Fields of Battle

John Keegan contends the geography of North America affected the course of the continent’s military history in a wholly exceptional manner. The plains, the mountains, and the rivers, he insists, exerted an influence not found anywhere else in the world. It is perhaps not a unique nor original assessment of the nature of American military history, but it does have elements of both in the hands of a master of the craft.

FIELDS OF BATTLE is travelogue, history, biography, autobiography, and philosophy in unequal amounts. Keegan begins with an introduction/explanation concerning the origin of his fascination and appreciation of Americans and their past. Then in successive chapters, he examines the Anglo-French conflict for control of North America, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the struggle to dispossess the native inhabitants of the interior plains and concludes, quite inexplicably, with the air war over Europe during World War II.

The reader should be forewarned that Keegan’s approach is barely chronological and only incidentally linear. This is not an elementary primer for those unacquainted with the subject. Actually, many of Keegan’s judgments will not meet with universal approval by many historians, but professionals of all stripes are wont to challenge one another as a matter of course.

Some readers will be offended by the casual, almost chatty tone of this work, others will find it refreshing. Some may also find themselves wishing Keegan had produced a work of a more traditional nature. Still, the insight and the unexpected observation render FIELDS OF BATTLE yet another of those works which must be examined.