War From the Ground Up

Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics

Part of the Conflict Classics seriesPart of the Crises in World Politics series
May 2018 9781849049481 304pp
EU Customers


As a British infantry officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles Emile Simpson completed three tours of Southern Afghanistan. Drawing on that experience, and on a range of revealing case studies ranging from Nepal to Borneo, War From The Ground Up offers a distinctive perspective on contemporary armed conflict: while most accounts of war look down at the battlefield from an academic perspective, or across it as a personal narrative, the author looks up from the battlefield to consider the concepts that put him there, and how they played out on the ground.

Simpson argues that in the Afghan conflict, and in contemporary conflicts more generally, liberal powers and their armed forces have blurred the line between military and political activity. More broadly, they have challenged the distinction between war and peace. He contends that this loss of clarity is more a response to the conditions of combat in the early twenty-first century, particularly that of globalisation, than a deliberate choice. The issue is thus not whether the West should engage in such practices, but how to manage, gain advantage from, and mitigate the risks of this evolution in warfare.

War From The Ground Up draws on personal experience from the frontline, situated in relation to historical context and strategic thought, to offer a re-evaluation of the concept of war in contemporary conflict.


War From the Ground Up should be read by all aspiring military commanders and their Whitehall masters’ — The Guardian

‘An erudite and intelligent contribution to the literature on counterinsurgency.’ — Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

‘Best book of the year by a considerable margin. … Its paradigm-shifting arguments have implications that extend far beyond the battlefield.’ — Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg News Book of the Year

‘Should be compulsory reading at every level in the military. … Simpson’s style is so muscular and aphoristic that he can concentrate complex arguments into memorable sentences that will have a life of their own. … War From the Ground Up deserves to be seen as a coda to Clausewitz’s On War.’ — Sir Michael Howard, Times Literary Supplement

‘This is the first book by an immensely intelligent and interesting young man. Ministers would do well to read Simpson’s fascinating and provocative study before they launch their next lunge into the unknown. They might then better understand how elusive in modern conflict are the concepts of “winning” and “losing”.’ — Sir Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

‘I am constantly bowled over by Emile Simpson’s insights. He produces lines that exude common sense and which, because they are pithy, deserve to be widely quoted – and will be. Put simply, this is the most intelligent book on war that I have read for a very long time.’ — Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University

‘Emile Simpson engages with a key problem in our understanding of conflict — the binary fallacy that sees war as essentially two-sided and as a precursor to political outcomes, rather than as a multi-player political ecosystem with its own logic.’ — David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

‘Filled with provocative and innovative observations about the blurring of military and political realms in kaleidoscopic environments, this book is the most perceptive account of contemporary conflict I have seen. It deserves to be widely read by military practitioners and their political leaders.’ — Conrad Crane, lead author of FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency and Director of the US Army Military History Institute

‘Emile Simpson combines academic rigour with practical perspective to explore the understanding and conceptualisation of modern war. … An essential read for those interested in understanding both the conflict in Afghanistan and the contested and often confused nature of modern war.’ — James Denselow, International Affairs

‘An interesting and important meditation on the nature of the unsatisfying wars of the modern era by a man who has seen more of them than most. It should be read by everyone interested in the current war in Afghanistan and in the likely nature of conflict for many years to come; these wars are not going away, and Simpson has done yeoman’s work in helping us understand them.’ — John Nagl, Minerva Professor of Culture and War, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis

‘How to do – and how not to do – counter-insurgency, by an expert and exceptionally thoughtful practitioner. Hard analysis, and happy-talk free. Essential reading for anyone seriously interested in what makes success in counter-insurgency so elusive.’ — Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, author of Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign

‘A bold exploration of strategic thought, well grounded in experience. It is what one would expect of a Gurkha officer, following in the footsteps of Bill Slim, the thinking man’s general.’ — Carter Malkasian, Afghanistan veteran with the US State Department and author of War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier


Emile Simpson read history at the University of Oxford and served in the British Army from 2006-12 as an infantry officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles. He completed three tours in Southern Afghanistan. He is currently an Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.