John Keegan, The Face of War
As Keegan notes how battle is considered - from the movement of platoons to grand imperial strategy - the true question behind this book appears: what happens to the soldier in war? I recommend the first chapter to anyone who is either planning to, or already pursuing, a career in history, because Keegan swiftly and surely examines the different methods, techniques and materials of military history, details which would normally fill a specialised text. This is one of the most accessible looks at how history, and specifically military history, is written (if only someone had suggested I read it as a student), but it won't enrapture everyone, probably not even a majority of readers. Fortunately, you can skip much of the chapter without undermining the later ones. Three examinations follow, of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. In each Keegan begins by analysing the traditional outlines of events and considering from which sources these have been derived. Keegan then moves through the main phase of each battle, attempting to make sense of the major events, before considering the combatants: how did the soldiers feel before the battle, what actually happened when the troops engaged, and what insight does this provide us? In looking for human motives while applying logic, deductive battlefield knowledge and, above all, common sense, Keegan produces some fascinating new assessments. For instance, instead of the victorious longbow myth that still pervades British teachings on Agincourt, The Face of Battle provides a more involving, subtle and multi-faceted account. The longbow may have caused great damage, but the fact that a large hand-to-hand melee took place shows it wasn't dominant, and the archer's social class was just as important. The discussion of Waterloo is much less revealing - possibly because it's one of, if not the, most discussed battles ever, but his exploration of the troops who stayed to fight after six hours of...
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