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The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 Paperback – January 1, 1994
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About the Author
One of Britain’s greatest historians, Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, is the author of several famous books on French history as well as a two-volume life of Harold Macmillan.
No other campaign, save for that of the Somme, epitomizes the "meat grinder" character of the Western Front in WWI than Verdun. Some 1,250,000 casualties were incurred by the French and Germans in about ten months for a piece of land "little larger than the combined Royal Parks of London." Although almost forty years old, this account is probably the best in English and is meticulously researched and exquisitely written. This audio production displays what is so wonderful about audiobooks, as well as what some may find frustrating about them. Bill Kelsey's reading is laudable. His deep, resonant voice is easy to understand and has a tone of authority to it. Each chapter begins with an epigraph or two, many of which are in French or German. These he ably reads and, as in the print edition, they're not translated. Unfortunately, and here's what may be frustrating, the many maps, photos, and illustrations of the print edition are not reproduced. Also, the excellent bibliography and references are not included. Their inclusion would have added to a magnificent reading. M.T.F. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
First published in 1962, readers will notice that Horne's emphasis is balanced between all ranks and spends a lot of time at corps-level (and higher), in contrast with the more common modern emphasis on the front-line troops (e.g. Tim Cook's excellent "Storm Troops"). That's not to say that we don't get a flavour for life in the trenches, with the rats, lice, body parts, and mud, but we also get a good idea of the interpersonal conflicts at the highest levels. Horne actually has a lot of nice things to say about some of the commanders - especially Pétain (in spite of his attitude towards Horne's own countrymen) and the Crown Prince Wilhelm; even Haig is defended as being merely unimaginative (rather than delusional). On the other hand, he eviscerates Falkenhayn, the Kaiser, and Nivelle; he is not much kinder to Joffre. Certainly disciples of the thesis that WWI was primarily a slaughter of innocent peasants sent to their dooms by uncaring senior officers will find a lot of validation here.
Horne himself, however, does not subscribe to this thesis. He does not consider the senior leaders to be thoughtless per se; rather, they were too attached to their own theses on proper use of artillery, defense at the front end of the line, etc. to be able to understand the nature of modern warfare. The condescending and gentrified European officer training simply could not absorb the reality of the changing nature of warfare, much as the French cavalry could not understand the English longbows of the 100 Years War. There was ample evidence of how WWI would play out - as evidenced in the American Civil War, the Crimean War, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 - so there's really no excuse except slow-witted leaders and, perniciously, nationalism (i.e. belief that your ethnicity will prevail because it is culturally and genetically superior to all other ethnicities, even those as closely related as German and French).
But ultimately, the reason to buy this book, rather than one of the hundreds of others on the Battle of Verdun, is simply because it is so well written. There is no doubt that this is extremely accessible and entertaining (if the latter description is appropriate given the subject matter). It does not suffer in the least that it was first published 50+ years ago, it is as relevant today as ever.
But let one of the soldiers who was there tell the tale. "Humanity is mad! It must be to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! . . . Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
This is a superb book on this great and terrible event.
Horne writes the book mainly from the French point of view. His final analysis is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. The French and Germans were both deeply affected by the battle, but they drew away from the fight drawing wholly different conclusions. The French, who defended at Verdun, invested in fixed fortifications-the Maginot Line. The German attackers invested in tanks. These differing ideas played a major role in shaping the results of the next French-German War.
This book is so interesting that it is difficult to put down. It is a telling tale of a terrible tragedy.