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The Eye of Command

Kimberly Kagan
An important new work that will change the way we think about and understand battles


Published in 1976, Sir John Keegan's The Face of Battle was a groundbreaking work in military history studies, providing narrative techniques that served as a model for countless subsequent scholarly and popular military histories. Keegan's approach to understanding battles stressed the importance of small unit actions and personal heroism, an approach widely employed in the narratives produced by reporters embedded with American combat troops in Iraq.

Challenging Keegan's seminal work, The Eye of Command offers a new approach to studying and narrating battles, based upon an analysis of the works of the Roman military authors Julius Caesar and Ammianus Marcellinus. Kimberly Kagan argues that historians cannot explain a battle's outcome solely on the basis of soldiers' accounts of small-unit actions. A commander's view, exemplified in Caesar's narratives, helps explain the significance of a battle's major events, how they relate to one another and how they lead to a battle's outcome. The "eye of command" approach also answers fundamental questions about the way commanders perceive battles as they fight them—questions modern military historians have largely ignored.

Kimberly Kagan was an Assistant Professor of History at the United States Military Academy between 2000 and 2005. Since then, she has served as a lecturer in International Affairs, History, and the Humanities at Yale University and as an adjunct professor at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and at American University's Department of History. She received her Ph.D. in Ancient History from Yale University.

Praise / Awards

  • "In a work well written, concisely presented, and convincingly argued, Kagan uses examples from Caesar's Gallic Wars to challenge John Keegan's focus on lower-echelon experiences of battle in favor of "The eye of command:" a narrative technique emphasizing decisions and events that shape a battle's outcome."
    —Dennis Showalter, Professor of History, Colorado College

  • "The Eye of Command is a remarkable book—smart, thoughtful, clear, vigorous, factual but creative, and grounded in the practical. It is at once scholarly and readable, combining classical scholarship and military theory. Rarely have I come across a book that makes two-thousand-year-old events seem so alive."
    —Barry Strauss, Professor of History, Cornell University

  • "The Eye of Command serves as a useful corrective to the school of military analysis generated by John Keegan's Face of Battle, and in the process makes a significant contribution to the fields of ancient history, military history, and Latin prose."
    —Loren J. Samons II, Professor of Classical Studies, Boston University

  • "Kagan offers analysis bearing not only on logistics but on literature, historiography, classical studies, chaos theory, archaeology, cartography, and even cinema. What she calls the eye of command pertains to point of view and to the broader issues of observation and experience in the worlds of strategy and combat. Working through Ammianus and Caesar, Kagan studies both the unnerving complexity of warfare and the changing motives at work in its many and varied representations. She brings to these texts subtlety of observation that literary scholars admire in Stendhal and logisticians a tenor of judgment that may be the equal of Clausewitz.

    Students of cinema will need to read The Eye of Command to reconsider the great tradition of the war movie from The Big Parade to Blackhawk Down or All Quiet on the Western Front World to Apocalypse Now. Historians of cartography will see how engineering is tied to topography, while practitioners of game-theory will discover in the exciting treatments of her target-texts the fine and often dashed lines that distinguish causality from chaos. The scholarship, sound and true, will promote new and informed treatment both of classical and modern writings of battle."
    —Tom Conley, Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Romance Languages, Harvard University

  • "To know whether a battle is won or lost is not enough. Kagan's deep analysis of theory and practice points to a new way of understanding complex army-commander and small-unit perspectives that can properly claim the status of history."
    —Gordon Williams, Thacher Professor of Latin Emeritus, Yale University

  • "K.'s successful and persuasive. Anyone who employs Kagan's 'face of battle' approach in their own historical work should certainly read it. In an era of (hopefully) burgeoning academic interdisciplinarity, this book represents something of a wake-up call to those accustomed to read their Xenophon or Caesar in splendid isolation from contemporary historical, sociological or psychological theory. K.'s engaging work asks many questions of military history as a discipline. Military scholars of antiquity would do well to take note."
    —Michael B. Charles, Queensland University of Technology, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

  • "Kagan represents a renewed recognition among young classicists of the intellectual importance of the study of the nature of command . . . Kagan's intellectual vigor, insight, and understanding of military tactics carry her analyses over structural problems created by treating this as a refutation of Keegan's work."
    —C.M.C. Green, Choice

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
  • 5 B&W photographs and 3 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11521-1

Add to Cart
  • $85.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03128-3

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.


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