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The Mask of Command Paperback – Illustrated, October 4, 1988
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan (1934–2012), was one of the most distinguished contemporary military historians and was for many years the senior lecturer at Sandhurst (the British Royal Military Academy) and the defense editor of the Daily Telegraph (London). Keegan was the author of numerous books including The Face of Battle, The Mask of Command, The Price of Admiralty, Six Armies in Normandy, and The Second World War, and was a fellow at the Royal Society of Literature.
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140114068
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140114065
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.85 x 7.75 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books (October 4, 1988)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #206,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Keegan's sentence structure is convoluted and painful. He's clearly not a devotee of Strunk and White. But his paragraphs have bones, his chapters are magical storytelling, and the arc, depth, and insight of the book are jaw dropping.
It's a tough read, but worthy of every hour that you'll put into it.
P.S. I found this book to be "timeless" in comparison to The Face of Battle, which had far too much regimental minutia for me.
Concise and well written, "The Mask of Command" offers fascinating insights into military leadership over the ages. Keegan is always worth reading and this work is one of his best.
Clearly, if a leader is to be effective he must have the respect and trust of his men. The problem is that the mechanisms for gaining this respect are either fraught with personal peril, require the embodiment of a cause which is rarely stain-free, or rest upon a non-trivial ideological framework. The simplest starting point, then, is to answer Keegan's question, "In front: always, sometimes, or never". "In front" always has the advantage of pressing home the point to the men that the leader is bold, unafraid to assume the same risks as his men for a purpose in which he must clearly believe. "In front" also has the disadvantage of placing the leader in mortal danger. So a complication arises, namely, that good leaders are rare and precious, that losing them does a belligerent no good, but that to eschew personal risk is to court mistrust. Alexander, Keegan's first case study, chose "in front". He was able to do so in part because early warfare did not have the lethality of later warfare -- arrows rarely hit their mark and skill at arms could tell in the local heat of combat. Alexander could thus afford it, but he too felt it incumbent to act more and more heroically, i.e., to take increasingly greater risks the more he demanded of his men, finally risking too much and losing his life. Wellington opted for "sometimes", rushing about from regiment to regiment at Waterloo, courting stray musket balls and grapeshot at every turn, exhorting and directing at all times. Still, he did not lead from the front, which was probably a wise decision when impersonal bullets could kill men in swaths. Grant more-or-less chose "never", as did Hitler.
The issue then arises for all leaders, but especially for those leaders who chose "never", to find other means of gaining trust and belief. Alexander would engage in dramatic antics, spending days in his tent in peevish anticipation of apology, and would don fabulous armor for engagements. Oration and rhetoric were vital to his success as he attempted to hearten at least a portion of his men. Wellington cultivated the persona of the stoic gentleman warrior, an iron will of perfection, fair to all but intolerant of sloppiness. Grant cultivated the image of being "one of the boys" -- surrounding himself with home-town friends, spurring his men by honestly showing them his hangdog vulnerability, and by relying on his men's belief in the justice of the Union cause - they were, after all, citizen-soldiers, volunteers, men of conviction.
Hitler's leadership required the constant bolstering of a seductive ideology, endless infusions of propaganda. Belief in his command was cemented by the ceaseless exhortations of Goebbels. Like the uncreative and largely ineffective generals of WWI, Hitler hid in secret bunkers while his men died far away. That Hitler could get away with it for so long and so successfully was largely due to the dramatic improvements in communications, but also through the constant retelling of the Fuhrer's heroism in WWI. Ultimately, Hitler was not a hero, but a false god whose command withered with the monstrous dream of the Third Reich and his distance from the realities of the front. Here, Keegan does a particularly fine job detailing Hitler's neurotic infantilism, his growing separation from reality, his insecure sense of isolation, and his final ignominious demise.
"The Mask of Command" is readable, compelling, and perhaps the most flawless of all of Keegan's histories. Quality, not quantity is the motto here. A brilliant and absorbing treatise.