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The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle Hardcover – May 22, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Intense [and] grippingly specific...honors the fallen by making their experiences fiercely, viscerally understandable. Though it hardly qualifies as escapist reading, its fascination with historical detail and celebration of raw courage make it hard to resist."--Janet Maslin, The New York Times 

"Plainly ranks among the most important works of military history I've encountered over the last quarter century--a comprehensive, readable, humane, moving, and enlightening achievement of analysis and scholarship.  This brilliant book will endure."--Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato

"A great achievement of research, perception, and fine writing.  Few other books have managed to convey the true experience of war with such power and clarity."--Antony Beevor, author of D-Day and Stalingrad

"Stephenson brings 'the face of battle' even closer to us than John Keegan did over thirty years ago."--Hew Strachan, author of The First World War and Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University

"Death in battle is war's defining experience.  Stephenson brilliantly presents it from a challenging perspective: not what is it like to kill, but what is it like to die...Comprehensive, perceptive, and evocative, this is a must-read for any student of conflict."--Dennis Showalter, author of Tannenberg and former president of the Society for Military History

About the Author

MICHAEL STEPHENSON is the author of, most recently, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought. In addition to his writing, Stephenson spent more than twenty-five years as a professional book editor, for much of that time with a particular focus on military publishing. For six years he was the editor of the Military Book Club. He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1St Edition edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307395849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307395849
  • ASIN: 0307395847
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #802,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book helps us know what they live with.
Kate A. Pitrone
I recommend this book to military history buffs who may desire a different perspective from the usual.
M. Dynarski
Savage hatred and the height of brotherly love.
Book Junkie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kate A. Pitrone on July 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Stephenson tells great stories and tells them well. What fascinates is what men, people, do to one another in order to produce death by war. If you've read historical fiction about various battles, you know something of what's here. This description of battles, one after the other, makes for a compelling read. I would say I couldn't put it down, except sometimes I had to put it down. I couldn't stand to read one more story of the awfulness of enduring warfare, whether modern or ancient. This book can be horrible.

Other reviews mention the lengthy quotes, which are well-chosen and often beautiful. They offer us the necessary sense of verisimilitude; usually Stephenson's choice of quote brings us right onto the field or else into the barracks after the fearsome fight for a bit of reflection on what happened.

Often the book's discussion is about the glory of the battle, or if there is any glory in battle. Of course, there is glory described, wonderful heroics by honorable men. That glory is what is salvaged from death, which never really has any dignity. Maybe there, in battle, despite the horrific facts of what causes the particular death, we honor the heroism of a man who is willing to give his last full measure for a cause or country, an ideal like patriotism, or for brotherhood as exemplified by the guy next to him in battle, for something beyond himself. Of course, the heroic man might die on the same battlefield as the man who was pressed or drafted and was shot while trying desperately not be. Reading Stephenson's book, we pity both, we pity all of them.

I find it a wonderful book, with compassion and humor. The book would be far too painful without both of those. For people like me, an old woman who will never see battle, this book is instructive.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Donald Knies on June 30, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I am a big fan of World War One literature and film and will read or at least check out any new title on that war. I came across Stephenson's great book quite by accident in a review from a source I don't even remember. He tells the story up close and personal, not only of World War One, but of the world's longer story of armed combat. And he tells it from the point of view of the combatant. Tracing the first human killing by hurling spears 40,000 years ago, to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he pursues the theme of killing at a distance, as it displaced the more honorable form of face to face combat. From the primitive atlatl, devised to hurl spears, to the IEDs in the Middle Eastern wars, Stephenson blends historical perspective from secondary sources with first hand accounts from the actual diaries and memoirs of combatants. His history ranks up there with the best books by John Keegan and Paul Fussell. If you have ever wondered how a cannonball could entirely miss the head of a soldier in a battle in 1812, and yet kill him instantly, you will find your answer. This book is graphic, blunt, authentic. Riveting reading, for sure.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Tremble the Devil on June 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Don't pick this book up if you're in the mood for a light breezy read, Michael Stephenson has crafted the most thorough and comprehensive treatment of human warfare out there. It turns thick with primary source citations and lyrical turns of phrase which capture war's brutality in all its majesty and detail. "The Last Full Measure" is the richest and most compelling history of warfare ever written.

Starting back with the most primitive forms of organized violence, tribal groups slinging arrows and spears at each other and advancing all the way up to the present insurgencies in the Middle East, Stephenson covers the soldier's experience from every imaginable angle. Camaraderie, fear, valor, honor, propaganda, and every other imaginable facet involved in organized human carnage are picked apart both by using a historian's outside analysis and the words and memories of the men who went through it all.

Not only is the book an incredibly well-crafted work of literature, but the long quotes which are used throughout are incredibly well-written themselves. It seems like almost one-fifth of the book is actually the citation of a long-dead warrior's words, but each and every one reads like the lines of a modern thriller.

If you have any interest at all in the history of war, get this book and a very comfortable seat - you won't be getting up for several gripping hours. And for the history of terrorism, war's little brother, check out Tremble the Devil: "the story of terrorism as Jesus Christ, James Bond, and Osama bin Ladin would tell it."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Hawash on July 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an undergraduate, my favorite textbook was The Face of Battle by John Keegan (a must read for every professional and amateur military historian). Keegan revolutionized the study of military history by writing about major battles from the foot soldiers point of view - a given today, but not so in 1976. Until Keegan, military history tended to focus on the deliberations of generals and movements of armies. Keegan described what battle must have been like for the grunt in the frontline.

Stephenson's book is almost like an unofficial sequel to the Face of Battle. Stephenson argues that all military systems ultimately come down to how to kill the other side. Stephenson then goes through the great gambit of military history, from the Stone Age to the present day, on how men have managed to kill each other over time. What comes out is a magnificent overview of not only the fighting man, but the culture which educated (in some cases brainwashed) him, equipped him, and sent him out to die. Typically, the first part of each chapter is a brief description of what conventional wisdom leads us to believe about each period of warfare. Stephenson then spends the remaining part of the chapter either confirming what we believe to be true or deconstructing the myths.

Stephenson could easily have turned his study into a 4-5 volume set, but he opts for readability rather than technical completeness. The result is a very enjoyable review of military history over the centuries, from the wooden club to the smart bomb.

Highly recommended.
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