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The Face of Battle

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  4,942 Ratings  ·  189 Reviews
In this major and wholly original contribution to military history, John Keegan reverses the usual convention of writing about war in terms of generals and nations in conflict, which tend to leave the common soldier as cipher. Instead he focuses on what a set battle is like for the man in the thick of it - his fears, his wounds and their treatment, the mechanics of being t ...more
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published June 1986 by Dorset Press Ltd. (first published November 1976)
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Apr 05, 2012 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history
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
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
The Face of Battle is John Keegan’s 1976 classic – at the time landmark – account of warfare from the perspective of individual soldiers. It is not concerned with grand strategy or tactics. It does not worry about the rulers and generals who made the decisions and hoarded the laurels. This is a book about the common soldier’s experience as a pawn on the most dangerous chessboard in the world.

The bulk of Keegan’s book is his bottom-up analysis of three decisive battles at different periods in hi
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
Jul 14, 2012 Contrarius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 02, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 28, 2016 Lanko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Great book. I was searching for the psychological aspect of battle, its effects before, during and after. There is a lot of technical material as well, for those who like it.

Various myths are revealed, such as treating the wounded right away, amount of time in combat, fatigue, conscripting, wounds suffered, leadership that sees everything and such.
I particularly like the "coercion" chapter. Aftermath, wounds and the psychological effects on modern day are also great.
Another really good one is
Mike Hankins
Nov 13, 2012 Mike Hankins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
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
Mar 18, 2012 Checkman rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
Dec 02, 2010 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history, war
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
Jill Hutchinson
Nov 17, 2015 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military-history
Keegan was one of the greatest historians and I have read several of his works. But this one was not exactly what I thought it was going to be. It is not a description of tactics and battle plans but rather the reason that men fight, how they summon courage, or run away. He takes an interesting approach by using the backdrop of three famous battles to make his point about war in general and how it and the men involved change (or don't change) over the years

I have to admit that there were section
John Jr.
Though he addresses only three battles in detail—Agincourt, on October 25, 1415; Waterloo, on June 18, 1815; and the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916—so evocative is John Keegan’s study that a reader can come away feeling he or she has acquired a whole new sense of what combat has been like, across centuries of history and even up to the present day, for those who have fought it.

Keegan builds up his accounts through the patient accumulation of many details, analytical and de
Mercedes Rochelle
Jan 26, 2016 Mercedes Rochelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I purchased this book because I read in an interview that Bernard Cornwell found it useful in his research. And I can see why: John Keegan's analysis of the battlefield is unlike anything I ever read before. He essentially brings us down to the eye-witness level of fighting, and his explanations give us an understanding of battlefields that cannot be grasped when looking at broad strokes.

This book covers much territory—too much for most general enthusiasts to grasp. The first part is theory, exp
Feb 08, 2011 Geoff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
“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
Simon Mcleish
Jun 19, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
Steve Dewey
Very readable, and as I'm very new to all this history of war stuff, a splendid intro to the notion of the "battle" and what it might be like... However, the most interesting section for me was the first chapter, about the challenges of historiography in analysing and writing about the history of battles; it was a good general introduction to the problems of historiography and its lessons would travel wider than war history.
Feb 14, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, history
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,
Se trata de una revisión de la historiografía militar, que se centraría en la experiencia de los soldados en combate, empleando los avances en otros campos como la psicología y la sociología. Es posible que cierta información que aporta el libro haya quedado obsoleta (se publicó a mediados de los setenta) pero es el primero que se ocupó del hecho bélico más importante de una guerra desde el punto de vista del soldado que la sufre, en concreto los mecanismos sicológicos que se ponen en marcha en ...more
Jun 04, 2016 Kevin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 battles discussed in this book. The first chapter, in which the author discusses military theory and how it is presented in various ways, might only be of interest to those interested in pursuing a career as a historian.

Keegan does a good job at describing the experience of the soldier in each of the three battles discusse
Mark Casey
Feb 18, 2016 Mark Casey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book to listen to.

The first chapter was a bit on the dry side. It is interesting if you are interested in the history of history, which I am, but probably not everyone is. I was delighted to see, by the way, that in this first chapter Thucydides is mentioned as the historian who wrote the most realistic battle narratives. Yet another feather in his cap.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 are the most fascinating ones. In these Keegan takes us through the battles of Agincourt, Waterloo,
Oct 14, 2015 Bob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keegan, who lectured at Sandhurst at the time of writing, uses a broad array of evidence (topography, statistical reports, physical analysis of weapons, among others) with the survivors' narratives to try to convey what various participants in three great battles might have experienced. His conclusions seem remarkable. He convincingly recounts the horrors: expected ones like mutilation, hunger, cold, but less obvious things like noise, crowding, being unable to see, or not knowing wihere you ar ...more
Jul 10, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military, history
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
Bruno Goncalves
Jan 03, 2015 Bruno Goncalves rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason , etc.
Oct 16, 2014 Jason , etc. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Roberts
Jul 03, 2014 David Roberts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 24, 2014 Al rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 02, 2014 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 16, 2015 Fred rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-1
This is a tremendous work of military and sociological history written by one of the foremost historians of our time. Keegan looks at three battles from three different eras all of which involved Britain and were fought in northern Europe. The fact that England was involved in all of them allows Keegan to focus on what makes them different. Agincourt was a battle of edged weapons and archery. Waterloo was fought at the height of the black powder musket era of professional soldiers. And The Somme ...more
My third book from John Keegan yet not my last. Investigation of three significant battles spanning from the Hundred Years War to World War I provides us with an outline of how battle amongst nations has changed. It starts with the English archers versus the armored French at Agincourt. Although significantly outnumbered and forced to battle the English destroyed a significant portion of the French armored infantry and cavalry. French forces attacking on a narrow front on sodden turf were quickl ...more
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Face of Battle 1 35 Jul 10, 2009 08:13AM  
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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.

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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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