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The Mask of Command by John Keegan
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The Mask of Command (1987)

by John Keegan

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readable and informative as Keegan always is. Odd to include Hitler in his set, who was out of his depth as commander and took half a world down with him, whereas the other three (Alexander, Wellington, Grant) were undefeated throughout. But the Hitler profile & analysis is the most interesting. Shows how H learned from his own frontkaempfer experience, but perhaps then learned nothing else, that he boned up on the technical details of weapons and transport and floored his own generals with displays of (essentially trivial) memory feats, how he was even more of a chateau general than the WW1 chaps, with his HQ hundreds of miles from the front (and disruptingly shifting), how he basically collapsed as soon as he met with defeat in any form. the inexplicable is how he kept all those professionals under his thumb and the front line fighting till the last bullet. Keegan doesn't engage much with that. Alex and the Duke are well described but not much new; Grant is interesting: dogged, gruff, coming from nowhere, but with well-concealed intellectual qualities that came out in his Memoirs at the end of his life. The overall analysis in the last chapter is too short and abstract to come across well. Keegan at his best when there's a whiff of gunpowder or a whirr of arrows in the air. ( )
  vguy | Jan 6, 2014 |
A certain part of military life is talking other people into risking their lives to accomplish the goals, worthy or unworthy of those who pay your salary. Of course there's an ideological element in some of this, and there's group solidarity as well, but the bottom line seems to be summed up above. Mr. Keegan has done a very good job defining the role of the officer, and his prose is competent. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 21, 2013 |
Once again, one of the best military historians around has examined the mask of command by examining three great generals in order to understand the nature of military leadershi. In scope it most reminds me of Victor Davis Hanson's similar work on three liberators.
  gmicksmith | Oct 6, 2013 |
Great Review of 4 very different generals and their strategies
  gtsurber | Aug 27, 2012 |
Its title comes from a theatrical metaphor, Keegan examining what a commander chooses to reveal of himself to his troops, what he conceals, and what he sometimes invents.

But the book is much more than that. Through an examination of the armies, times, and personalties of four commanders -- Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler (with a brief look at the command style of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missle Crisis) -- he shows us how command tactics and theatrics have evolved from Alexander's leading by example in the thick of battle, an heroic example, to the decidely unheroic and distant Hitler and Kennedy.

You'd expect, in a book like this, some look at the politics, military structure, and arms surrounding each leader. And that's present as well as a look at the mechanics of battlefield communication. We're also shown how each of the above leaders personifies some leadership style.

As with his The Face Of Battle, Keegan makes some of his most memorable points through telling details. We hear of how Alexander's leadership was constricted by the dust of battle, the impossibility of directing combat while heroically hacking at the foe himself; we see how Wellington was distanced from the battlefield by cannons, his vision even more clouded by the gray smoke of guns than Alexander's was by dust, and his intuitive estimation of how fast troops could move against enemies who had just discharged a volley; Keegan talks about the importance of clear and concise dispatches in 19th century battles and how Grant and Wellington's command of English served them well off the battleground; we read transcripts of a micromanaging Hitler who had far better recall of various weapons' characteristics than his commanders but a notable deficeit in strategic thinking.

I found it interesting that all the commanders Keegan chose were political leaders, half unifying military and political commands at once, the other half pursuing political careers after their generalships were over. He doesn't explicity say why this is so, but a concluding chapter on "post-heroic" leadership over nuclear forces implicitly argues for a new style of command by our current military-political leaders.

Whether you want a biography of any or all of the commanders studied in this book, a history of how warfare and the process of command changed through millennia, or a look at how a war leader must manipulate his followers with the right mix -- for his society and time -- of love, alienation, fear, and respect, this book is worth reading. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Dec 9, 2011 |
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(Introduction): This book is about generals, who they are, what they do, and who what they do affects the world in which men and women live.
Imagine a Highland Napoleon.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140114068, Paperback)

John Keegan’s brilliant look at the meaning of leadership

In The Mask of Command, John Keegan asks us to consider questions that are seldom asked: What is the definition of leadership? 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 Hitler. All powerful leaders, each cast in a different mold, each with diverse results.

“The best military historian of our generation.” –Tom Clancy
 
“A brilliant treatise on the essence of military leadership.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“Fascinating and enlightening… marked by great intellectual liveliness… Mr. Keegan knows how to bring fighting alive on the page.” –The New York Times






(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Noted military historian observes the command characteristics of Alexander, Wellington, Grant, and Hitler within the context of heroism.

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