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The Mask of Command Hardcover – November 1, 1987

4.5 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

By the author of The Face of Battle, this is a study of the transformation of military leadership in the context of heroism in its broadest sense. Keegan uses as examples four commanders whose attitudes, styles and military philosophies differed drastically: Alexander the Great, "heroic leader as conquerer"; Wellington as "anti-heroic leader under constitutional monarchy"; U. S. Grant as "consciously unheroic"; and Adolf Hitler as "fake heroic." These four long chapters comprise a new way of explaining the political-military policies and actions of four major conductors of war across 2000 years of Western history. Taken as a whole, the sections are building-blocks leading up to Keegan's masterful closing argument warning that in the nuclear age heroic leadership of any style would lead to the destruction of civilization. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, notes the author, was conducted "in a strictly post-heroic manner," and offers hope that future nuclear crises may be resolved "as rationally and harmlessly." Photos. 40,000 first printing; BOMC and QPBC featured alternates.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Keegan ( The Face of Battle, Six Armies in Normandy) turns his attention to command. He interprets generalship as manifesting a cultural urge to conquer. Its classical example is the heroic warrior, personified by Alexander the Great, who inextricably merged identity with performance. Subsequently, the bureaucratic state, democracy, technology, etc., subsumed the heroic leader. The 20th-century re-evoked the heroic principle, but it manifested itself in the false heroism of an Adolf Hitler. Keegan concludes by appealing for post-heroic leaders who will forswear conflict. Though Keegan's structure and models are open to challenge, this provocative book nevertheless deserves reading by any student of military affairs.Dennis Showalter, Colorado Coll., Colorado Springs
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st American ed edition (November 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670459887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670459889
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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
Keegan analyzes the idiosyncrasies of four very different commanders in order to characterize the nature of command and how it has evolved over time. He emphasizes the impact of technology and cultural change on the nature of command. Using four unique vignettes of Alexander, Wellington, Grant and Hitler, Keegan portrays the evolution of generalship from the heroic days of physical leadership to the nuclear age. I found the part on Hitler very interesting. Below are some of Keegan's illustrations.
Alexander - the importance of physical courage, leading at the tip of the spear, and animating a theatrical quality, which inspires the soldiers.
Wellington - still on the front lines, but not leading the charge. Keegan describes Wellington's careful orchestration of the conflict with Napoleon on the fields of Waterloo. He begins to make the case for the impact of technology (gunpowder and muskets) on the general's ability to influence the fight from the front.
Grant - and "unheroic" leadership, as Keegan describes his style. The author praises Grant throughout the narration, especially how the Union General understood the changing nature of war better than most. Keegan cites instances of Grant's bravery (at Palo Alto and elsewhere) and refers favorably to Grant's Memoirs. This praise contrasts with the next case study, that of Hitler.
Hitler - beginning with Hitler's service in World War I, Keegan demonstrates the impact of the Great War on Hitler's leadership style and understanding of war. Keegan highlights Hitler's mistrust of many of his "staff" generals, given his own insight from the front as a messenger during WWI.
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Dr. Keegan has another masterpiece. This book details leadership styles and techniques by answering a very simple question: "In front? Always, sometimes, never?" The historical perspective on the question is provided in 4 fascinating biographies of Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler. Amazingly little changed in terms of how war was fought between Alexander and Wellington and yet the cultural impact of their societies had profound impact on their power of authority and the means in which they wielded it. I personally found the biography of Grant to be the most interesting and how the influence of rifled muskets and the large presence of cannon drove commanders farther from the front line and how democratic society supported that removal of "shared risk". Hitler's biography clarified a great deal of history and myth that I had not read previously: Hitler actually had a much more distinguished career as a soldier than I had previously understood and that had a profound effect on his understanding and misunderstanding of the circumstances of the Second World War. Hitler appeared to understand a large portion of the mechanisms of leadership and warfare but misunderstood the key lessoned to be learned from the First World War: that the leader on the scene is often capable of the best decisions.
The text effortless weaves these historical perspectives into a short, concise study of leadership styles and requirements and then presents a clear thesis on leadership in the nuclear age. This thesis is truly terrifying in light of the implications of history; our origins appear to contradict the requirements for future survival. This text is as much a study in leadership and management styles as it is a military science text. It is well written and highly enjoyable. If only we could get Dr. Keegan to add an addendum to leadership in the age of stateless terror.
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Format: Paperback
As The Face of Battle provided us with a foundation for military history/strategy, The Mask of Command accomplishes the same task concerning leadership. The main idea explores the concept of the heroic ideal, and how it has shaped leadership on the battlefield, and in the command tent throughout history. The layout of the book is classic Keegan, analyzing four leaders: Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler. He brings out their good and bad qualities, and supports his conclusions with conviction. The section on Wellington is particularly well-done. After reading about heroism for 300 pages, I was surprised at his conclusion in the final chapter (Post-Herioc: Command in the Nuclear World). Overall, this is an excellent treatise, and a perfect follow-up to The Face of Battle. Highly Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I have always viewed fans of military history with suspicion, having known too many who are weapon-fetishists, power-worshippers or simply ghouls. Fortunately for me, a sane, gentle friend read and recommended this book (thanks Mike Malcolm, where ever you are), introducing me to a now favorite author. MASK analyzes and contrasts the military leadership of four men: Alexander, Wellington, Grant and Hitler. Each profile is fascinating in itself, but what impressed me profoundly was the final chapter, in which Keegan brings everything together, enumerating the "imperatives" of military authority throughout history, and finally asking how those imperatives can be met in the nuclear world, where the civilian population is on the front lines and generals must necessarily "lead" from behind. I recommend this book (and all Keegan's work) wholeheartedly to anyone who would never dream of reading "military history".
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