Cathal Nolan Wins Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History

Winner of the Fifth Annual Prize Announced 
Award Program on Monday, November 26, 2018, at the New-York Historical Society

New York, NY, September 19, 2018 – The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History announced today that Cathal Nolan has been awarded the fifth annual Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History at the New-York Historical Society for The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost (Oxford University Press). The $50,000 prize is bestowed annually in recognition of the best book in the field of military history published in English during the previous calendar year. A program celebrating the winner and the shortlisted authors will take place on Monday, November 26, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. at the New-York Historical Society.

“The judges were unanimous in choosing The Allure of Battle for its combination of an arresting overarching theme, extraordinary breadth of knowledge of warfare over the centuries, first-class scholarly erudition, and ability to speak to the general reader. There was also a moral quality to the work that was unusually powerful,” said Professor Andrew Roberts, chair of the judging committee. 

“Just when you start to think no one can say anything original about war, Mr. Nolan has come along to help us re-imagine both how critical wars have been to cultural development and how insignificant the famous battles within those wars have been to their outcomes,” observed James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The Allure of Battle challenges the notion that military history should measure a war’s winners and losers in terms of their major engagements, or by battles in which the result was so clear-cut that they could be considered “decisive.” Nolan explores in his epic and sweeping work, which covers battles at Marathon, Cannae, Tours, Agincourt, Austerlitz, Sedan, and Stalingrad, among others, the idea that victory in major wars usually has been determined in broader strokes, pointing out that even the most legendarily lopsided of battles did not necessarily decide the endings or results of wars.

Says Cathal Nolan about his book: “My main intentions in writing The Allure of Battle were twofold. First, to challenge the too pervasive, nationalist-heroic character that lurks in the background of a great deal of military history; and second, to reach for a broader understanding and awareness of the pervasive and persistent reality of war (and preparations for war) that lie at the center of international history and international relations, however much the wider practice of academic history has drifted away from the study of war as a main fact of the human condition.”

About receiving the Military History Prize, he declares: “The award of this prize is deeply gratifying because it validates my gadfly career, spent asking uncomfortable and outsider questions about too comfortable insider orthodoxies. Just as gratifying is the positive response I have had from reviewers, especially from active duty officers and veterans who tell me that they recognize in the book the same long-war problems we still face that arise from short-war delusions among civilian policy-makers and abstract, battle-centric war-fighting doctrine.”

Cathal J. Nolan is an associate professor of history and executive director of the International History Institute at Boston University. He is an award-winning teacher and scholar of military and international history. His other books include the two-volume Concise History of World War II, Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, and a two-volume study of The Age of the Wars of Religion. He consults on military history to the PBS series NOVA and various other films. He is now writing Decency, a study of mercy and honor in warfare for Oxford University Press.

Eighty books were submitted for consideration by publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom for the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History at the New-York Historical Society. The other finalists for this year’s prize are Steven E. Sodergren for The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns (LSU Press), Richard S. Faulkner for Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I (University Press of Kansas), Christopher M. Bell for Churchill and the Dardanelles (Oxford), and Victor Davis Hanson for The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won (Basic).

The judging panel for the prize was composed of Andrew Roberts, visiting professor at the War Studies Department of King’s College London, committee chair; Flora Fraser, author, chair of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, and founder of the Elizabeth Longford Grants for Historical Biography; Allen C. Guelzo, author, Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College; and Ian Beckett, author, chairman of the Council of the Army Records Society, secretary to the Buckinghamshire Military Museum Trust, and professor of military history at the University of Kent.

The inaugural prize for 2013 was awarded to Allen Guelzo for his bestselling book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf). Other recipients include Alexander Watson for Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (Basic Books), David Preston for Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (Oxford University Press), and Peter Cozzens for The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West.  

The intent of the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History at the New-York Historical Society is to draw public attention to military history not only as an important staple of education in the areas of international relations, diplomacy, and conflict studies, but also as a subject in which any educated citizen should be interested. The study of the steps to war, conduct of military campaigns, and diplomatic responses to war can play an essential role in the quest for a more peaceable future. 

Funding for the prize is provided by Lewis E. Lehrman, co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, author, and champion of studies in American political and military history. 


Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to K–12 history education while also serving the general public. The Institute’s mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources, at the core of which is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history, with over 70,000 primary source documents.


The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.


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