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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (born 15 May, 1934) is a Britishmarker military historian, lecturer and journalist. He has published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

Private life

Keegan was born in Claphammarker, the son of an Irish Catholic family. His father served in the First World War.

At the age of 13 Keegan contracted orthopedic tuberculosis, which has subsequently affected his gait. This illness interrupted his education during his teenage years; however, his education included a period at King's College, Tauntonmarker and two years at Wimbledon Collegemarker leading to entry to Balliol College, Oxfordmarker, in 1953. Following graduation he worked at the American Embassy in Londonmarker for three years.

In 1960 he was appointed to a lectureship in Military History at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurstmarker, the training establishment for officers of the British Army. Holding the post for 26 years, he became senior lecturer in military history during his tenure. During this period he also held a visiting professorship at Princeton Universitymarker and was Delmas Distinguished Professor of History at Vassar Collegemarker, a visiting professorship.

Leaving the academy in 1986 Keegan joined the Daily Telegraph as a Defence Correspondent and remains with the publication as Defence Editor, also writing for the American conservative website, National Review Online.

In 1998 he wrote and presented the BBC's Reith Lectures, entitled War in our World.

Keegan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Gulf War honours list and later, in the Millennium Dome honours list, he was knighted.

The long-term effects of his tuberculosis rendered him unfit for military service and the timing of his birth made him too young for service in World War II, as mentioned in his works as an ironic observation on his profession and interest.

Published work

Keegan's books include a traditional battle-by-battle coverage of conflict, experience of the individual, historical causes of military events, technological change in warfare, military strategy, and challenges of leadership. He writes mainly for the educated non-specialist reader. Those who wish to sample his straightforward histories of war should read his histories of the Second World War and, more recently, of the First World War.

His work examines warfare throughout history, including human prehistory and the classical era; however the majority of his work concentrates on the 14th Century onwards to modern conflict of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

In A History of Warfare, Keegan outlines the development and limitations of warfare from prehistory to the modern era. It looks at various topics, including the use of horses, logistics, and "fire". One key concept put forward is that war is inherently cultural. In the introduction, he rigorously denounces the idiom "war is a continuation of policy by other means", rejecting on its face "Clausewitzian" ideas.

He has also contributed to work on historiography in modern conflict. With Richard Holmes he wrote the BBC documentary Soldiers, a history of men in battle.

Frank C. Mahncke wrote that Keegan is seen as being "among the most prominent and widely read military historians of the late twentieth century". In a book-cover blurb extracted from a more complex article, Michael Howard wrote, "at once the most readable and the most original of living historians".

His book, Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America, which gives accounts of many of the wars fought on the soil of North America, also contains opening and closing essays on his own personal relationship to America. He has continued his interest in American military history with the publication of his book The American Civil War (2009, Hutchinson).

Iraq War

An article in the Christian Science Monitor calls Keegan a "staunch supporter" of the Iraq War. The article quotes Keegan: "Uncomfortable as the 'spectacle of raw military force' is, he concludes, that the Iraq war represents 'a better guide to what needs to be done to secure the safety of our world than any amount of law-making or treaty-writing can offer.' " He frequently justifies the war by making comparisons between it and other, more popular wars, such as both World Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.


Keegan has also been criticised by peers, including Sir Michael Howard and Christopher Bassford for his critical position on Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer and writer on military philosophy. Keegan is described as "profoundly mistaken" and Bassford states that "Nothing anywhere in Keegan's work—-despite his many diatribes about Clausewitz and 'the Clausewitzians'—-reflects any reading whatsoever of Clausewitz's own writings." The political scientist Richard Betts has also criticized Keegan's understanding of the political dimensions of war, writing that Keegan is "a naïf about politics."


  • Barbarossa: Invasion of Russia, 1941 (New York, 1971) ISBN 0-345-02111-8
  • Opening Moves - August 1914 (New York: Ballantine, 1971) ISBN 0-345-09798-X
  • The Face of Battle (London, 1976) ISBN 0-670-30432-8
  • Six Armies in Normandy (1982) ISBN 0-14-005293-3
  • Zones Of Conflict: An Atlas Of Future Wars with Andrew Wheatcroft (New York, 1986) ISBN 0-671-60115-6
  • The Mask of Command (London, 1987) ISBN 0-7126-6526-9
  • The Price of Admiralty (1988) ISBN 0-09-173771-0
  • Who Was Who In World War II (1978) ISBN 0-85368-182-1
  • The Illustrated Face of Battle (New York and London: Viking, 1988) ISBN 0-670-82703-7
  • The Second World War (Viking Press, 1990) ISBN 0-670-82359-7
  • A History of Warfare (London, 1993) ISBN 0-679-73082-6
  • The Battle for History: Refighting World War Two (Vintage Canada, 1995) ISBN 0-679-76743-6
  • Warpaths (Pimlico, 1996) ISBN 1-8441-3750-3
  • Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America (1997) ISBN 0-679-74664-1
  • War and Our World: The Reith Lectures 1998 (London: Pimlico, 1999) ISBN 0-375-70520-1
  • The Book of War (ed.) (Viking Press, 1999) ISBN 0-670-88804-4
  • The First World War (London: Hutchinson, 1998) ISBN 0-09-1801788; (New York: Knopf, 1999) ISBN 0-375-40052-4
  • Winston Churchill (2002) ISBN 0-670-03079-1
  • Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda (2003) ISBN 0-375-40053-2
  • The Iraq War (2004) ISBN 0-09-180018-8
  • Atlas of World War II edited by John Keegan (London: Collins, 2006) ISBN 0-00-721465-0 (an update of the 1989 Times Atlas)
  • The American Civil War (London, Hutchinson, 2009) ISBN 0-978-0-09-179483-5


  1. Back cover of The First World War. Keegan, John, ISBN 0-375-40052-4
  3. Interview (transcripted May 1994)
  4. Naval War College - Frank C. Mahncke, Naval War College
  5. The New York Times Book Review - Sir Michael Howard
  6. America's bewildering battle in Iraq follows new rules
  7. Michael Howard, "To the Ruthless Belong the Spoils," The New York Times Book Review, 14 November 1993.
  8. War in History, November 1994, pp.319-336, Christopher Bassford available at "

  • Snowman, Daniel "John Keegan" page 28–30 from History Today, Volume 50, Issue # 5, May 2000.

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