The Face of Battle

The Face of Battle In this major and wholly original contribution to military history John Keegan reverses the usual convention of writing about war in terms of generals and nations in conflict which tend to leave the

  • Title: The Face of Battle
  • Author: John Keegan
  • ISBN: 9780880290838
  • Page: 184
  • Format: Hardcover
  • In this major and wholly original contribution to military history, John Keegan reverses the usual convention of writing about war in terms of generals and nations in conflict, which tend to leave the common soldier as cipher Instead he focuses on what a set battle is like for the man in the thick of it his fears, his wounds and their treatment, the mechanics of being tIn this major and wholly original contribution to military history, John Keegan reverses the usual convention of writing about war in terms of generals and nations in conflict, which tend to leave the common soldier as cipher Instead he focuses on what a set battle is like for the man in the thick of it his fears, his wounds and their treatment, the mechanics of being taken prisoner, the nature of leadership at the most junior level, the role of compulsion in getting men to stand their ground, the intrusions of cruelty and compassion, the very din and blood Although he ranges over centuries to the present for examples, and through an awesome body of war literature in his critique of traditional military history, the author devotes almost two thirds of the book to three battles fought about a hundred miles and five hundred years apart In a style never histrionic, but intense, lucid, and dramatic, he makes us reflect on whether it was terrifying to stand under the cloud of arrows at Agincourt, face the leveled muskets of Waterloo, or plod on into the rain of steel at th Somme Set battles, with their unities of time and place, may be a thing of the past, but this anatomy of what they were for the men who fought them is an unforgettable mirror held up to human nature.

    One thought on “The Face of Battle”

    1. As a just-get-to-the-fighting teenager I tried to read The Face of Battle and was baffled by the humanist erudition of Keegan’s introduction, a long historiographic essay that, I now see, echoes Virginia Woolf’s manifesto “Modern Fiction” and applies its prescriptions to historical prose. Keegan called to writers of military history as Woolf called to the novelists of her time – “Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the patt [...]

    2. The Face of Battle is John Keegan’s 1976 classic – at the time landmark – account of warfare from the perspective of individual soldiers. It is not concerned with grand strategy or tactics. It does not worry about the rulers and generals who made the decisions and hoarded the laurels. This is a book about the common soldier’s experience as a pawn on the most dangerous chessboard in the world. The bulk of Keegan’s book is his bottom-up analysis of three decisive battles at different per [...]

    3. It’s a rare day that I become smitten with a 75-year old historian, but that day came when I read the introduction to The Face of Battle. I have several of John Keegan’s books, most of them featuring lots of photographs, but this is the one that made him famous – and for good reason. His elegant prose has the right amount of wit and clarity, scholarship and humility, gripping description and hard facts. After an introduction to military historiography that left me – I'm not even kidding [...]

    4. An enlightening erudition of three monumental battles in English history: Agincort; Waterloo; and the Somme. Agincort-when battle was chivalrous and troops were led by the kingWaterloo-when the height of technology was the soldier's bayonet The Somme-when the top line of defense waswell actual line of trenches and razor wire called the Maginot The author details both the strategy and tactics of each of these battles then finishes the book by comparing and contesting them as well as discussing th [...]

    5. I read this as part of an "expand your horizons" challenge, and I very much enjoyed it. Keegan has an engaging style and is very easy to listen to (audio format) -- and the narrator, one of my all-time favorites (Simon Vance), didn't hurt any either. This is a classic book of military history/analysisbut it almost seems blase in some ways, today, because so many writers have learned from Keegan's insights. While I was listening, I kept thinking that any writer of fiction who wanted to include ba [...]

    6. John Keegan was an instructor at Sandhurst when he wrote this in the early 1970s. As he notes, he was someone who had never seen battle himself, teaching those who would. He writes about battles in a nuts-and-bolts, but also a deeply human way, investigating their moral aspects: why were prisoners sometimes killed, sometimes not? When it quickly became clear that soldiers were dying needlessly in some of the attrition battles of WWI, why were those particular offenses not stopped? Why did the of [...]

    7. Originally released in the mid 1970s, this book is beginning to show its age a little, but only because it had such a huge impact on the field of military history, spawning so many imitators in its wake. Before John Keegan's groundbreaking work, military history tended to focus on generalship, top-down views, and "great man" hero-worship. Not that there's anything wrong with such approaches, they have their own usefulness and drawbacks. But Face of Battle sought to apply an entire new -- for the [...]

    8. Meh. It's ok. Written in 1976, The Face of Battle is badly in need of an update. In addition, the battles are all very British (Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme). This is understandable, since the book is probably an outgrowth from Keegan's teaching notes. The focus is on the experience of the individual soldier, which is pretty standard stuff in current battle books. The Face of Battle can be a bit dry at times (the first 20 pages are a real slog), but it can also be quite fascinating. It was [...]

    9. I first read The Face of Battle in 1991. I was a young 2nd Lieutenant attending the Armor Officer's Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. As a 2nd Lieutenant my focus was on the small world of the armor platoon leader (four tanks - sixteen soldiers) and the type of combat that I would encounter as a platoon leader. Battle was amazing for it addressed many of the issues that I found myself wondering about. It was a breath of fresh air. I have since read it several times both in it's entirety and i [...]

    10. This was the first book I read by John Keegan, and it became the first of many. In it he describes three different historical battles (Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, if memory serves) and describes what we know (or can guess) about what the battle experience was like for the men involved. Of particular interest is the way he breaks this down into sub-topics like "infantry vs. archers", "infantry vs. cavalry", "cavalry vs. artillery" etc.This is probably the best non-fiction description of t [...]

    11. Great book. I was searching for the psychological aspect of battle, its effects before, during and after. There is a lot of technical material as well, for those who like it. Various myths are revealed, such as treating the wounded right away, amount of time in combat, fatigue, conscripting, wounds suffered, leadership that sees everything and such. I particularly like the "coercion" chapter. Aftermath, wounds and the psychological effects on modern day are also great.Another really good one is [...]

    12. A page-turner of a work on historical methodology. Keegan advances some complicated theses, supported by concepts developed in many academic disciplines (psychology, sociology, biology, physics, etc) as well as readings of archival materials, letters, and journals, conversations with soldiers, and what seem to be his own wide-ranging, personal interest in human nature.The result is a book packed densely with insights, whether about the noise made by clattering pikes or 20th Century combined arms [...]

    13. John Keegan is a sophisticated war historian so there are times when his understanding is over my head. This was evident during the first 78 pages of the book when Keegan writes an essay about war history. However, the remainder of the book is golden. The point of the book is to give a history of battle from the perspective of the soldier instead of the commander. Most military histories already document this perspective. The author gives a detailed analysis of the battles of Agincourt, Waterloo [...]

    14. I purchased this book because I read in an interview that Bernard Cornwell found it useful in his research. And I can see why: John Keegan's analysis of the battlefield is unlike anything I ever read before. He essentially brings us down to the eye-witness level of fighting, and his explanations give us an understanding of battlefields that cannot be grasped when looking at broad strokes.This book covers much territory—too much for most general enthusiasts to grasp. The first part is theory, e [...]

    15. Had to read this for my masters in history class. This book made me realize how boring military history is in academia.

    16. Though he addresses only three battles in detail—Agincourt, on October 25, 1415; Waterloo, on June 18, 1815; and the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916—so evocative is John Keegan’s study that a reader can come away feeling he or she has acquired a whole new sense of what combat has been like, across centuries of history and even up to the present day, for those who have fought it.Keegan builds up his accounts through the patient accumulation of many details, analytical [...]

    17. Originally published on my blog here in January 2000.Today, John Keegan is widely known as a military historian, and has quite a reputation both in the field and among the public. The Face of Battle is the book which made his name. He sought to show his readers something of the reality of battle, in contrast to the usual concentration on strategy and technology. This is far more difficult to do, for several reasons. Even in these days of near-universal literacy (in the West, at least), generals [...]

    18. John Keegan opens with the point that although he has never been a combatant, military history writing is rife with inaccuracy because most writers either regurgitate the facts baldly without consideration for context or prejudice their story by applying personal filters and perceptions to the antagonists. His research is impeccable, he picks three battles that occur in roughly the same location in three different time periods and explains the circumstances surrounding the ranks in terms of thei [...]

    19. “But I have never been in a battle. And I grow increasingly convinced that I have very little idea of what a battle can be like.”Thus ends the opening paragraph of Face of Battle, in which military historian John Keegan attempts to explore, as best one can absent the experience, what it is like to be involved in real military combat. He does this by examining three historically significant battles in North-western Europe: Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and the Somme (1916).This is not you [...]

    20. I'm probably not the best person to review this book since my knowledge of military history (and militohistiography) is minimal, but here goes.Keegan attempts to recount what happened at three major battles (Agincourt, Waterloo, Somme). His aim is to do this, not from the pov of the generals and leaders, though there is plenty of that, but what it would be like to be a soldier in the field there. Pretty easy answer: not fun.It's well written and so is engaging, it's almost a cliche that military [...]

    21. A book about battles like the Somme and Waterloo has no business being this boring. Keegan's long winding, multi-claused sentences suffocate all the excitment out of what should be a thrilling topic. I love history and I thought this, from what I'd read about it, would be an interesting book, but dear God it is awful.I can only recommend this to the biggest of history nerds - the kind that have busts of Napolean on their desk and closet-full of old Civil War uniforms from their reenacting days, [...]

    22. Keegan was one of the greatest historians and I have read several of his works. But this one was not exactly what I thought it was going to be. It is not a description of tactics and battle plans but rather the reason that men fight, how they summon courage, or run away. He takes an interesting approach by using the backdrop of three famous battles to make his point about war in general and how it and the men involved change (or don't change) over the yearsI have to admit that there were section [...]

    23. A classic in military history which I was supposed to have read for a class back in 1986, I thought this was a reread however I either never read it when I was in college (beer) or forgot it in it's entirety (beer?). Keegan (back when he was really good) does more then just describe the three battles. He explains what it was like to actually fight in the each battle, at least as much as he can, it is still a book. In addition to highlighting the similarities and differences between each battle, [...]

    24. Erudite and well thought out, this is a classic of ground level military history. Though I found it interesting, I was surprised to find myself mentally arguing with it in places, mainly in the chapter on the Somme and the final chapter on the future of battle. Perhaps it's partly that this was written forty years ago, when Vietnam was the most recent set of lessons for the military historian to draw from. I'm glad I read it, and someone wanting to take any serious run at military history should [...]

    25. Very readable, and as I'm very new to all this history of war stuff, a splendid intro to the notion of the "battle" and what it might be like However, the most interesting section for me was the first chapter, about the challenges of historiography in analysing and writing about the history of battles; it was a good general introduction to the problems of historiography and its lessons would travel wider than war history.

    26. I have never read anything like this book before, and I learned so much, and it's so well written, about a topic I never thought would be something I'd want to read about and it had me riveted. I feel like I've spent time with a very wise person who had given me a better sense of what it means to be human.

    27. John Keegan was military historian and Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme (1974) is an intriguing surgical dissection of those three famous battles. The emphasis is not on battle strategy or tactics, it is on how the common soldier experiences battle, and on how soldiers’ psychology interacts with the organization of battle. In short, this is a scholarly look at the social psychology of combat. As on [...]

    28. The Big Takeaway: The realities of how soldiers fight and common perceptions have many differences.This book was recommended to me by my new coworker who had read it as part of curriculum at West Point. During a discussion about one of my favorite books, On Killing, he shared with me how The Face of Battle enlightened him on the different factors that lead to victory for an out-manned English army at the Battle of Agincourt.From this conversation, I was compelled by my affinity for military hist [...]

    29. Reading this book made me wish that I had a more complete knowledge of historiography- that is, the "history of history." I have not read very many pre-1970 books about battle or specific battles, so I cannot say for certain how different this volume is from earlier ones. Nevertheless, I found it to be a cut above even most modern accounts I have read. Keegan does an excellent job contextualizing the three battles he chooses from the standpoint of the individual soldier, and the society he came [...]

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