Carl von Clausewitz’s Reading Library

In Clausewitz’s library, recorded in his wife Marie’s will, military publications naturally constitute a significant number among the volumes, including Vauban’s treatises on fortifications and sieges; Johan von Ewald’s book on light infantry tactics; Henry Lloyd’s history of the Seven Years’ War; Montecucili’s memoirs; a study of Maurice de Saxe; Lazare Carnot’s textbook for engineers; George de Chambray’s account of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign in 1812; several of Georg Wilhelm von Valentini’s military works; Phillippe Henri de Grimoard’s treatise on general staff; and the field manual written by his mentor, Gerhard von Scharnhorst. Interestingly, there is nothing from Jomini.

Clausewitz’s interest in non-Western ways of war, statecraft, and societies is reflected in such works as Ciriacy’s exploration of the Ottoman Empire and its military, books on the history of the Cossacks, on the geography of Crimea and Africa, and on the European colonization of East and West Indies. Particularly interesting is the copy of the Persian national epic Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”).

Befitting a graduate of the Prussian Kriegsakademie—in which science and math made up a significant part of the school’s curriculum—the library contains many titles on math, geometry, physics, and astronomy. Later in life, just before assuming the position of director of his old school, Clausewitz criticized the overemphasis of math in military education. In an 1819 memorandum to the Minister of War, Hermann von Boyen, he wrote that mathematics remains the cornerstone of officer education. However, Clausewitz argued, there should be balance with humanities and broader knowledge. Only in this way would the Kriegsakademie create logical and comprehensive thinkers able to cope with uncertainty on battlefield and the challenges of dealing with real people.

In the note from 1818 about the genesis of On War, Clausewitz revealed that he initially modeled his writing after Montesquieu’s “short, precise, compact statements.” The library contains a copy of the French philosopher’s complete oeuvre, all twelve volumes. Clausewitz’s interest in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s ideas is also well documented. The catalog also contains a philosophical work on Erasmus.

In terms of literature — among others, the classics of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller; Homer, Hesiod, Shakespeare’s dramas, Lord Byron’s poetry, Thomas Moore, the complete works of Johann Gottfried von Herder on literary theory and history, and Madame de Staël’s writings.

One interesting point  — many of the works are in English. In all likelihood, most of these were acquired by his wife Marie. Her mother, Sophie von Brühl, was the daughter of a British diplomat, and Marie was fluent in English and close to many English-speaking expats and diplomats living in Berlin, most notably the American minister to Prussia, John Quincy Adams, and his wife Louisa.

To access the listing of books in Clauzewitz’s library, click here.

For additional reading about Clauzewitz’s reading habits, read this essay at The Strategy Bridge.