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Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America Hardcover – May 7, 1996

3.2 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Best known for his 1976 book, The Face of Battle, which argued that conventional battle accounts oversimplified the dynamics of troop movements while attributing too much control to leaders, John Keegan has become a prolific author. Fields of Battle includes fascinating observations about how Americans do things differently, both on and off the battlefield, than the English and French. With detailed accounts from long-forgotten conflicts, such as the French and Indian War, and moving portraits of important figures in American military history, including the Wright brothers, who naively hoped their airplane would end warfare, Keegan, an Englishman, explains the past and reaffirms the present to an America struggling to find its national strength.

From Publishers Weekly

Readers can always count on Keegan (A History of Warfare) to bring a fresh perspective to the art of military history. Here, in an unusually intimate work that fails to persuade wholly, he emphasizes the influence of geography on the military history of North America. Keegan examines five fortress systems that, he says, have controlled space on our continent within the past 400 years: French Canada, Yorktown during the American Revolution, Confederate Richmond, the forts of the Great Plains and the "flying fortresses" of the 20th century. Though he offers many stimulating insights-for example, how the terrain around the Little Bighorn contributed to Custer's defeat-Keegan fails to convince that fortresses, however broadly defined, have shaped warfare on a continent where force-to-space ratios (the number of combatants relative to the area in which they're fighting) have always been extremely low. In an enlivening departure from his usual format, the author personalizes his narrative with reports on his tours of many of the battle sites discussed. Less satisfactory is his extensive commentary about his relationship with the U.S. and its citizens: "I love America"; "I like American airports"; "Uncuriosity is one of the reasons I love America." Such banalities diminish a work that offers fresh views but that in any case is best approached with caution. Maps and photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; American ed edition (May 7, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067942413X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679424130
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,699,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The author, John Keegan is a noted British historian that has spent most of his time on European warfare. It was interesting to see what he was going to come up with in this study of the battles primarily in the U.S. The book opens with something probably all American's will enjoy, a chapter talking about how much he loves American and the particular reasons why, maybe this was just a buttering up technique so that we would buy the book? He then covers four major battles / wars that have taken place in North America, the French Indian War, the American Revolutionary war, the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars.
Obviously whole books or series of books can and have been dedicated to these particular topics so the reader should be prepared for just a light overview of each of the wars. Keegan takes the reader into one particular point or battle within each war after giving the reader a very good brief on why the war is taking place, the parties involved and then the outcome. He does a very good job here with this overview.
Overall the book is easy to read and interesting. The beginning chapter will make you happy just reading it and the good feelings will remain with you through out the book. This book is much lighter and less detailed then many of his other works so it does serve as a good introduction to the author.
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Format: Paperback
Few Americans could have written such a work. It is our great fortune as Americans to have Mr. Keegan to tell the story with such style and readability. It is a fascinating story of the wars that shaped the North American continent and the United States in particular. It also opens our eyes to how historical trends we might not have noticed oterhwise - such as the importance of fortifications in US expansion across the continent. Despite our belief and espousal of maneuver or mobile warfare, fortification has been a halmark of US military doctrine. Mr. Keegan brings out this paradox and helps us see our history in a different light. Mr. Keegan does not disappoint in this volume from the great expectations we might have from his other books.
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Format: Paperback
This was the first of Keegan's books I read, and I came to it with high expectations due to his reputation. At first I found his story-telling style very engaging and I enjoyed some of his insights (e.g. concerning the Battle of Quebec in 1759). But then the amazing succession of factual and typographical errors became truly shocking. The latter are not of great significance, they are simply irritating; the former are inexcusable from an author who lectures at the most prestigious military academies in this country and abroad. Two examples of the most egregious mistakes support this assertion. At one point Keegan has Thomas Jefferson visiting Bent's Fort, in Colorado, which Keegan notes was built in 1833. As the most amateur historian knows, Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of his Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Even if Keegan is unaware of that, wouldn't he think it unlikely that a 90 year old man would be traveling to Colorado in 1833? Then, in discussing the Civil War battle of Shiloh, Keegan has Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston ordering a retreat the day after he was killed. This is a major goof since, as any Civil War buff knows, it was Johnston's fatal wounding on the first day which gave Grant the chance to save victory from the jaws of defeat. In view of these, and many, many other errors of fact, one has to wonder how this book ever saw the light of day.
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Format: Paperback
The reviews seem pretty evenly divided between those who enjoyed Keegan's personal narrative style in this work and those who abhor it; put me in the former catagory with the caveat that the reader should know what he's picking up. First off, Keegan's reputation as a military historian is second to none; he is responsible for humanizing military history. This book, however, is more memoir than history. It is not a new interpretation so much as it is the author's recollections of his travels throughout the battlefields of North America and his personal impressions of the continent. I disagree with the opinion that his stylistic departure diminishes the content of Keegan's work here. It adds a dimension of color, personality to straightforward battlefield history. Telling this story (or more accurately retelling it) could easily have been stodgy in the hands of a lesser writer. Keegan has never been hidebound, hence his great success. I believe the Publisher's Weekly critique to be too cynical, "banalities" seems excessively harsh.

To be fair, this book is replete with personal observations and many generalizations. Here are a few examples: "George Custer was not a nice man" and "Peace is bad for bravados like Custer." From the perspective of an outsider looking in, he states,"The Americans are truly free and equal people," and "the British can feel quite at home in Canada." These simplifications may be detrimental to the quality of the work, but as another observed, it is more difficult to analyze your history when you are immersed in it. It may be more revealing for a foreigner to expound on it, to uncover new interpretation. If nothing else, he is honest. He proudly proclaims his love for America- no phony objectivity here.
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