Manual The Mask of Command: A Study of Generalship

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View 1 comment. Jun 15, Jens rated it liked it. What are his views on the military-political relationship? What were his ambitions? Yet, for me, it falls short of my expectations, since it interprets 'command' more in a strategic sense than the 'leadership' ring it has developed over the last years. Another sign of the time, , is the last chapter of 'nuclear command' that is supposed to be the modern conclusion 3. Another sign of the time, , is the last chapter of 'nuclear command' that is supposed to be the modern conclusion of the comparison, but is now dated.

Jan 06, Quinn Selby rated it it was amazing Shelves: leadership , war.

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Incisive and thought provoking. The simple compare and contrast technique of history's great leaders. Great in the sense that these individuals were historically significant. Well done, Mr. Apr 22, Heather Stein rated it really liked it Recommends it for: anyone interested in military history or biography.

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 In my last year of high school, Mr.

So, when a friend offered to lend me a copy of Mask of Command i couldn't pass it up. Keegan, for all of his being one of the world's foremost military historians, suffers from what i dub "Harold Bloom" syndrome: He rewrites essentially the same books over and over again. That said, this specimen is fantastic. Using the example of four extraordinary generals, Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant and Hitler, he analyzes their differing styles of leadership and command.

Keegan offers a framework for comparison as he goes along arguing that the key question for ANY general, not just these four, is the extent to which they must share the danger with their troops. While each individual chapter provides a well-written, informative and insightful account of the particularities of situation and style of each general, the conclusion ties it all together very nicely.


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I learnt a lot from this book and think it is a great example of non-fiction palatable to both academic and amateur alike. That said, there are a few problems with the book that caused me to groan.

Firstly, it definitely suffers from a euro-centrism that undermines Keegan's authority. Only because this IS Keegan writing am i willing to trust his assertions without the formidable footnotes i would demand of any other writer. I have lost the quotations to back up this criticism, but i remember it was particularly prominent in the section about Wellington's background in India.

Lastly, the conclusion is divided into sections, each addressing different "imperatives" of command and providing a brief synopsis of how context, character and technology played out the success or failure of each general: Kinship, Prescription, Sanction, Action and Example. This conception of human history as teleological, i frankly can't agree with see Eurocentrism criticism above.

Furthermore, the argument borders on the ridiculous when the culminating section is a "validation of nuclear authority. However, today, we are not nearly as occupied by nuclear warfare as by biological warfare and acts of terrorism committed by groups of individuals rather than armies. Mask of Command provides a very dated account of contemporary military leadership - but that doesn't in the least take away from its analysis of generalship in the past. It took me over a month to slug through, but it was mostly the Hitler section that i had trouble with - not because it was poorly written but because it is difficult to get excited by a tale of defeat.

Grant was an interesting choice for study - as numerous heated arguments about whether Lee or Grant was the better general have evidenced. I recommend this as a heavier read to just about everyone.

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Feb 26, Reader Variety rated it it was amazing Shelves: history-military , non-fict-pubs , leadership. Had to go with a 5 star review as this study of leadership had an impact on me personally, and on many of the military leaders of my generation. On Alexander's Companion Cavalry: "Men whose worth in their own eyes and those of their equals was determined by disregard for danger and contempt for the future. To do the right thing in the present moment, and to suffer the consequences as they might be. Wellington on duty - "I have eaten the King's salt.

Jun 27, Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it. Originally published on my blog here in March 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 Originally published on my blog here in March The title indicates something of Keegan's attitude to command: he sees it as an art of persuasion related in some way to acting, involving hiding the true nature of the commander. The illustration chosen for the front of this edition fits well with this, though not related to any of the leaders mentioned; it is a photograph of the Sutton Hoo helmet, which hides the man inside it so that you cannot see his features.

The photograph shows the helmet unworn. We do not even know precisely who the helmet was made for.

The Mask of Command : John Keegan : : Blackwell's

Keegan's analysis of each of his case studies hinges on the relationship between developing styles of leadership and the idea of the hero. Each subject reacted in a different way to this compared with the others, Alexander deliberately cultivating it, Wellington deprecating it, Grant ignoring it, and Hitler creating a propaganda version of it.

These reactions, as well as saying something about the personalities of these men, also reflect the changing nature of warfare itself and the most efficient role to be taken by a general. Keegan encapsulates this in the question "How frequently should the general be in the front line? The most interesting analyses are those of Alexander and Hitler; that of Wellington overlaps considerably with the description of Waterloo in The Face of Battle. Grant is perhaps less easily describe, a less extreme personality, and the study of his methods of leadership doesnot really take off.

The final philosophical section, which consists of an analysis of what command actually is, how one man can persuade others to risk their lives, together with an application of this theory to the idea of command in the nuclear age, is fascinating. Keegan is fairly pessimistic, denying even the possibility of command in the age of "Mutually Assured Destruction", when the executive trying to persuade others to fight is of necessity one of the very few with any likelihood of survival.

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Though I disapprove of warfare, I find the reasons behind it and its methods fascinating, and Keegan's writing always seems to provide insights. Aug 12, Sean Chick rated it liked it.


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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.

Understanding Mission Command

Keegan I found the part on Alexander to be good, and Hitler analysis dead on. Keegan instead takes Wellington's word on almost everything, forgetting that he was a deeply arrogant man who gave other limited praise in order to bolster his achievements. This is a stunning example of infatuation ruining history. Also, while it is true that gunpowder forced a general to be more or less behind the lines, frontline leadership was still common enough.

Wellington exhibited it several times, as did Napoleon. Keegan could have investigated this in the form of Ney, who in leading both corps and army formations, tended to lead up front, which at times both hurt and helped him. However, if he had done this, then Keegan would not have been able to bow at the altar of Wellington. Grant offers in a way a better example of lead from the rear, even though Lee, Rosecrans, and Sheridan, among others, understood the need for occasional Napoleonic heroics.

Like Wellington, Keegan does not discuss shortcomings. The only ways Grant seems different from Wellington is in his modesty which Keegan aptly calls false and the democratic society that he came from. Yet, Grant does not seem especially democratic and if anything such societies make the military's job of training and ordering more difficult.

John Keegan

Generals exist in undemocratic worlds, and this contrast is far more fascinating than a few platitudes on how Grant was a product of his society. I agree with the later point, but William S. McFeely already illustrated that in his brilliant biography.

All Keegan seems to offer is a few notes on deference to Congress. The whole passage on Grant seems like a thought unfinished.