I HAVE LONG BEEN AN ADMIRER of John Guilmartin and his work, which was brought to my attention in the most casual of ways. Bumping into my friend Christopher Duffy in the library of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst one day in 1977 or thereabouts, I heard him say, "This chap Guilmartin is awfully good." Renaissance history was not then an interest of mine, largely because I knew little about it, but I greatly respected Christopher Duffy's scholarly opinion, all the more because it was rarely expressed and he was sparing with praise. I soon laid hands on Gunpowder and Galleys and saw what Christopher meant.
I continue to regard that slim book — both an account and an analysis of the struggle between Christian Europe and Ottoman Turkey for control of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century — as among the two or three very best works of military history I have ever read. It has many qualities. It is written with admirable clarity — I would call it "accessible" had academe not perversely made that adjective a veiled insult. It is based on very wide reading in a number of languages, one of them, Turkish, not commonly known by Westerners. It is a model of how sources should be used; for it extracts the pith rather than overloading the reader with material merely to demonstrate the author's industry. Its apparatus, similarly, is exact but economical. It makes extensive use of theory and concept, but does not torture material to fit fashionable modes of thought. It is brilliantly original, both in subject matter and in the way the unfamiliar is made comprehensible. Above all, like every outstanding monograph, it uses particular events to illuminate large problems and to connect phenomena widely separated in space and time. To take but one example, John Guilmartin’s keen understanding of the technology and use of the composite bow, one of the most deadly weapons ever conceived by a warrior people, allows him to show how the routine of shepherd life on the steppe in the centuries of Turkic nomadism translated into mastery of close-range inland sea warfare — until gunpowder destroyed the irreplaceable crews of galley archers.
Foreword to A Very Short War