John Keegan

John Keegan

Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (born 15 May, 1934) is a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He has published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

Keegan is possibly the best-known British military historian of the 20th century. Although (unlike many other military historians) he has never served as a soldier, this is hard to discern from his books, which are as concerned with the experience of the common soldier as with the tactics and strategy of the generals. This is particularly evident in "The (Illustrated) Face of Battle," which discusses in detail the effect of infantry and cavalry on each other, the effects of wounds and illness, and the morale of the troops, in three successive battles—Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme—which occurred in different centuries but in the same region. Like many military-history texts, this book has diagrams with boxes and arrows showing movements of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units; but he discusses the soldiers in depth. He has spent much of his life teaching officers—and listening to them.

Private life

Keegan was born in Clapham, the son of an Irish Catholic family [cite web |url= |title=John Keegan Biography |accessdate=2008-06-05 |publisher= |date= ] . His father served in the First World War.

At the age of 13 Keegan contracted orthopedic tuberculosis, which has subsequently affected his gait. This illness interrupted his education during his teenage years; however, his education included two years at Wimbledon College leading to entry to Balliol College, Oxford in 1953. Following graduation he worked at the American Embassy in London for three years.

In 1960 he was appointed to a lectureship in Military History at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the training establishment for officers of the British Army. Holding the post for 36 years, he became senior lecturer in military history during his tenure. During this period he also held a visiting professorship at Princeton University and was Delmas Distinguished Professor of History at Vassar College, a visiting professorship. [Back cover of "The First World War." Keegan, John, ISBN 0-375-40052-4]

Leaving the academy in 1997 Keegan joined the "Daily Telegraph" as a Defence Correspondent and remains with the publication as Defence Editor, also writing for the American conservative website, "National Review Online".

In 1998 he wrote and presented the BBC's Reith Lectures, entitled "War in our World."

Keegan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Gulf War honours list and later, in the Millennium Dome honours list, he was knighted.

The long-term effects of his tuberculosis rendered him unfit for military service and the timing of his birth made him too young for World War II, as mentioned in his works as an ironic observation on his profession and interest. [ [ Interview] (transcripted May 1994)]

Published work

Keegan's books include a traditional battle-by-battle coverage of conflict, experience of the individual, historical causes of military events, technological change in warfare, military strategy and challenges of leadership. He writes mainly for the educated non-specialist reader. Those who wish to sample his straightforward histories of war should read his histories of the Second World War and of, more recently, the First World War.

His work examines warfare throughout history, including human prehistory and the classical era; however the majority of his work concentrates on the 14th Century onwards to modern conflict of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

In "A History of Warfare", Keegan outlines the development and limitations of warfare from prehistory to the modern era. It looks at various topics, including the use of horses, logistics, and "fire". One key concept put forward is that war is inherently cultural. In the introduction, he rigorously denounces the idiom "war is a continuation of policy by other means", rejecting on its face "Clausewitzian" ideas.

He has also contributed to work on historiography in modern conflict.

Frank C. Mahncke wrote that Keegan is seen as being "among the most prominent and widely read military historians of the late twentieth century". [ [ Naval War College] - Frank C. Mahncke, Naval War College] In a book-cover blurb extracted from a more complex article, Michael Howard wrote: "at once the most readable and the most original of living historians". ["The New York Times Book Review" - Sir Michael Howard]

It should be noted that his book, "Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America", which gives rather concise accounts of all the wars fought on the soil of North America, nevertheless contains something highly engaging: opening and closing essays that provide almost Tocquevillean insights into his own personal relationship to America.

Iraq War

An article in the "Christian Science Monitor" calls Keegan a "staunch supporter" of the Iraq War. The article quotes Keegan: "Uncomfortable as the 'spectacle of raw military force' is, he concludes, that the Iraq war represents 'a better guide to what needs to be done to secure the safety of our world than any amount of law-making or treaty-writing can offer.' " [ [ America's bewildering battle in Iraq follows new rules] ] He frequently justifies the war by making comparisons between it and other, more popular wars, such as both World Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.


Keegan has also been criticised by peers, including Sir Michael Howard [Michael Howard, "To the Ruthless Belong the Spoils," The New York Times Book Review, 14 November 1993.] and Christopher Bassford ["War in History," November 1994, pp.319-336, Christopher Bassford available at " [] ] for his critical position on Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer and writer on military philosophy. Keegan is described as "profoundly mistaken" and Bassford states that "Nothing anywhere in Keegan's work—despite his many diatribes about Clausewitz and 'the Clausewitzians'—reflects any reading whatsoever of Clausewitz's own writings".


* "Barbarossa: Invasion of Russia, 1941" (New York, 1971) ISBN 0-345-02111-8
* "The Face of Battle" (London, 1976) ISBN 0-670-30432-8
* "Six Armies in Normandy" (1982) ISBN 0-14-005293-3
* "The Mask of Command" (London, 1987) ISBN 0-7126-6526-9
* "The Price of Admiralty" (1988) ISBN 0-09-173771-0
* "Who Was Who In World War II" (1978) ISBN 0-85368-182-1
* "The Illustrated Face of Battle" (New York and London: Viking, 1988) ISBN 0-670-82703-7
* "The Second World War" (Viking Press, 1990) ISBN 0-670-82359-7
* "A History of Warfare" (London, 1993) ISBN 0-679-73082-6
* "Warpaths" (Pimlico, 1996) ISBN 1-8441-3750-3
* "The Battle for History: Refighting World War Two" (Vintage), 1996) ISBN 0-679-76743-6
* "Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America" (1997) ISBN 0-679-74664-1
* "War and Our World: The Reith Lectures 1998" (London: Pimlico, 1999) ISBN 0-375-70520-1
* "The Book of War" (ed.) (Viking Press, 1999) ISBN 0-670-88804-4
* "The First World War" (New York: Knopf, 1999) ISBN 0-375-40052-4
* "Winston Churchill" (2002) ISBN 0-670-03079-1
* "Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda" (2003) ISBN 0-375-40053-2
* "The Iraq War" (2004) ISBN 0-09-180018-8
* "Atlas of World War II" edited by John Keegan (London: Collins, 2006) ISBN 0-00-721465-0 (an update of the 1989 Times Atlas)


*Snowman, Daniel "John Keegan" page 28–30 from "History Today", Volume 50, Issue # 5, May 2000.

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