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The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 Paperback – October 26, 2010
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Max Hastings, New York Review of Books
Mark Thompson, a young British writer, can claim a notable achievement with his narrative history of Italy?s World War I experience. With authority, sympathy, and unusual literary skill, he illuminates an aspect of the conflict about which some of us feel embarrassed to have known so little. The battlefield saga is sufficiently fascinating, but eclipsed by the portrait of Italy?s social and cultural experience within which the author sets it.... Thompson?s book gives a fascinating, indeed brilliant, portrait of a society immolated by its own delusions.<
The Economist (Best Books of the Year)
A startling indictment of the Italian state?s conduct during the first world war, which shows how Italy?s nationalist dream of expansion would turn into the Fascist nightmare.
John McCourt, Irish Times
Brilliant.... In presenting this conflict with such uncompromising focus and detail, Thompson has successfully accomplished a necessarily uncomfortable act of remembrance.... It should be hailed as the best account yet of what Hemingway described as `the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery? of the Great War and of the experiences of the vast majority of Italian soldiers who, in Giovanni Comisso?s words, had little or no knowledge of `what they had done, or why.?
[A] study as pioneering as it is brilliant.... Drawing on an impressive array of British, Italian, and Austrian sources, including fascinating interviews with survivors, Thompson re-creates the Italo-Austrian conflict in all its facets.... The White War is the work of a bright young historian proving his mettle.
Dallas Morning News
Thompson?s book is a comprehensive work following the causes, culture and combat of Italy?s war against Austria-Hungary and Germany.... It?s worthwhile reading and remembering, particularly when trying to comprehend what price victory.
Robert Fox, Evening Standard
Brilliant.... It is the first general history of the serial incompetence and brutality of the war in north-eastern Italy between 1915 and 1918, which makes it exceptional enough. In its elegant sweep of cultural and political as well as martial themes, it stands alone: it is one of the outstanding history books of the year.
Christopher Duggan, Times Literary Supplement
Mark Thompson?s wonderfully rich and poignant study, beautifully written and based on a detailed first-hand knowledge of the terrain in question as well as an impressive array of published Italian sources shows graphically why the events of 1915-18 had such a searing effect on the country?s national psyche.
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A comment previously made by a reviewer concerning a relatively paucity of maps to accompany the book is also astute. The few maps that are provided in 'The White War' are somewhat difficult to sort through and there is a complete lack of any larger reference map of the region, save the generalised map that constitutes the beginning & end cover papers. More attention paid to the geographic & topographic aspects of this campaign would have, in my opinion, contributed immeasurably to the book's impact and the text's immediate relevance. A representation of the final effects of border establishment upon conclusion of the armistice would have been extremely welcome to put the whole 'Italian Campaign's' tragedy into proper perspective (and also help dramatise the incredible loss of life suffered by both sides in this regionalised part of the greater wartime conflict, as it is generally recognised that the casualties limited to this theatre alone FAR outstripped even those on the Western Front!)
A further flaw, the few photographic images provided in a book covering a subject of this magnitude are only barely adequate, given that there are so many more available in the various respective national & military archives that photo-document this part of the war.
Overall, the book is not a 'quick' nor a smooth read, given the complexity of the political processes Thompson devotes so much attention to, and for war historians accustomed to more in-depth and voluminous accounts of the battlefield actions themselves, this book...although very beneficial and well-researched...may be something of a disappointment. It does, however, cover one of the most little-reported and scantily under-documented parts of the World War One.
Additionally and perhaps unintentionally, it highlights the qualities found in Italy's political matrix and armed forces of that era which make the Italians appear so inept at warfare. Given the far more complex inter-regional, racial & political dynamics that threatened always to tear the Habsburg Empire asunder in the early 1900s, it is a sad testimony to the fact that modern Italy has become a nation of hedonistic, temperate harmony and creature comforts, rather than a truly worthy descendant of ancient Rome's imperial military glory.
One final area that is a bit deficit in Thompson's book is linking background on the foundation of the later fascistic adventures Italy experienced under the aegis of Benito Mussolini, insofar as the events of the First World War enabled them. In fact, were that included, there is enough raw material to extend the book by another 200 pages at least. Finally, and also echoing an earlier comment by another reviewer, the end of the book is rather a jumble that is terminated in a hasty and semi-truncated manner. After all the prior, extensive documentation, it seems almost as if Thompson, a bit exhausted by his efforts, peremptorily decided that 'enough is enough' and brought it all to a close with a simple 'And they all lived unhappily ever after...'.
All that said, this book indeed belongs on the reference shelf of any military historian worthy of his substance, where hopefully it shall be in future joined by a few other fascinating examinations of this regrettably overlooked & under-valued campaign of that terrible war.