RIP Sir John Keegan
August 5, 2012
The field of military history lost a giant this past week with the passing of Sir John Keegan. I had many of his books and read each of them many times over. The link is his Telegraph obituary, and the details can be found there. I’ll just use this space to give some very brief recollections of his work.
The Face of Battle put him on the map as an author. It was an imminently readable book comparing and contrasting three battles that happened over the course of 500 years. It’s all the more interesting a read because of his frank admission of his limitations. A History of Warfare, while not quite as readable, was a very well-thought and ambitious attempt to move beyond Clausewitz’s famous dictum that war is merely the continuation of politics by other means.
Overall, I find The Price of Admiralty my favorite work. I consider myself a (strictly amateur) naval history buff, and I believe this was the book from which I caught that particular bug. The book itself is reasonably short at 300-someodd pages, but the crispness of his writing allowed him to pack it with huge amounts of knowledge about the weapons, personalities, strategic situations, and of course, the actual battles. Yet it is still a very understandable and readable book. The chapter on the Trafalgar is first rate, and I have yet to read anything on the Battle of Jutland that adds much more to what I first absorbed here.
He was a great scholar and an excellent writer. He will be missed.