The Face of Battle

Title:                      The Face of Battle

Author:                   John Keegan

Keegan, John. (1983). The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. New York: Viking Press

LCCN:    76010611

D25 .K43 1976


Date Updated:  September 25, 2015

I received The Face of Battle through a book club membership. I didn’t know much about Keegan at that time, and wasn’t thrilled to have the book. Not thrilled, that is, until I actually read it. I became a fan of Keegan’s work. In fact, I used some of his books in my courses on Technology and War.

War may be about great leadership, and Keegan has a book like that, or it may be about feints and flanking maneuvers, and Keegan has handfuls like that, but at some point someone has to pull all the statue-builders and map-gazers off their seats and remind them that war, throughout history, has always come down to an actual living, breathing human being facing a charging sword inches away or a raking machine gun, heard but never seen.

What is going on when a man stands to face a charging horseman or goes over the top from a muddy trench to a likely death? Would a horse, no matter how trained, charge directly into a mass of armed men? Would they flinch? Would the horse turn? Could they really be routed in ways so colorfully portrayed in paintings of war when it seems simply impossible to fit so many horses or men into so small a space, to leap through the mass of other flesh? What did it really mean to be struck a sword’s blow or a by musket’s ball? What became of a man wounded in no man’s land, or taken captive, or one who was a slaughterer of captives? Keegan’s questions range from the deepest questions of humans facing death to the pragmatic problems of daily needs and mud and dirt and flesh. This book is apparently unique among military histories in raising and contemplating them.

Keegan offers an oddly heightened awareness of these questions by noting right at the beginning that he has not, in fact, ever been a soldier. He has been called upon to teach and to mentor them as one of the most esteemed military historians of our era but he has not stood in those boots. But much more so than any foot soldier or general he has studied “battle” enough to understand that the confusion that underlies these encounters can only be distilled from a distant perspective. Although he honors and acknowledges the first-hand accounts of participants, by simply noting the level of confusion, the restrictions and overload on sensory input, and the inevitable role of the survivor’s ego, he reminds us that much more is happening than the personal viewpoint or formalist analysis could describe.

Keegan chooses to look at three battles from history: Agincourt, Waterloo and The Somme. All three are what historians apparently term “set battles” but each called upon its participants to face death, or glory, or simply the esteem of their neighbor, in different ways. While he maintains his focus on the individual soldier, Keegan does a fine job of making each of these three historically momentous battles come to life in full scale.

Written in a style that is relaxed but incisive, The Face of Battle is a fascinating work.

Patriot Games

Title:                      Patriot Games

Author:                  Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1988). Patriot Games. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    87006910

PS3553.L245 P38 1987


Date Updated:  September 25, 2015

Patriot Games, although not the first published, is the first chronologically of Tom Clancy’s series of Jack Ryan novels. It explodes from the beginning pages. The story begins with Ryan and his wife and daughter in London on a working vacation. Ryan happens upon an IRA terrorist attempt on the car driving the Prince of Wales and his wife. Ryan thwarts the attempt, suffering grave injury, and recovers to testify in the trial of one of the terrorists.

One of the would-be killers wants revenge for his brother’s death in the failed attempt. Jack and his family are the targets. It’s a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, and this time the bad guys just might win but the terrorist escapes while being transported to prison. Feeling secure Ryan and family fall back into normalcy believing they are safe. However the terrorist hunt Jack and his family down. Jack joins the CIA in an attempt to find and eliminate those who did him and his family harm.

The remainder of the story follows the escaped terrorist’s plot for revenge on Ryan, ending with a full scale assault on Ryan’s home by terrorists while Ryan is entertaining the Prince of Wales and his wife. All of Ryan’s family are targeted by the terrorists and injured to varying degrees prior to the finale. Patriot Games is one of the better books by Tom Clancy, and that is saying something to most readers.


The Killing Ground

Title:                  The Killing Ground

Author:                 Jack Higgins

Higgins, Jack (2008). The Killing Ground. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

LCCN:    2007033701

PR6058.I343 K55 2008


Date Updated:  June 17, 2015

Harry Patterson, better known by his pen name, Jack Higgins published The Killing Ground , novel, in the Sean Dillon series. The book has all the usual ingredients of a Jack Higgins novel – action, suspense, thrill and adventure. Featuring the intelligence operative Sean Dillon, The Killing Ground revolves around a routine and ordinary passport check that leads to some extraordinary circumstances.

Sean Dillon is an intelligence operative who is conducting a routine passport check at the Heathrow airport. However, the man he has stopped for the check is not ordinary. He is Caspar Rashid, a person born and brought up in England. He is a member of the Bedouin tribe, whose members have still not grown accustomed to the ways of the modern world and are still fiercely clutching on to their traditional ways. Rashid’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Sara, has been kidnapped and the culprit is none other than his own father. The old man has abducted the girl to marry her off in Iraq, to a man known as “Hammer of God”, who also happens to be among the most dangerous terrorists of the Middle East.

Rashid asks Dillon for help and this is where the thrill comes into the novel. As an operative, Dillon has had many clashes with Bedouin tribe and he sees this as an opportunity to get even. As the events unfold, Dillon is drawn into a web of deceit, mayhem and murder.