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In aid of an obvious albeit inescapable conclusion, Keegan (Six Armies in Normandy, 1982; The Face of Battle, 1976; etc.) offers a virtuoso appreciation of military leadership down through the ages. For most of history, Keegan argues, warriors who "carry forward others to the risk of their lives" could reveal only as much of themselves as their followers required; all else had to be concealed by a mask of command. To probe this essentially, theatrical mystique, he examines the careers of four celebrated exemplars--Alexander the Great, "a supreme hero" and accomplished actor whose "being and performance merged in his person"; Wellington, whom Keegan characterizes as an anti-hero for his carefully planned, matter-of-fact approach to waging war on behalf of a constitutional monarchy; Ulysses S. Grant, whose self-consciously unheroic generalship the author judges appropriate for a popular democracy; and, by contrast, Hitler, who yearned for transcendent glory but was forced to engage in false heroics because: the destructive power of contemporary weapons barred him from running the risks required to reach the traditional ideal. While Keegan focuses on just four remarkable commanders, he does not limit himself to their exploits and the societies that empowered them. In his interpretive profile of Grant, for example, he considers the implications of the so-called gunpowder revolution (which among other results made obsolete edged-weapon warfare) and the presumptive meritocracy that obtained in Napoleon's armies. In a truncated postscript, Keegan asserts that, in light of nuclear realities, the world can no longer afford dramatic, let alone heroic, leadership. Indeed, he maintains, modern states must seek out post-heroic captains willing and able to abjure victory in their management of military power. A challenging, forceful, and timely analysis of martial governance. The text includes illustrations and maps (not seen).
Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1987
ISBN: 0140114068
Page count: 404pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1987


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