/ Published November 22, 2011
Men at War: A Soldier’s-Eye View of the Most Important Battles in History edited by Bill Fawcett. Berkley Caliber, 2009, 336 pp.
Men at War is a readable work that will provide the air-warrior with an evening or two of entertaining reading relevant to the military life. As usual, the advertising hype overstates the case, but readers may learn something about the soldier’s life from it. Not really a first-person account, the narrative is filtered through the minds of the professional writers of the several chapters. Many are novelists, all write well, and some are better informed on military history than others. The chapters run from Roman times to Vietnam. The one on the Civil War soldier is the best of the lot. Others include Roman soldiers of antiquity; battling knights of the Third Crusade; a French artilleryman at Waterloo; soldiers who fought at Gettysburg; a rifleman in the last American battle of World War II; the invasion of France; a Marine in Korea; and a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. Sometimes fiction represents the truth better than formal history, but it is hard to tell. In this work, despite the historical soundness of the story, the reader has difficulty distinguishing fiction from fact. Men at War is not as unique as the hype claims.
John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, one of the classics in this category, covers the Battles of Agincourt and the Somme, as well as one also described in Men at War—Waterloo. Possessing top-of-the-line credentials as a military historian, Keegan taught the subject at the British military academy at Sandhurst for many years. His prose is as readable as that in Men at War.
We all wonder about ourselves and how we would react to combat. Further, we can hardly doubt that the vicarious experience of reading cannot substitute for the real thing. But we cannot start wars to explore our behavior in them; thus, aspiring leaders must supplement their experience with professional study. Readers who want entertaining but informative reading during temporary duty should carry along Men at War. If they desire professional enhancement, then The Face of Battle is a better choice.
Dr. David R. Mets
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."