John Keegan: the Face of Battle

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  • Topic: War, Military, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
  • Pages : 4 (1236 words )
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  • Published : October 15, 2012
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The Face of Battle: A Critical Review

John Keegan’s The Face of Battle examines warfare from the viewpoint of the common soldier by analyzing and comparing three well-known battles. Starting with Agincourt, moving on to Waterloo, and finally the Somme, the author describes warfare as experienced by the warrior of the day. Characterizing the campaigns and planning which led up to each battle, Keegan provides background for each engagement he then seemingly details from the very midst of the carnage. His expert knowledge and engaging style allow the book to make its point without losing the attention of the reader. The book’s fresh approach to battlefield history stems from Keegan’s overwhelming experience in the subject.

Keegan taught at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as the Senior Lecturer in Military History for many years. In addition to writing numerous books on military history, Vassar College has named him a Delmas Distinguished Professor of History, he has been a Fellow of Princeton University (“Vintage,” Keegan), and is currently a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Though he admits to never actually being in battle, Keegan’s extensive personal research, interviews, and scholarship on the subject of military history lend him plenty of credence to speak on the subject of battle. However, Keegan believes the men who fought in them should ideally relate their own histories. “…Where possible, an essential ingredient in battle narrative and battle analysis,” he says, “[is] allowing the combatants to speak for themselves.”

Keegan does, in fact, focus on a more immediate view of battle, as seen from the eyes of a common infantryman. He uses both primary and secondary sources to reconstruct a certain picture of each battle in his book. However, both primary and secondary sources have pitfalls. As John Mundy, author of Europe in the High Middle Ages 1150-1300, in a review of The Face of Battle notes, “…soldiers present at an engagement...
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