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The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle Paperback – June 4, 2013
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"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 most recently the author of 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.
Top customer reviews
Of course any one of the author’s chapters can and have been explored in much greater detail in separate volumes, but this book serves as a fine primer on major milestones and events. Those looking to further explore specific topics can browse the bibliography.
It must be noted that this book does not address naval or air combat — just land warfare. There is also a focus on statistics that I found interesting. All in all it was an enjoyable read.
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.
This is a very readable, scholarly overview of how soldiers have died in battle, from ancient times to modern. It shows both the ghastliness of battle as well as the many odd and bizarre ways soldiers have died throughout the ages. It forever shatters the Hollywood image of war as relatively clean and constantly heroic.
Individual soldiers are indeed heroic; however most battles are about as nasty as nasty can get. When politicians calculate sending men and women into harm's way, they need to consider the costs they are asking their military men and women undertake.
I recommend this book in trilogy with E.B. Sledge's book "With the Old Breed: From Peleliu to Okinawa" and Karl Marlentes' book "What It's Like to Go To War." If I had the authority I would make all three of these books required reading in every high school. By the way, Marlentes' book is the best one I've encountered to date on combat-induced PTSD.
From the perspective of this book, the current trend toward drones looks like the progression of modern warfare. Drones don't face mortal risks yet inflict damage. Morally this might be objectionable, but if history is a guide, it was where war was going and Stephenson makes it clear.
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For the record: I do not read war novels. I am a former Marine ('68-'70).Read more