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The Mask of Command

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  1,951 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
A wide-ranging, forceful and fascinating analysis of generals--who they are, what they do and how they affect the world we live in. An especially relevant book for the nuclear age, where generals obsessed with heroism could destroy the world.
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published November 1st 1987 by Viking Books (first published 1987)
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Sep 14, 2015 Eric rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, war
“Where to stand, how often to be seen? In front always, sometimes or never?” Keegan puts these questions to the warmakers of the West, from the Iliad to NORAD, from the hacking and thrusting of the Greeks' "toil of war" to Armageddonite button-pushing in air-conditioned underground silos, and pays extended individual attention to Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Adolf Hitler, their command styles and cultural assumptions. The middle two are among my favorite peo ...more
Aug 26, 2008 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.0 stars. Terrific book that analyzes and explores what it takes to be an effective and capable commander in light of the ever changing nature of the war. The book looks at four leaders that had vastly different styles but were aall extremely effective commanders in their own right: Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant and Adolf Hitler. A terrific read.

Jun 23, 2015 Ctgt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-history
3.5 stars

My brother in law is a huge Keegan fan and loaned me this book but it never really struck a chord with me and at times it was a bit dry. I know this was written in the late 80's but his statement from the conclusion concerning the nuclear age made me shudder

Mankind, if it is to survive, must choose its leaders by the test of their intellectuality; and, contrarily, leadership must justify itself by its detachment, moderation and power of analysis.

I haven't seen leaders on either side of
Sep 08, 2012 CD rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are two books by author John Keegan that need to be read together or one after the other. The Mask of Command is one and The Face of Battle is the other. Neither series nor followup work(s) these two books are complimentary and cover similar territory, but from different angles.

The Mask of Command examines in a unique fashion what great commanders did and did not do. Keegan does not seek to forcibly find the similarities as much as the unique capabilities that each of his four chosen subje
Overall this was a good military leadership discussion. I enjoyed the comparison of Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and of course, even Adolf Hitler. The historical discussion and comparison of the leadership styles with the modes of warfare technology provide an interesting discussion of leadership changes. Alexander from the front, always victorious. Wellington not so close, but in the thick of bullets whizzing about. Grant, always everywhere on the battlefield but in artillery range of the Conf ...more
Tony Taylor
John Keegan asks us to consider questions that are seldom asked: What makes a great military leader? Why is it that men, indeed sometimes entire nations, follow a single leader, often to victory, but with equal dedication also to defeat?
Dozens of names come to mind...Napoleon, Lee, Charlemagne, Hannibal, Castro, Hussein. From a wide array, Keegan chooses four commanders who profoundly influenced the course of history: Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant and Adolph Hitle
Alex Irwin
Oct 02, 2014 Alex Irwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brilliant leadership novel explains a few leaders of the past, how they got there, what they did and why they did it. John wrote about Alexander the Great, Wellington, Ulysses Grant, and Adolf Hitler. Keegan went into great detail explaining how they become such powerful leaders and why they did those things. This is a very good Historical Non-fiction novel that contained tremendous amounts of details and information. I learned very much reading this book, it goes into details that most cla ...more
Robert Krenzel
Apr 24, 2016 Robert Krenzel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-military
John Keegan wrote several books that I enjoy dusting off and re-reading from time to time, and The Mask of Command is among them.

Keegan explores generalship in the Western World as it evolved over the centuries, using four historical figures: Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler.

He explores how these men commanded; how they imposed their will on their followers, and how they portrayed themselves to their men. Alexander was the prototypical heroic leader, who always led from the front, but w
Reading John Keegan is like sitting down with an old friend, a very smart and interesting old friend. He contrasts styles of military leadership. Alexander the Great is the heroic leader on the front lines fighting with his men, risking his life, leading the way. He then contrasts Wellington and Grant who put on few airs but largely kept off the front lines. He disparages the chateau generals in the First World War who blandly sent men to their death but were estranged from the front living live ...more
Jan 18, 2015 Ted rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a meditation on the nature of command, and therefore the nature of war. Keegan explores manner in which four famous military figures exercised command, and how the technological and social backgrounds of the wars in which they exercised command shaped their manner of command. Alexander the Great exemplifies the heroic mode of command, in which the leader exercises authority through personal charisma and by example. The Duke of Wellington is a post-heroic commander, guiding his troops ra ...more
Conrad Kinch
Apr 20, 2015 Conrad Kinch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine book which discusses the differences in how armies have been led over time, particularly how different commanders have put their own particular stamp on leading. Keegan contrasts the heroic style of Alexander the Great with the more managerial approach of Ulysses S. Grant, examining in detail the cultural, social and technological pressures that shaped their experience and approach to command.

It is a hugely significant work and well worth the time. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
Heather Stein
May 31, 2009 Heather Stein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in military history or biography
Recommended to Heather by: Arieh
Shelves: non-fiction
In my last year of high school, Mr. Goodman, my world history teacher, organized a formal debate lasting a fortnight in order to assess which countries were most responsible for the outbreak of WWI. Were it not for that experience and Keegan's The First World War, i would probably not be where i am today. I've since moved away from military history as a field of study, focusing more on political theory and transgression in the late medieval era, but it remains a passion of mine. So, when a frien ...more
Sean Chick
I found the part on Alexander to be good, and Hitler analysis dead on. However, the Wellington and Grant parts can only be considered redundant and shallow. In Wellington's case, it begins well enough, with a superb rendering of his experiences at Waterloo. After this it falls apart into claptrap and the usual Anglo hero-worship. Wellington was a great general, but Keegan does not take time to discuss his shortcomings in maneuver warfare, charismatic leadership, and personnel management. Keegan ...more
Simon Mcleish
Jun 27, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally published on my blog here in March 2000.

The Mask of Command is a companion to Keegan's earlier book The Face of Battle, published just over a decade beforehand. That book dealt with battle as experienced by the common soldier, while The Mask of Command is about the nature of military leadership. They have the same structure, a general introduction and conclusion framing some case studies, here Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Adolf Hitler. The title i
Feb 18, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war
I read this while I was working on my dissertation, along with several other books by John Keegan. He really is the best military historian writing in English right now. He makes military matters comprehensible to people who are neither military buffs nor militarists (I'm neither, and much military history is written for people who are). He starts with a brief discussion of pre-heroic military leadership, then traces the changing nature of both war and our notions of leadership and heroism throu ...more
Oct 25, 2009 ActionScientist rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. It was my initial introduction to Alexander, within the context of the evolution of generalship since his life 2,500 years ago. In addition to Wellington and Grant, the book also covers Adolf Hitler under the chapter heading 'False Hero' and shows what a deluded putz he actually was in WWII. There have more 'false heroes' since. They start violent wars.

The book is, in my opinion, missing a chapter. It kind of ends in the nuclear age, admonishing modern leaders to tend
Bas Kreuger
Feb 10, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing book on command, focused on military command, but in my opinion just as applicable on command (ehhh, management) in the non-military world.
"Command at the front: always, sometimes, never" is one of the questions Keegan poses and the answer is that it depends on the circumstances. Alexander the Great was always at the front, Hitler never. The same goes for civilian command. I think it is worthwhile when managers take the pulse of their companies by visiting the battefield now and then.
Feb 21, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in military history and the psychology of command
John Keegan is one of the best military historians of modern times, and this is one of his best works. He studies the psychology of military leadership and its dilemmas, especially the paradox that the best commanders care deeply about the people they lead but are simultaneously ready to spend their lives like currency to achieve victory. As a retired Marine who served in the enlisted ranks and as an officer up to the level of company commander, I found this book enlightening. It helped me think ...more
Ironman Ninetytwo
Jun 25, 2016 Ironman Ninetytwo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A well written and brilliant analysis of what it means to command, by studying the effective and ineffective structures of Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler. I learned a lot of history as well. The last chapter analyzes how nuclear capability overturns many of the long-standing principles of command and has an eerily prescient analysis of the type of commander we cannot afford in the nuclear era.
Maarten Souw
Keegan explores different leadership styles by analyzing different commanders. The book itself was easy enough to read, be it somewhat repetitive.
Au Yong Chee Tuck
How was "The Mask of Command" different from "The Face of Battle"?
In the "The Mask of Command", acclaimed military historian John Keegan examined four commanders. He began with the "heroic" commander, Alexander the Great, then went on to the "anti-hero" commander, Wellington. He then analysed the "unheroic" Ulysses Grant and finished by looking at the "false-heroic" leader, Adolf Hitler.
He hinted that there might be a fifth leader, the "post-heroic" leader.
But whether or not the reader agreed wi
Alex Teich
Sep 13, 2014 Alex Teich rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I consider this Keegan's greatest work. Keegan again takes into consideration the human condition and exemplifies historical analysis.
Sep 28, 2016 Pablo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Buen libro ,aunque debería decir que el desafió se queda corto, solamente analiza comandantes occidentales , no habla ni de Gengis ni Sabutai, ni Giap , Ni Zhukov.
Escribir sobre el mando occidental y no nombrar si quiera a Anibal es como hablar de física moderna y no nombrar a Einstein
David Trower
Dec 25, 2014 David Trower rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, it was interesting to see the various commanders compared against each other.
Feb 07, 2016 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book... learned a lot. A great look at the pithy issues of command.
Mannix Nyiam ii
Apr 27, 2016 Mannix Nyiam ii rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An inciteful analysis of history's greatest military leaders
Steve Switzer
Jan 24, 2016 Steve Switzer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A classic of the genre still unbeatable
Jan 24, 2013 Gutemann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading "The Face of Battle" I simply had to try another one of Mr. Keegan's books.
Whereas TFoB is concerned with the experience of the battlefield as perceived by the warrior, "The Mask of Command" is about the military leader's role and his experiences.
Overall, it was a very satisfying and fascinating read. Factual and deep, without the sociologists' tendency to overgeneralize.
I'll give it 4/5 stars just to emphasize that I liked TFoB even more. On its own 5/5 stars would have been app
Jul 30, 2011 Elie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
highly interesting, can't drop the book before the last page. takes you deep into human nature and how different characters act under testing circumstances. evolution of leadership through the ages, with technology, with politics, ethics,'s all there. it also gives you a new way to look at leadership and assess today's leaders' behavior. wished only it was longer...
David Stutzman
Sep 18, 2007 David Stutzman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Recommended to me by a sergeant friend, this book helped me differentiate between those that fight for glory and out of practical motives. The book covers, in biographical detail, the lives and command style of Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant and Hitler. Keegan type casts each as a variants in heroic leadership - heroic, unheroic, anti-heroic, and false heroic.
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Marine Corps L.E....: Do you believe the nuclear age will end? If so, how? If not, why not? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:34AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Are our leaders today better at listening to their citizens? Can communication be improved between U.S. leaders and citizens as well as between world leaders? If so, how? If not, why not? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:33AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: How have we come to live in the nuclear age? Do you believe this could have been predicted one hundred years ago? Why or why not? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:33AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Do you believe that by listening to the citizens, a leader could make better decisions regarding the nation as a whole? Why or why not? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:32AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Why does the author believe the view of the leader should change in the nuclear age? If it were not the nuclear age, does the author believe there would be nothing wrong with a leader coming in and taking charge? Explain. 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:30AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: The author believes it is not desirable for a leader to storm in and take command, at least not without the acceptance of his or her people. Do you agree with him? Why or why not? Did citizens in the past want their leaders to take control? Why or why not? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:30AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Do you agree with the author that leaders in the nuclear age must not be affected by the heroic ethic? Why or why not? How might our country change if leaders were not influenced by heroism or the lack of heroism? 1 1 Jan 26, 2015 11:29AM  
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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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“In 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Grant, aged thirty-nine, with four children at home and scarcely a penny in the bank, had made no mark on the world and looked unlikely to do so, for all the boom conditions of mid-century America. His Plymouth Rock ancestry, his specialist education, his military rank, which together must have ensured him a sheltered corner in the life of the Old World, counted for nothing in the New. He lacked the essential quality to be what Jacques Barzun has called a “booster,” one of those bustling, bonhomous, penny-counting, chance-grabbing optimists who, whether in the frenetic commercial activity of the Atlantic coast, in the emergent industries of New England and Pennsylvania or on the westward-moving frontier, were to make America’s fortune. Grant, in his introspective and undemonstrative style, was a gentleman, and was crippled by the quality.” 7 likes
“Mankind, if it is to survive, must choose its leaders by the test of their intellectuality; and, contrarily, leadership must justify itself by its detachment, moderation and power of analysis.” 4 likes
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