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The Mask of Command Paperback – 1987

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First American Edition paperback edition (1987)
  • Language: English
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,992,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Miska on October 9, 2002
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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: Hardcover
The Mask of Command is a fun read with plenty of good ideas to go around but the casual reader needs to be very careful as Keegan sometimes gets things just plain wrong.

Take for example the essay on Grant, called "Unheroic Leadership". Analyzed as such because Grant subscribed to the idea of never leading from the front (mainly because leading from the front was both impossible and foolish by the beginning of the America Civil War), Keegan digs into what made Grant an especially fine general. While some of his finds are clever and his psychological assessment of Grant seems to hold water, his understanding of Grant as a particularly adept technocrat who adapted to the changing role of technology in the war is downright wrong.

I direct those of you who are interested in the truth to both Charles Dana's accounts of the civil war and to Lincoln's writings. Both of these men found Grant's use of the telegraph paltry and Lincoln was many times found wanting more information from Grant's camp. Indeed, Keegan assumes that Grant's use of the telegraph was a key ingredient to his unheroic leadership because he harnessed new technology to direct troops appropriately, but this is patently false as Grant despised sending telegraphs to anyone at all. It is much more likely that Keegan was sniffing the right path in declaring Grant as extremely proficient in his ability to surround himself with capable men such as Sherman and McPherson proved to be.

As I said, the careful reader will find quite a few discrepancies and a little digging will result in Keegan getting caught with his pants down, but there is also much to like about the book - just be careful with it because Keegan isn't.

Three stars is a bit harsh, but four stars would be too much. 3 1/2 is about right.
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