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From Byron to bin Laden - a history of foreign war volunteers
Nir Arielli
Harvard University Press
UK Publication Date

What makes people fight and risk their lives for countries other than their own? Why did diverse individuals such as Lord Byron, George Orwell, Che Guevara, and Osama bin Laden all volunteer for ostensibly foreign causes? Nir Arielli helps us understand this perplexing phenomenon with a wide-ranging history of foreign-war volunteers, from the wars of the French Revolution to the civil war in Syria.

Challenging narrow contemporary interpretations of foreign fighters as a security problem, Arielli opens up a broad range of questions about individuals' motivations and their political and social context, exploring such matters as ideology, gender, international law, military significance, and the memory of war. He shows that even though volunteers have fought for very different causes, they share a number of characteristics. Often driven by a personal search for meaning, they tend to superimpose their own beliefs and perceptions on the wars they join. They also serve to internationalize conflicts not just by being present at the front but by making wars abroad matter back at home. Arielli suggests an innovative way of distinguishing among different types of foreign volunteers, examines the mixed reputation they acquire, and provides the first in-depth comparative analysis of the military roles that foreigners have played in several conflicts.

Merging social, cultural, military, and diplomatic history, From Byron to bin Laden is the most comprehensive account yet of a vital, enduring, but rarely explored feature of warfare past and present.

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Nir Arielli is Associate Professor of International History at the University of Leeds.

Well-crafted, timely, comprehensive, and spiced with individual case studies that lend color to the arguments made, Arielli's From Byron to bin Laden is a work of strong contemporary resonance. It distills complex debates about ideological commitment, ethnic attachment, and war volunteering as a political act into a text both specialist scholars and general readers will enjoy.
Martin Thomas, University of Exeter

From Byron to bin Laden offers an innovative and much needed historian's contribution to contemporary debates, covering the long history of foreign war volunteers with panache and intelligence. Arielli's pen is like an impressionist's brush, evocative and suggestive; yet his research is rigorous and his methodology sound. The book will be a refreshing read for specialists and non-specialists alike.
Davide Rodogno, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Nir Arielli offers a powerfully argued, deeply researched, and elegantly crafted account of the history of foreign war volunteers. Masterfully interweaving military and global history, he provides a fascinating panorama spanning five centuries, from the movement of foreign fighters on the battlefields of the early modern world to today's international streams of Islamist militants. This book will be invaluable not only to students and scholars of modern history, but for everyone interested in the changing nature of war in the contemporary world.
David Motadel, London School of Economics and Political Science

This is a fascinating book, at times a very literary survey of the history of foreigners in military service, and their motivation.
The Spectator - Allan Mallison

Keyword Index
Foreign enlistment - History.|Military service, Voluntary - History.|Soldiers - Psychology.
Country of Publication
United States
Number of Pages

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