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The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  4,286 ratings  ·  155 reviews
Departing from the conventions of military writing, Keegan ranges across history and through an awesome body of war literature to examine from the perspective of the common soldier three famous battles waged 500 years apart--Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. B&W illus.
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Published November 28th 2001 by Blackstone Audio, Inc. (first published 1976)
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Eric
As a just-get-to-the-fighting teenager I tried to read The Face of Battle and was baffled by the humanist erudition of Keegan’s introduction, a long historiographic essay that, I now see, echoes Virginia Woolf’s manifesto “Modern Fiction” and applies its prescriptions to historical prose. Keegan called to writers of military history as Woolf called to the novelists of her time – “Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however ...more
Laura
It’s a rare day that I become smitten with a 75-year old historian, but that day came when I read the introduction to The Face of Battle. I have several of John Keegan’s books, most of them featuring lots of photographs, but this is the one that made him famous – and for good reason. His elegant prose has the right amount of wit and clarity, scholarship and humility, gripping description and hard facts. After an introduction to military historiography that left me – I'm not even kidding – thinki ...more
Contrarius
I read this as part of an "expand your horizons" challenge, and I very much enjoyed it. Keegan has an engaging style and is very easy to listen to (audio format) -- and the narrator, one of my all-time favorites (Simon Vance), didn't hurt any either.

This is a classic book of military history/analysis...but it almost seems blase in some ways, today, because so many writers have learned from Keegan's insights. While I was listening, I kept thinking that any writer of fiction who wanted to include
...more
Lobstergirl
Aug 02, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tagg Romney
John Keegan was an instructor at Sandhurst when he wrote this in the early 1970s. As he notes, he was someone who had never seen battle himself, teaching those who would. He writes about battles in a nuts-and-bolts, but also a deeply human way, investigating their moral aspects: why were prisoners sometimes killed, sometimes not? When it quickly became clear that soldiers were dying needlessly in some of the attrition battles of WWI, why were those particular offenses not stopped? Why did the of ...more
Mike Hankins
Originally released in the mid 1970s, this book is beginning to show its age a little, but only because it had such a huge impact on the field of military history, spawning so many imitators in its wake. Before John Keegan's groundbreaking work, military history tended to focus on generalship, top-down views, and "great man" hero-worship. Not that there's anything wrong with such approaches, they have their own usefulness and drawbacks. But Face of Battle sought to apply an entire new -- for the ...more
Checkman
Mar 18, 2012 Checkman rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in military history and the experience of battle
Recommended to Checkman by: the U.S. Army
I first read The Face of Battle in 1991. I was a young 2nd Lieutenant attending the Armor Officer's Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. As a 2nd Lieutenant my focus was on the small world of the armor platoon leader (four tanks - sixteen soldiers) and the type of combat that I would encounter as a platoon leader. Battle was amazing for it addressed many of the issues that I found myself wondering about. It was a breath of fresh air. I have since read it several times both in it's entirety and i ...more
Ted
This was the first book I read by John Keegan, and it became the first of many. In it he describes three different historical battles (Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, if memory serves) and describes what we know (or can guess) about what the battle experience was like for the men involved. Of particular interest is the way he breaks this down into sub-topics like "infantry vs. archers", "infantry vs. cavalry", "cavalry vs. artillery" etc.

This is probably the best non-fiction description of t
...more
Steve
Meh. It's ok. Written in 1976, The Face of Battle is badly in need of an update. In addition, the battles are all very British (Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme). This is understandable, since the book is probably an outgrowth from Keegan's teaching notes. The focus is on the experience of the individual soldier, which is pretty standard stuff in current battle books. The Face of Battle can be a bit dry at times (the first 20 pages are a real slog), but it can also be quite fascinating. It was ...more
Geoff
John Keegan opens with the point that although he has never been a combatant, military history writing is rife with inaccuracy because most writers either regurgitate the facts baldly without consideration for context or prejudice their story by applying personal filters and perceptions to the antagonists. His research is impeccable, he picks three battles that occur in roughly the same location in three different time periods and explains the circumstances surrounding the ranks in terms of thei ...more
Jake
“But I have never been in a battle. And I grow increasingly convinced that I have very little idea of what a battle can be like.”

Thus ends the opening paragraph of Face of Battle, in which military historian John Keegan attempts to explore, as best one can absent the experience, what it is like to be involved in real military combat. He does this by examining three historically significant battles in North-western Europe: Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815) and the Somme (1916).

This is not your ty
...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in January 2000.

Today, John Keegan is widely known as a military historian, and has quite a reputation both in the field and among the public. The Face of Battle is the book which made his name. He sought to show his readers something of the reality of battle, in contrast to the usual concentration on strategy and technology. This is far more difficult to do, for several reasons. Even in these days of near-universal literacy (in the West, at least), generals
...more
Mike
A classic in military history which I was supposed to have read for a class back in 1986, I thought this was a reread however I either never read it when I was in college (beer) or forgot it in it's entirety (beer?).

Keegan (back when he was really good) does more then just describe the three battles. He explains what it was like to actually fight in the each battle, at least as much as he can, it is still a book. In addition to highlighting the similarities and differences between each battle,
...more
Peter
John Keegan was military historian and Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme (1974) is an intriguing surgical dissection of those three famous battles. The emphasis is not on battle strategy or tactics, it is on how the common soldier experiences battle, and on how soldiers’ psychology interacts with the organization of battle. In short, this is a scholarly look at the social psychology of combat.

As one
...more
Bruno Goncalves
As a young officer in the Portuguese army it was once my personal mission to study war and try to understand it.

And so I studied the history of war, as well as its technical, tactical and strategic aspects, and I considered myself well-schooled at that time, especially compared to many other militia officers.

And then I read The Face of Battle.

I found this work in its Portuguese edition "O Rosto da Batalha", at an open-air book fair in Alcobaça, and I consider it the most relevant book I've ever
...more
Jason , etc.
This has been on the 'Want to Read' shelf for a really, REALLY long time. As often happens, it was a chance finding in a used bookstore for $1 that nudged me out of procrastination mode. It's important to note that if you're not even a mildly enthusiastic military history buff, this book may not be your cup of tea. If you are, it will become clear almost immediately why this book and its author are held in such high esteem.

The book looks at three battles during three distinctly different points
...more
David Roberts
The book I read to research this post was The Face Of Battle by John Keegan which is a very good book which I bought from kindle. This book takes an indepth look at 3 great British battles, Agincourt, Waterloo & the Somme. The first 2 were successful for Britain and the last was a bit of a stalemate. Keegan writes absolutely brilliant history books mostly from around the 2 World Wars. Agincourt along with the somewhat similar battle Crecy is the kind of battle at first glance makes you proud ...more
Al
An illustrated edition of the famous book on battle. I've seen constant positive mentions of this book, which motivated me to seek it out, but was surprised by the actual content. It's a scholarly, yet highly readable, analysis of battle from the point of view of the fighting man. Mr. Keegan is primarily concerned with what is happening at the field level, and examines it by detailed reference to three major and historic battles: Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. He selected these battles for ...more
Keith
I thought the book The Face of Battle by John Keegan was very good for a war book. John Keegan described battles with such in depth sensory, and had me interested through each sentence i read. This was the first war book i have ever read and i look forward to reading more books like this one.

The story talked about different types of soilders in the diffrent battles. The story also talks about the arts of warfare and diffrent strageies. He talks also about diffrent weapons and building designs
...more
Michael
A British military historian analyzes three British battles to examine the foot-soldier's combat experience in hard-fought battles: Agincourt, Waterloo and Somme. Agincourt (1415) was medieval before the development of musketry. Waterloo (1815) occurred before the repeating rifle and machine gun were developed, and when artillery was used to a significant extent. The Somme battle in WW I (1916) illustrated the deadly effectiveness of artillery and machine guns in trench warfare. A major problem ...more
Olethros
-Para muchos, un punto de inflexión. Para algunos, hasta una inspiración.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. Aproximación al concepto de la batalla y en concreto a su tratamiento historiográfico por parte de autores y expertos, además de su experiencia y efecto sobre los que luchan, analizando sus deficiencias, fortalezas y utilidades, para a continuación revisar tres famosos enfrentamientos (Azincourt, Waterloo y el Somme, las tres cercanas en el espacio y separadas por el tiempo) y, por último,
...more
TheF7Pawn
Well written but vastly overrated. Keegan, who was never a soldier, cannot answer the question of why men fight, often in unimagineable conditions like the Somme (which he describes in vivid detail). At the conclusion of his analysis of the Somme he essentially remains flummoxed as to what impelled the cream of British youth to clamber out of their trenches and into no-man's land. His conclusion that it cannot happen again because contemporary humanity could not endure that sort of deprivation l ...more
Michael Burnam-fink
The Face of Battle is undoubtedly the most influential book of its kind. Keegan takes military history out of the ghetto and into the main stream of 20th century research by asking what it was like to participate in three representative battles: Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. Keegan delves into the visual, aural, and olfactory terror of the battlefield, asking what it is that makes soldiers stand and fight, kill other men, and be killed themselves. As a scholarly monograph, it is a delight, ...more
Liz Polding
This is an excellent book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As an account of three historic battles, it is thorough and well-researched, but never clinical or inhumane. We see the action from the ground, where men cut each other down with the weapons of their respective eras, suffered, triumphed and despaired. Leadership, from the front, from a safe distance, from a control room thousands of miles away; all here. Weaponry and how it has changed the face of battle is considered in detail. Tanks, Agent ...more
Jeff
The classic examination of battlefield experience. The obvious, logical, and instinctual thing to do in the face of mortal danger is to flee. Why do men stand and fight in the face of death? What compels them to act against all reason?

Keegan looks at three battles fought in close geographical proximity. The English victory against the French at Agincourt, Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, and the British and French offensive against Germany along the Somme. This is not about strategy or even much a
...more
Sylvia
This book is allegedly about 3 battles, but it's really a large-scale analysis of the historical changes in warfare through the arc of human history. If this kind of grandiose thesis isn't your cup of tea, just read the middle part of the book: there is a healthy section describing three battles.

I noted two main things while reading:

(1) The battles and analysis in this book are SO BRITISH. Yes, that is because British soldiers are involved, and most of the sources of information are from the Br
...more
CD
The book that is complimentary to author John Keegan's The Mask of Command examining the experience of the participants in the battle 'royale'. Examination of the actions of individuals as can best be done in three great battles, Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme extends the range of the classification of 'military history' in ways that require that parts of this work be evaluated as other disciplines.

Psychological reaction, though always a concern for military leaders, is given added twists a
...more
William Johnson
A book about battles like the Somme and Waterloo has no business being this boring. Keegan's long winding, multi-claused sentences suffocate all the excitment out of what should be a thrilling topic. I love history and I thought this, from what I'd read about it, would be an interesting book, but dear God it is awful.
I can only recommend this to the biggest of history nerds - the kind that have busts of Napolean on their desk and closet-full of old Civil War uniforms from their reenacting days,
...more
Ryan
As explained at length in his opening chapters, Keegan, a professor at Britain’s Sandhurst military academy (in 1976, when this book was published), felt that the understanding of war propagated by those who studied it was often overly academic and abstract, or too focused on the actions of “great men”. Left out was the experience of combat for the average soldier, which, although represented in novels, movies, memoirs, and paintings (with lots of artistic license), wasn’t really examined in a s ...more
Roland Allnach
For those curious as to the exact experience of standing on a battlefield, Keegan's 'The Face of Battle' is an essential addition to your book collection. Spanning the experiences of three of history's momentous battles (Agincourt, Waterloo, the Somme), Keegan brings the reader right into the boots of the men fighting the battles and the conditions they endured. Every little detail is here, which, although some may find distasteful, I believe only highlight this book's relevance in terms of mili ...more
Boris
This is basically a compare and contrast study of three battles, Agincourt in 1415, Waterloo in 1815, and the Somme in 1916. The first 78 pages is a review of the state of military history. You can skip it. The rest is fascinating. Keep in mind that the book was first published in 1976 so it doesn't take into account all the wars since then.
What I came away with from this book is that battles are won by the side that has the superior combination of technology and tactics. Horses won't charge int
...more
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Face of Battle 1 34 Jul 10, 2009 08:13AM  
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  • The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power
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  • The First Day on the Somme
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  • Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age
  • Infantry Attacks
  • This Kind of War
  • Why the Allies Won
  • The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World
  • Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam
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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE was a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

More about John Keegan...
The First World War The Second World War A History of Warfare Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 - Aug. 5, 1944 The Mask of Command: Alexander the Great, Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, Hitler, and the Nature of Lea dership

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“Visually Agincourt is a pre-Raphaelite, perhaps better a Medici Gallery print battle - a composition of strong verticals and horizontals and a conflict of rich dark reds and Lincoln greens against fishscale greys and arctic blues.” 3 likes
“One of Picton's officers fell asleep the instant the halt was sounded and did not think of food until later in the night, when he woke to eat some chops cooked in the breastplate of a dead cuirassier (meat fried in a breastplate was very much à la mode in the Waterloo campaign, rather as rats spitted on a bayonet were to be in 1871 or champagne exhumed from chateau gardens in 1914).” 3 likes
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