cover image Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America

Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America

John Keegan. Alfred A. Knopf, $30 (16pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42413-0

Readers can always count on Keegan (A History of Warfare) to bring a fresh perspective to the art of military history. Here, in an unusually intimate work that fails to persuade wholly, he emphasizes the influence of geography on the military history of North America. Keegan examines five fortress systems that, he says, have controlled space on our continent within the past 400 years: French Canada, Yorktown during the American Revolution, Confederate Richmond, the forts of the Great Plains and the ""flying fortresses"" of the 20th century. Though he offers many stimulating insights-for example, how the terrain around the Little Bighorn contributed to Custer's defeat-Keegan fails to convince that fortresses, however broadly defined, have shaped warfare on a continent where force-to-space ratios (the number of combatants relative to the area in which they're fighting) have always been extremely low. In an enlivening departure from his usual format, the author personalizes his narrative with reports on his tours of many of the battle sites discussed. Less satisfactory is his extensive commentary about his relationship with the U.S. and its citizens: ""I love America""; ""I like American airports""; ""Uncuriosity is one of the reasons I love America."" Such banalities diminish a work that offers fresh views but that in any case is best approached with caution. Maps and photos not seen by PW. (May)