356: To Dare and To Conquer by Derek Leebaert

by Gerard


356.1609: Leebaert, Derek A. To Dare and To Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, From Achilles to Al Qaeda. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006. 596 pp. ISBN 0-316-14384-7.

Dewy Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 350: Public administration and military science
  • 356: Foot forces and warfare
  • 356.1: Infantry
  • 346.16: Troops having special combat functions
  • +09: History

Almost everyone in the Western hemisphere knows the story of the Trojan horse. A small band of fighters hid inside a giant wooden horse left at the gates of Troy while the Greeks pretend to sail away. Once brought inside, the men crawl out of the horse and wreak havoc on the sleeping city. Throughout history, there are many stories of elite groups of soldiers outwitting, outfighting, or outflanking a much larger army. Whether through perfect subterfuge or simply engaging the enemy with better tactics, special operations forces often change the course of a battle, a war, and even history itself. Derek Leebaert’s To Dare and To Conquer is a voluminous catalogue of such forces and how their stories intertwine with both their culture and their history.

There are a lot of histories in this history. At more than 600 pages, Leebaert suffers from a bit of information overkill. After discussing the Trojan War, he moves through Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire then the Middle Ages, Spanish conquistadors, pirate tactics, colonial Revolutionary espionage, the French Revolution, the two world wars, the Bay of Pigs, and missions to the Middle East. Then after all that, there is a discussion of politics and the use of special forces. While the histories themselves are the most interesting part, there are inconsistencies and complacent writing. Most noticeable is the clichéd discussion of the Spanish forces in the Amazon. I’m not entirely sure these can be classified as special forces, but rather an invading brigade. Also, Leebaert tends to be a little overdramatic, wordy, and politically biased (especially when discussing the CIA). However, the bibliography is immense and can point the reader towards more focused sources. It’s a very thick book and requires some gumption to get through, but there are some rewarding historical tidbits if you stick it out.