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on 3 January 1999
Seldom have I been as disappointed in a book as Fields of Battle. From the book jacket material I expected a discussion of the effects of geography and economics on the various campaigns in North America. Instead the book is a mishmash of travelogue, personal reminiscences and recountings of selected battles. The connection between the last chapter of the book and what preceded it escapes me entirely.
And there are enough errors in the book to make one doubt its credibility. Mr. Keegan asserts that the capital of Virginia had not yet been moved to Richmond in 1781; my source material from Williamsburg states that the removal of the capital to Richmond had been approved in 1779 and accomplished in 1780. Sloppily, too, Mr. Keegan at one point locates Cape Hatteras in South Carolina.
Still, the book is written to keep the reader's attention. Unfortunately, the lack of a coherent purpose and the errors are fatal problems for this effort.
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on 12 June 1998
This was the first of Keegan's books I read, and I came to it with high expectations due to his reputation. At first I found his story-telling style very engaging and I enjoyed some of his insights (e.g. concerning the Battle of Quebec in 1759). But then the amazing succession of factual and typographical errors became truly shocking. The latter are not of great significance, they are simply irritating; the former are inexcusable from an author who lectures at the most prestigious military academies in this country and abroad. Two examples of the most egregious mistakes support this assertion. At one point Keegan has Thomas Jefferson visiting Bent's Fort, in Colorado, which Keegan notes was built in 1833. As the most amateur historian knows, Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of his Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Even if Keegan is unaware of that, wouldn't he think it unlikely that a 90 year old man would be traveling to Colorado in 1833? Then, in discussing the Civil War battle of Shiloh, Keegan has Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston ordering a retreat the day after he was killed. This is a major goof since, as any Civil War buff knows, it was Johnston's fatal wounding on the first day which gave Grant the chance to save victory from the jaws of defeat. In view of these, and many, many other errors of fact, one has to wonder how this book ever saw the light of day.
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on 11 July 1996
This is an excellent book with all of strengths of Keegan's
earlier works, but more personal in nature. It is not a
military history of North America per se (despite the
subtitle), but a review of four important military episodes--
the french and indian wars and american revolution in the
18th century, the American civil war and Little Big Horn
in the 19th--that demonstrates the importance of North
American geography in North American warfare (particularly
river networks). The historical passages are sandwiched
between a highly personal account of Keegan's various trips
to America and his feelings about American culture (strongly
influenced by his experiences as a boy in England during
the Second World War) and his interpretation of American
character (which is also seen to be a function of our vast
geography). Very clearly written--the descriptions of Wolfe
at Quebec and Custer at Little Big Horn alone are worth the
price of the book. Small criticisms: Keegan drops names a
bit much (cf. his meetings with William Casey and Bill Clinton)
and some of his generalizatons about America (we all seem to
be modest, polite, and heroic by nature) ignore the darker
elements in our society (witness Oklahoma City and the
recent spate of Church burnings, which would hardly fit into
the gestalt of this book).
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on 8 January 1999
Aside from the god-awful typos and factual errors that have already been mentioned, Keegan meanders here and has nothing really to say but sentimental musings of his travels through America, usually leading to summaries of military events. As one critic also mentioned, Keegan ignores the dark side of American history and the great American tragedy of African slavery and all its repercussions. He also ignores the fact the general price of civil violence that Americans have paid for their mostly libertarian attitudes (not all parts of the country to be sure). Thus, his observations about America and his rather embarrasingly, almost sycophantic flattery of Americans are quite shallow. But Keegan, as usual, is an outstanding master of English prose--a damn great writer, and this (almost) always makes something salvageable from his botched works such as this one. As an outsiders observations of American culture and as a travel log of America, it is fascinating reading. It should be in the travel literature/battlefied tours section, not history per se, and especially not military history. Keegan is getting sentimental (and sloppy) in his twilight years.
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on 25 August 1997
This book wins in two dubious categories. It has more factual errors than any book I can recall and more typos than seem possible. This book could not possibly have ever met an editor. Did the Times reviewer actually read it? Could Keegan have really written it? No. He must have been compelled to sign the manuscript under duress. How else could the name of the world's foremost military historian become associated with this mess? The battle of Barrington? Come now.
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on 29 January 1997
While a very well written book full of interesting tales of the authors visits to America and insights into many of the major battles, for someone looking for details of America's battles this fell far short of the mark. I was sadly disappointed when compared to his other works. If you are looking for a historical travelogue buy it.
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on 6 July 1998
Many readers of Keegan will be put off by this personal narrative style. The publishers wronged Keegan by retitling the American publication. The importance of this book lay in Keegan's observations of the Amercian military culture. Readers looking for strict history should read Keegan's other books.
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on 25 April 1997
I have read all of Keegan's major works. I really don't understand what he's trying to say in this one, however. He just "loves America," and talks about how close Civil War battlefields are to the I-95. Keegan's getting sentimental. And a bit, well, goofy.
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on 6 May 1998
Not his normal style but fun to read. His description of an evening on the Gulf Coast, filled with stiff drinks, girls with muscular thighs, cookouts, and relaxed sunsets, was delightful. Who cares about the battlefield, I want a tour of that house...
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on 27 August 1997
Having read many books on the Civil War, Keegan's British viewpoint was fresh. The way he incorporates his modern day tours of the battlefields has highlighted areas and perspectives to view on my upcoming Civil War battlefield trip.
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