers assembled to date, integrating experiences across over a dozen different European armies
    • Sheds new light on one of the largest but most misunderstood social groups in early modern Europe
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    • Winner, 2018 Distinguished Book Award, The Society for Military History

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Sharply focused and crisply written … Motivation in War is one of the most important studies of the eighteenth century published in recent years, with implications which range far beyond armies and military history' Hamish Scott, Journal of Social History

    '… this is an impressive first monograph from an extremely adept and promising military historian. Berkovich's argument is thoughtful, compelling, and bold.' Joe Cozens, Reviews in History

    'This fine book deserves to be widely known and posted to course reading lists on the history of armies everywhere.' Gregory Hanlon, The Journal of Military History

    'By searching the archives and of Europe and North America, he [Berkovich] has identified some 250 memoirs, letter collections, and diaries left by common soldiers of the eighteenth century. Taken together, these records enable Berkovich to revise our understanding of the motivation and outlook of the soldiers of the 'old regime' … Berkovich convinces us that the soldiers of the Old Regime were not that different from the Roman legionnaires of antiquity or the GIs of more recent times. This book is recommended.' Scott Stephenson, Military Review

    '… a seminal analysis making a convincing case for eighteenth-century common soldiers as neither passive nor indifferent, not victims but actors.' Dennis E. Showalter, Journal of Modern History

    '… this is a hugely impressive first book, with a geographical and chronological sweep that we see all too rarely in historical writing nowadays. Its thesis is bold and will have important implications both for military history and for social and cultural histories of war. The vision of Britain as a fundamentally European state is nothing if not timely.' Matthew McCormack, The English Historical Review

    'Motivation in War offers a new view of ordinary soldiers, their motivations, and their experiences. Ilya Berkovich rightly argues for 'the importance of seeing old regime soldiers as actors rather than victims of historical processes' …' Brian Sandberg, The American Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316618103
    • length: 292 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus. 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Motivation: new research and contemporary sources
    2. Reconsidering desertion in old-regime Europe
    3. Discipline and defiance: a reciprocal model
    4. Why they enlisted?
    5. A counterculture of honour
    6. Networks of loyalty and acceptance
    Concluding remarks

  • Author

    Ilya Berkovich, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munchen
    Ilya Berkovich completed his PhD thesis at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and has since published items on crusader and eighteenth-century history. He has won the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanistic Disciplines from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Moncado Prize for an Outstanding Article from the Society for Military History. Berkovich is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Before starting his studies, he served three years as a conscript in the Israel Defence Forces.


    • Winner, 2018 Distinguished Book Award, The Society for Military History

An Interview with Ilya Berkovich, author of 'Motivation in War'

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