The Book of War

John Keegan, Author Viking Books $34.95 (608p) ISBN 978-0-670-88804-7
Keegan (the bestselling The First World War) stands out among contemporary writers of military history for the literary sensibility he brings to the subject. In his introduction to this anthology, he writes that he organized his selections around contrasting military traditions: a ""Western"" way of war based on a code of behavior that includes mercy to the vanquished, and a more tribal approach observing few inhibitions. Thankfully, Keegan's literary sense overrides this artificial framework. He offers nearly 100 vignettes from around the world, selected with an artist's eye and a historian's judgment, that combine to show war's multiple faces. The authors are great captains like Julius Caesar and the Duke of Wellington, as well as front-line warriors such as Gulf War veteran Andy McNabb. Elizabeth Custer has her place, as do Davy Crockett and Rudyard Kipling. Some accounts capture the immediacy of war, like William Laurence's narratives on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Some voices are matter-of-fact, like George MacDonald Fraser's account of soldiers' stoic mourning of a comrade. Others, like Ernest Hemingway's 1918 letter from the Italian front, are self-consciously literary. Familiar settings--the trenches of the Great War; Russia in 1812--contrast with Jesuit missionary Paul Ragueneau's account of an Iroquois Indian raid in 17th-century Canada. What the selections share is passion. All the men and women in these pages engage their experiences fully. Once again, Keegan has opened a door onto the human condition, showing that we are defined by war--at least in part. Major ad/promo. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
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