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

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  5,112 Ratings  ·  196 Reviews
This text looks at the military history of a battle scene by examining the experiences of individuals at the point of maximum danger. The author has attempted to write the definitive model for military historians by reassessing the three battles of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. He attempts to convey, to the reader, the reality of the battles as they were experienced b ...more
Paperback, U.K. Paperback Edition, 365 pages
Published 1978 by Penguin Books (first published November 1976)
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Mar 31, 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
Sep 28, 2015 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
May 10, 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
Jan 15, 2009 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
Nov 27, 2010 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Ben Wand
The chapters on Agincourt and the Somme were particularly interesting.
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
Jan 22, 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
Mercedes Rochelle
Oct 27, 2015 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
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
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
Jan 24, 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
Nov 02, 2016 Todd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keegan was a brilliant historian who had an uncanny ability to cast a strategic eye over centuries of political, economic, cultural, social, and technological changes and weave these together to show how they impacted militaries and their conflicts, while also showing how militaries and military conflict in turn affected these other areas. In a way, this book takes Keegan out of his comfort zone, having him turn his rigorous, rational gaze toward three individual battles and put them under the m ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Nov 02, 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
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,
Brendan Hodge
Oct 12, 2016 Brendan Hodge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Erudite and well thought out, this is a classic of ground level military history. Though I found it interesting, I was surprised to find myself mentally arguing with it in places, mainly in the chapter on the Somme and the final chapter on the future of battle. Perhaps it's partly that this was written forty years ago, when Vietnam was the most recent set of lessons for the military historian to draw from.

I'm glad I read it, and someone wanting to take any serious run at military history should
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.
Jul 09, 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
Tony Cavicchi
"Battles, or more precisely defeats, are immediately decisive because they kill some of these men and dissuade the rest, for a longer or shorter period, from wanting to fight anymore" is the key insight of John Keegan's excellent work, "The Face of Battle."

Keegan seeks to understand battle from the point of view of those who fought them. Thus, the book deftly straddles military history, psychology, and sociology to understand the fighting man. Keegan picks three British battles that epitomize th
Stephen Selbst
Nov 28, 2016 Stephen Selbst rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Keegan, the most eminent military historian of his generation, never served and never saw a shot fired in anger. In 1976 he set out to answer his own question, born of his inexperience: what was battle actually like. To answer, Keegan closely examined three famous English battles, Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. He considered the relative troops of the combatants, the topography and positioning of the troops, the weaponry, and the nature of the different forms combat took in each battle: ...more
Jan 11, 2014 Courtney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had tried reading John Keegan before. I took out his book on the First World War from a local library to use for the historiography part of a paper, but then thought I'd hold off on returning it to give it a read on my own time. Needless to say, it wasn't too long into it that I was done. There was something about it that just didn't do it for me. Perhaps that just wasn't the book to start with as far as general histories go. Then I came across The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterlo ...more
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
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
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
Jan 16, 2013 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mmarcos socramM
I thought that this book was an account of those three battle from the standpoint of the soldiers who fought and died in the field instead of the aloof narrative that characterizes other military history books where the battles are narrated and analyzed mostly from a HQ's point of view. The book has some of what I was looking for, but all I found interesting could be resumed in about 50 pages.

The name of the book should be "The Face of Battle: A Study of Military History, The Future of Battle,
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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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