The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History

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9781611453218: The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History

From the wooden horse at Troy to a harrowing photograph snapped in Vietnam, from Robert E. Lee’s lost battle plans to the evacuation of Dunkirk, world history has been shaped as much by chance and error as by courage and heroism. Time and again, invincible armies fall to weaker opponents in the face of impossible odds, when the outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion. How and why does this happen? What is it that decides the fate of battle?

Writing with the style and flair that has made him an award-winning war correspondent, Durschmied takes us through the major battles of history, from the battlefields of ancient Greece to the Gulf War. In a series of gripping narratives, he vividly recreates the crucial events in all their mayhem and confusion while pointing out the decisive moments that changed the course of history. We see Agincourt, where rain combined with French arrogance to give Henry V the day; the Crimea, where a badly worded order led to the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade; and colonial Africa, where an attack by African killer bees, described by the London Times as Germany’s secret weapon, repulsed an Allied invasion. And in a chilling epilogue, we are given a disturbing glimpse of the secret attempt by Libya to buy atomic weapons from China for use against Israel.

Drawing from a variety of sources, including personal accounts such as soldiers’ diaries and letters home, The Hinge Factor is an instructive, fascinating look at how the unpredictable, the absurd, and the bizarre have shaped the face of history in war.

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What if it hadn't rained at Agincourt in 1415 and the French had, as expected, won the day? What if one of Napoleon's most trusted commanders had spiked Wellington's guns with a handful of nails at Waterloo in 1815, providing his emperor with victory? What if Hitler hadn't paused for three vital days during his invasion of France in May 1940, allowing the British Expeditionary Force precious time to evacuate from Dunkirk? Moments like these, argues Erik Durschmied, provide the hinge factor in history: examples of stupidity, chance, or accident that have irrevocably changed the outcome of human history, for better or worse.

Drawing on his extensive experience as a war correspondent with the BBC and CBS, Durschmied moves from ancient Troy and the Trojan Horse to Iraq and Operation Desert Storm, offering a persuasive and at times wry account of the ways in which chance affects the unfolding of history. Recounting 17 key moments in human conflict and warfare, The Hinge Factor is not just an amusing meditation on what might have been; it is also a poignant and vivid account of the brutality and stupidity of war. More than just an account of accidents in history, this is a thoughtful and absorbing book. --Jerry Brotton,

About the Author:

Erik Durschmied is a military historian and award-winning journalist who has been a correspondent for Newsweek as well as the BBC and CBS. He has personally covered wars and revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He lives in France.

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