Book Review: A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought


by Ian Clarence Hope

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 338. Illus., maps, figures, tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 0803276850

Toward an “American” Way of War

Author of two works on the Afghanistan War, Canadian Army officer and professor at the Royal Military College of Canada here gives us a thoughtful and insightful analysis of the rise of professionalism in the American Army and development of an American way of war.

Hope opens with a brief survey of American war-making in the colonial period and the early Republic and the influence of the wars in these periods helped shape emerging American military institutions. He then examines the impact of the War of 1812 and the military reform that followed upon its largely disastrous course, which were conceived by some of the notable veterans of the war, notably Jacob Brown, Alexander Macomb, and Winfield Scott, who often drew upon French ideas, modified by their wartime experiences. He discusses how as these were implemented, the ideas they embodied were imbued in the officer corps primarily, though not exclusively, through the intellectual evolution of the instruction and curriculum at West Point, directed by such thinkers as Alfred Thayer and Dennis Hart Mahan.

Hope then devotes chapters to the role of the Corps of Engineers as a facilitator of internal improvements, at Jacksonian military ideas, which were not always useful, at the role of the new “Military science” in the Mexican War and how that war influenced the further evolution of American military thought. This leads Hope to discuss the state of the Army’s military thinking on the eve of the Civil War, reflecting a distinctly American way of war attuned to and influenced by American experience. The final chapter address the impact of these ideas on the Civil War and its evolution during that conflict.

A volume in the Nebraska series “Studies in War, Society, and the Military”, A Scientific Way of War is a somewhat iconoclastic view of the rise of an American way of war that should be read by anyone interested in American military thought.

Note: A Scientific Way of War is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close