(And which one SHOULD you have?)
Be careful what you're buying—the on-line bookstores (including Amazon) frequently confuse the different editions and translations! You wouldn't want to end up with the atrocious Penguin edition, edited in 1968 by Anatol Rapoport.
ON THIS PAGE
Clausewitz's magnum opus Vom Kriege, referred to in English as On War, has been translated into virtually every major language. Any translation from one language to another necessarily involves interpretation not only of the language but of the conceptual content and intent, and no writer can escape the impact of his/her own era. Even the most honest and competent translation inevitably includes both technical errors and arguable or controversial—and in some cases flatly wrong—conceptual interpretations or beliefs. And not all translators are competent and/or honest. Even editors working entirely in the original language have been known to take liberties with the writer's original words, sometimes because Clausewitz (like all authors) genuinely needed editorial assistance. But other editorial interventions were prompted by political fear or personal ambition, conceptual confusion, or contrary conviction (of either a technical or ideological nature). Changes in the native version obviously can be reflected in translations, depending on the German edition used. All of these factors have certainly had an impact on the English translations and on the reputation of Clausewitz, so which edition you get can be important.
The English translations were all made directly from a German original (though they started with various editions of Vom Kriege, which differ significantly). Many foreign editions, however, were based on other, previous translations--e.g., a Vietnamese version based on a French edition and early Chinese translations based on Japanese or French models.
NOTE: We strive to report information about the study of Clausewitz in any field of study and in any language in which we find the subject discussed. We try to include—not entirely without bias, though we try to indicate clearly what those biases are—the full range of views on the many controversies the subject provokes. Our focus is necessarily on military and strategic materials in English, followed by German, French, Polish, Spanish/Portuguese, and Japanese. (We also have an "Other"-language bibliography and one for the nonlinear sciences, and we have opened  nascent bibliographies for China, Russia, and The Communists.) All of our bibliographies are listed HERE.) Books in print by or about Clausewitz in various languages are available from the Clausewitz Bookstore.
There are innumerable editions of Vom Kriege available in German, but the serious reader should look for the 19th German edition (1980) edited by Werner Hahlweg: Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Neunzehnte Auflage, ed. Werner Hahlweg (Bonn: Ferd. Dümmlers Verlag, 1980). Hahlweg researched the history of the text and unscrambled Clausewitz's original wording as much as possible, correcting the interventions of later editors. See Die Clausewitz Buchhandlung—Amazon Deutschland. A list of Clausewitz's editors and editions of Vom Kriege can be found in our German bibliography.
Vom Kriege, von Carl von Clausewitz, ed. Werner Hahlweg. Gebundene Ausgabe (Dümmler, Bonn. Erscheinungsdatum: 1991), 19. Auflage, Nachdruck.fl. ISBN: 342782019X
There have been four more-or-less complete and a few partial English translations of On War. These have been published in significantly different forms—eight of which are listed and described below. The story behind the Anglo-American study of Clausewitz is told in Christopher Bassford's Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America, 1815-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994)—the full text of which is on-line.
1. Trans. O.J. [Otto Jolle] Matthijs Jolles, 1943. RECOMMENDED. The Jolles translation is owned by Random House, though it was done for military reasons by the University of Chicago during WWII. This is the most accurate translation of On War available in English (though Graham's original translation was quite accurate as well). Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford and perhaps the most prominent military historian in Britain today, agrees with us on this point: "[T]he version most faithful to the original German," he says, is "that of O.J. Matthijs Jolles, first published by Random House in New York in 1943." [Strachan, Clausewitz's On War: A Biography (Grove/Atlantic, 2007), p.x.] The only editions of which we are aware are 1) the original 1943 edition from Random House; 2) a 1950 republication by Infantry Journal Press (republished yet again by AUSA in 1953), and 3) a recent compilation: Karl von Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu, The Book of War: Sun-Tzu, The Art of Warfare, and Karl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Caleb Carr, with an interesting introduction by Ralph Peters (New York: The Modern Library, 2000). That edition, along with the 1943 original (on left)l, are pictured below.
Otto Jolles was a native German-speaker and a literary specialist on Clausewitz's era but had no military interests of his own (other than avoiding the U.S. draft). Peter Paret was also a native German speaker, but he left Germany in his very early teens, whereas Jolles became an accomplished academic in Germany and a literary specialist on Clausewitz's era before emigrating. Thus Jolles had no theoretical ax of his own to grind and his translation (assisted by his English wife and father-in-law, the latter also an academic) is excellent. There have been some criticisms of the German edition from which Jolles worked and all versions are at least somewhat uneven.
Also, Jolles was clearly affected by the unpleasant behavior of Germany in the early 20th century, especially the Nazi era, and this is reflected in some misleading word-choices and emphases. (Some of these may, in fact, be the result of decisions made by Jolles's American editors (e.g., the decision to spell "Carl" with a K.)
The main problem with the Jolles edition, however, is simply that it is not the standard version—and all that this implies in terms of locating quotations, checking citations, etc. Serious students seeking a precise English rendering of Clausewitz's language should, at a minimum, check Howard/Paret's wording against Jolles's (and even then a check of the original German is often warranted).
The version of Sun Tzu included in The Book of War is also excellent—this is the most modern translation, by Roger Ames, based on complete ancient texts found by archaeologists.
Two editions of the Jolles translation (1943 and 2000).
JOLLES: The most accurate version.
2. Howard/Paret translation (1976/1984). (We often refer to this as "H/P.") Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds./trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976, revised 1984). This is the most recent full English translation of On War and is generally considered to be the standard version, though it is not the most accurate translation available. It was published in 1976 (mildly revised in 1984) by British historian Sir Michael Howard and his student Peter Paret, a German émigré to the United States. This edition grew out of an academic "Clausewitz Project" launched by Paret at Princeton in 1962, but the underlying translation was done by an obscure British foreign service officer named Angus Malcolm.
The current standard (but not
most accurate) version.
Some Drawbacks to H/P: Despite its many qualities, the Paret translation
has been criticized for presenting Clausewitz in too dry and rationalistic
a tone, and there are a great many places where the wording is oddly casual, shallow, awkward, or otherwise
arguable. The translation of the critical "Trinity" section is remarkably imprecise and error-laden. The editors' decision not to be bound by too literal a translation is both a strength and a weakness: it may make for greater
readability overall, but it also channels the reader exclusively towards particular
interpretations and sometimes eliminates the possibility of other readings.
Perhaps more important, Paret was scientifically and mathematically
unsophisticated and did not appreciate the significance of certain scientific
arguments and illustrations in On War—most notably the nonlinear
imagery of the randomly oscillating magnetic pendulum in the famous
discussion of the fascinating "trinity," where this translation is particularly clumsy. Paret is a native German speaker, but he left Germany in his very early teens, whereas Otto Jolles (see discussion of the Jolles translation, above) was already an accomplished academic in Germany (and a literary specialist on Clausewitz's era) before emigrating.
The Howard/Paret edition also suffers from a near-useless index. Added belatedly in 1984, it covers only the names of individuals and places—hardly what the typical reader looks for in On War. However, a computer-generated word-index to this translation is available here. Unfortunately, this word-index applies only to the Howard/Paret translation (and then only to the Princeton version, not the Knopf edition), since it directs the reader to specific page numbers rather than to Book/Chapter/Paragraph.Probably more useful, unless you're looking for a specific quotation: Jon Sumida (U.Md.) has developed a modern conceptual index (or concordance), which seeks to make the conceptual content as accessible as possible and applies to all versions of the Howard/Paret translation. Sumida's concordance is available here. This concordance also contains some criticisms of the H/P translation, but he nevertheless treats it as the standard English text. Other indexes are listed/linked here.
Availability: The Paret version is available from Princeton University Press (image above) in both hardcover and paperback editions. It has also been licensed to Knopf's "Everyman's Library" series in an excellent and inexpensive hardcover edition (the image below this paragraph). It includes a very helpful chronology and is, overall, the nicest version of the H/P translation. Note, however, that the Everyman's edition is paginated differently from the Princeton edition—therefore, our on-line Word Index will not be helpful to those readers who purchase it (though the excellent Sumida concordance does include it). Citations to the Knopf version will not be useful to readers looking for the quotations in the standard Princeton edition.
The Everyman's edition—
a finer version of the
3. Boston Consulting Group's BUSINESS-oriented translation (2001). Also recommended, but rather specialized, is Carl von Clausewitz, Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist, eds. Tiha von Ghyczy, Bolko von Oetinger, and Christopher Bassford (John Wiley & Sons, 2001). This is a sophisticated business-oriented translation of On War, highly abridged and focusing on Clausewitz's theoretical approach to strategy in particular rather than on broader issues like the nature of war, politics, etc. It has already been translated into several languages. It was put together by the famous Boston Consulting Group. Order from Order from Amazon.com.
The BCG translation for CEO's—
excellent but abridged and
(in rank order by usefulness)
4. Translator J.J. Graham (1873). British Army Colonel James John Graham (1808-83) was an exceptionally earnest, honest, and self-effacing translator, so there are no particular distortions or biases in his version. [The portrait to the right is an AI-enhanced version of a photo supplied to us by one of Graham's descendants. Click it to see the original image.] Unfortunately, his translation was often excessively dense, his English was Victorian, and the sources for the background information he offered were weak. His original 1873 edition, printed in a single volume (the complete text of which is on-line HERE), was not a commercial success. It is now quite obsolete, though it has historical importance.
However, the original Graham translation had a conceptual index which, though necessarily idiosyncratic, was far superior to any subsequent index (especially the useless one provided by Peter Paret in 1984), save possibly Sumida's concordance.
The pure Graham version is not often found outside of special collections, but many later publications are modifications (see #5 below) or abridgements of it. If you have any version of the Graham or Graham/Maude translation, but especially the twisted Penguin version, we advise you to get the modern Howard/Paret edition (discussed above) or, if you are really serious, a copy of the Jolles translation.
5. F.N. Maude's edition of the Graham translation (1908). All subsequent versions of the 1-volume 1873 Graham translation are derived from the 3-volume 1908 editing by Colonel F.N. Maude, which was very successful commercially and was reprinted in 1911, 1918, 1940, 1962, and 1966. (Most editions retain Graham's useful index.) Because of copyright issues rather than its intrinsic merits, it provides the basis for most subsequent condensations and abridgments of On War, e.g., the 1997 "Wordsworth Classics of World Literature" version, abridged and with an introduction by Louise Willmot.
Unfortunately, Maude enthusiastically inserted all sorts of anachronistic late 19th/early 20th-century imperialist and Social Darwinist notions into his introduction and notes, notions that have consequently come to be attributed to Clausewitz himself by sloppy readers, journalists, editors, and historians. His edition is also notably paranoid about Imperial Germany, which is understandable in the context of the period immediately leading to World War I, but Graham's own attitude was much friendlier, since Prussia had been a long-time British ally. [Maude's introduction is HERE.]
The full Graham/Maude version, in its easily identifiable 3-volume set, is widely available in libraries. If you have any version of the Graham or Graham/Maude translation, but especially the twisted Penguin version, we advise you to get the modern Howard/Paret edition (discussed above) or, if you are really serious, a copy of the Jolles translation.
6. Trans. Edward M. Collins, 1962. Clausewitz, Karl von, War, Politics, and Power: Selections from On War, and I Believe and Profess, ed/trans. Edward M. Collins [Colonel, USAF] (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1962). This is a partial translation containing, in addition to pieces of On War, a short 1812 essay on patriotism and the value of the state, labeled "I Believe and Profess" (originally titled Bekenntnisdenkschrift). We don't see either any particular flaws or any particular virtues in this translation, but it is very incomplete and reflects very much a Cold War view of the subject—in short, not very useful.
7. Penguin Edition (1968). AVOID. The most widely available version of the Graham/Maude translation (see #4 above) is the weirdly edited and seriously misleading Penguin edition, put together by Anatol Rapoport in 1968 but still reprinted and sold today.
Rapoport was a biologist and a talented amateur musician—indeed, he was something of a renaissance man and later made some interesting contributions to game theory. However, he was outraged by the Vietnam War and extremely hostile to the state system and to the alleged "neo-Clausewitzian," Henry Kissinger. He severely and misleadingly abridged Clausewitz's own writings, partly, of course, for reasons of space in a small paperback. Nonetheless—for reasons that surpasseth understanding—he retained Maude's extraneous introduction, commentary, and notes, then used Maude's errors to slander Clausewitzian theory. He also deleted Book 6, "Defense," partly out of laziness (it is by far the largest of the Books and its removal helped get down the page-count with minimal effort) and partly because Rapoport evidently felt that Clausewitz—being German—could not have been serious in his argument that defense was inherently the stronger form of war). Between Graham's dated language, Maude's sometimes bizarre imperialist and social-Darwinist intrusions, and Rapoport's hostility (aimed more at the world in general and at Kissinger in particular than at Clausewitz personally, for whom Rappoport seems to have had a great deal of respect), the Penguin edition is badly misleading as to Clausewitz's own ideas. The influential modern military journalist/historian/Clausewitz-despiser John Keegan apparently derived much of his otherwise unique misunderstanding of Clausewitz from Rapoport's long (70pp), hostile-to-Kissinger introduction. Rapoport thereby considerably eased Keegan's task, allowing him to attack Clausewitz at great length without having to actually read any of Clausewitz's own writings—not even the rest of the text of this strange edition. (We asked Keegan once if he'd ever bothered to read On War. He responded in lawyerly fashion by stating that he'd been "assigned it" in school.)
If you have any version of the Graham or Graham/Maude translation, but especially this twisted Penguin version, we advise you to get the modern Howard/Paret edition (discussed above) or, if you are really serious, a copy of the Jolles translation.
8. Trans. Miss [A.M.E.] Maguire, w/notes by the translator's father, T. [Thomas] Miller Maguire (London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1909). This book originally ran as a serial in The United Service Magazine, March 1907 to March 1909. NOBODY uses this extraordinarily sloppy translation, full of the Maguires' own ideas and assertions. If by some odd chance you have it, put it in a glass case, get it bronzed, or burn it—but READ something else.
Word Index to the 1976/84 Howard/Paret translation of On War. Find that idea or quote you're looking for in your paper copy.
Read the 1873 Graham translation of On War on-line.
Read On War in the original German: Clausewitz, Vom Kriege.
Read On War in French: See scans of several of Clausewitz's works in French at https://gallica.bnf.fr/. These are rather awkwardly stored, but your persistance may be rewarded. Includes Clausewitz,Theorie de la grande guerre, trans. Lt-Colonel de Vatry, 3 vols., Paris: L. Baudoin, 1886-1887.
US • UK • France • Germany