At the chat last Wednesday, we wondered about G.P. Baker's life, because all we knew was that he was deaf from age 8 on.
George Philip Baker (1879-1951) wrote numerous books of popular history in the 1920s and 1930s. This era, it seems, demanded more of historians catering to the rank and file than is expected today. His output included works on Sulla, Hannibal, Tiberius, Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, the soldier-kings of Wessex in the twilight of Roman rule, and a "decisive battles" compendium. The term "popular history" should here be written with an asterisk. Baker always took care to read up on his topic in the then-current learned writings. He didn't merely cut and paste from the secondary accounts, but weighed their relative merits and let the reader in on his choices. He emphasized political and economic development as underlying the military capacity effecting the rise and fall of great powers. His 1935 Book of Battles was reprinted several times and is still regarded as a stimulating review of military turning points in the manner of Sir Edward Creasy's The Decisive Battles of History. His The Fighting Kings of Wessex is a discerning interpretation of the beginnings of modern Europe, and an explanation of the strategic thinking that lay behind the military campaigns of Dark Age England. His biographies of Roman emperors have attracted a wide reading audience as well.
Baker was an avid student of military history. Unable to serve in his native England's armed forces due to his total deafness, he worked as a civilian official for the Royal Artillery for much of his life. He was neither professor nor soldier-scholar; his works strove to enlighten his lay audience as well as to tell an adventure story of strong leaders struggling against economic and political inevitability. Baker usually accentuates the military aspects of his subjects. He has taken the time to read the specialist accounts of tactics and strategies developed by the respective antagonists. He likes to contemplate the options open to the commanders on the spot and their decision cycle.
This article was originally published on H-Net Reviews.