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The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme Paperback – January 27, 1983
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"In this book, which is so creative, so original, one learns as much about the nature of man as of battle."
J.H. Plumb, The New York Times Book Review
"This without any doubt is one of the half-dozen best books on warfare to appear in the English language since the end of the Second World War."
Michael Howard, The Sunday Times
"A totally original and brilliant book"
The New York Review of Books
From the Publisher
Top Customer Reviews
War may be about great leadership, and Keegan has a book like that, or it may be about feints and flanking maneuvers, and Keegan has handfuls like that, but at some point someone has to pull all the statue-builders and map-gazers off their seats and remind them that war, throughout history, has always come down to an actual living, breathing human being facing a charging sword inches away or a raking machine gun, heard but never seen.
What is going on when a man stands to face a charging horseman or goes over the top from a muddy trench to a likely death? Would a horse, no matter how trained, charge directly into a mass of armed men? Would they flinch? Would the horse turn? Could they really be routed in ways so colorfully portrayed in paintings of war when it seems simply impossible to fit so many horses or men into so small a space, to leap through the mass of other flesh? What did it really mean to be struck a sword's blow or a by musket's ball? What became of a man wounded in no man's land, or captive, or a slaughterer of captives. Keegan's questions range from the deepest questions of humans facing death to the pragmatic problems of daily needs and mud and dirt and flesh. This book is apparently unique among military histories in raising and contemplating them.
Keegan offers an oddly heightened awareness of these questions by noting right at the beginning that he has not, in fact, ever been a soldier. He has been called upon to teach and to mentor them as one of the most esteemed military historians of our era but he has not stood in those boots.Read more ›
In "The Face of Battle", Keegan employs these formidable talents to describe the battles of Agincourt (October 25, 1415), Waterloo (June 18, 1815), and the Somme (July 1, 1916) in three chapters. Before these is a chapter on battle in military history, and after them a conclusion regarding the future of battle.
The first chapter is devoted to the history of battle in history. Keegan describes and cites examples of what he calls "the battle piece", a form which he traces back to Julius Caesar, an example of whose writing he cites as containing the key flaws of its type:
"Here it all is-DISJUNCTIVE MOVEMENT: 1. the Legion is hard pressed, some of the soldiers are slinking away; 2. Caesar arrives and has the standards advanced; 3. the enemy's attack loses its impetus; UNIFORMITY OF BEHAVIOUR: the enemy are all attacking, the legionaries are either resisting feebly or drifting off until Caesar's arrival makes them all fight with fervor; SIMPLIFIED CHARACTERIZATION: only two people are mentioned by name, of whom only one is accorded an important role - the author; SIMPLIFIED MOTIVATION: the led have lost the will to fight until the leader restores it to them by some simple orders and words of encouragement."
The above paragraph is the key to appreciating what Keegan is doing in his battle descriptions in "The Face of Battle".Read more ›
Yet, of course, as we devotees of Keegan's works have come to expect and admire, there is much more of value in this thin but provocative volume. Keegan memorably details and describes the horror, pain, and confusion of the battlefield, and redefines the nature of our understanding of what it means to be a soldier, from the nature of a soldier's fears to the physical and emotional assault on his person, covering everything from wounds to trauma to shell shock. He accurately and articulately describes the operation of everything from field hospitals to makeshift prisoner of war camps, and the atrocious realities involved in experiencing either.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Though it adresses the overall face of each battle and it provides a good sense of military tactics, weapons evolution, the reading gets boring with so many detailed description... Read morePublished 9 days ago by ronaldo freitas
I enjoy military history, and some of the battle-specific parts of the book are quite enjoyable.
The overall style is so stiflingly academic that it borders on the... Read more
Great book, good writing style, not an easy read though and certainly not for everyone.Published 4 months ago by Bogdan
The best book from one of the best authors of Military History.Published 4 months ago by Stephen Rustad
I purchased this book because I read in an interview that Bernard Cornwell found it useful in his research. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mercedes Rochelle
The structure and writing style felt a bit disjointed early on, but became more cohesive when Keegan starts to discuss the Battle of Agincourt, which is the first of the three... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Kevin
I read this book not as a student of history but as an author of military fiction. I wanted a realistic view of a medieval battle-- Agincourt. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Stacey Schebel