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John Keegan. The Mask of Command.
Alexander, Wellington, Grant, Hitler. London: Jonathan Cape, 1987

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John Keegan, The Mask of Command

John Keegan, renowned military historian, introduces the reader into his field of research by demonstrating different models of command, different levels of necessity, different persons - different styles of command, different masks they wear to uphold and exercise their power. In an at the same time educating and entertaining style, Keegan creates vivid images of the specific historic figures, tells them about their personal background, the historical environment of the specific time frame and the conditions the wars at that time were fought.

Keegan portrays different types of leadership. After an introduction on pre-heroic leadership, he presents us Alexander as an archetype of heroic leadership. The next step would be Wellington, the anti-hero, then Grant as an example for unheroic leadership, and then Hitler as an example of what leadership should not be like. He concludes with an analysis of post-heroic command, describing mechanisms of our present world.

But Keegan doesn't merely describe military actions and conditions, he also portrays the personalities of the leader, his personal flaws or greatnesses - and how they have influenced their style of command. This is a book about military tactics as well as about politics, as well as about morality, even honor and grace. Of all the books I've read in the last years, this counts among the very best and is highly recommendable not just for historians.

November 12th, 1998

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