The Western Front dominates our memories of the First World War. Yet a million and half men died in northeast Italy in a war that need never have happened, when Italy declared war on the Habsburg Empire in May 1915. Led by General Luigi Cadorna, the most ruthless of all the Great War commanders, waves of Italian conscripts were sent charging up the limestone hills north of Trieste to be massacred by troops fighting to save their homelands.
This is a great, tragic military history of a war that gave birth to fascism. Mussolini fought in those trenches, but so did many of the greatest modernist writers in Italian, German, and English: Ungaretti, Gadda, Musil, Hemingway. It is through these accounts that Mark Thompson, with great skill and empathy, brings to life this forgotten conflict.
©2009 Mark Thompson; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"[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." (The Weekly Standard)
"Thompson's book is beautifully written, and he skillfully interweaves vivid accounts of military progress with telling vignettes about the more extraordinary figures caught up in the fighting." (Independent)
To a limited number of history buffs "The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919" will have meaning. In my case, my grandfather was a participant in this interminable carnage. As you drive through any village down the length of Italy you will invariably see a monument in the central piazza to "I nostri caduti" "Our dead" from the first world war. And I mean EVERY hamlet no matter how small, some with just three or four names etched on a weathered monument.
Listening to this account of the unbelievable stupid military tactics and waste of human life in this lost part of the war has changed my viewpoint as I visit these towns and villages. I now always stop and carefully examine these forgotten memorials and read each name and imagine what their lives were like and the effect it had on their families and home towns.
Beside the engrossing account of the actual fighting, impossible terrain and weather conditions, the book gives insight into the growth of Italy into a nation state from an assortment of provinces. Men who could not even speak Italian, such as those from the islands of Sardinia and Sicily were mingled with a thousand sub cultures that made up the Italian mainland. It was the first time some people actually thought of themselves as belonging to the entity called Italy.
The author Mark Thompson does a creditable job gathering the facts and presents them in a smooth historical flow. The narration by Gerard Doyle could be warmer and with more dramatic effect but it will do as is.
The names and fates of all those preserved on those monuments are mostly forgotten as are the battles fought with almost no gain in territory or military accomplishment. I look at this work as an effort to acknowledge what they went through and suffered. I found this listen worthwhile and gave meaning to a lost corner of the first world war.
I possibly would read another work by Mark Thompson but it would very much depend upon the subject matter.
I had started reading this book in print but it all got to be a bit to much as there was so much content. As an Audible I was able to bite off as much or as little as I wanted at any given time.
Much has been written about the terrible battles of WWI, Ypres, Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, but very little about the horrors of the Italian Front and the battles of the Isonzo. This is a must read book for anyone who wants a complete understanding of the history of WWI, but even more for those interested in the history of Italy. Italy's dreams of expansion and it's desire to become a colonial power led it to participate in a devastating war that cost in excess of 1 million military and civilian lives. This books explores the political and cultural context of the time, and the personalities that so influenced Italy during the first half of the last century.
My only quibble with the book is the obvious lack of maps, but that is easily remedied by resorting to Google maps.
I knew very little of the Italian front in WWI other than what I had read in A Farewell to Arms. This exhaustive account provides a great mix of strategic and tactical detail. My only complaint is that the narration is wanting in spots. Some sections had some technical issues with whistling from the microphone and the volume was not always consistent.
I did not care for several things.
1. Keep your modern politics in your pocket.
2. It's really hard to follow what is occurring on battlefields. He switches between many first person accounts at different places which makes it hard to understand exactly what is occurring (beyond the generic Italians are charging and dying). It's also not exactly clear what the order of battle is, what troops are facing one another, or at what dates various actions occur with relation to one another (it does not help that maps don't exactly go well with audio books).
3. Less personal stories. Personal stories are fine so long as the context is good. He spends a chapter or two at the start talking about nationalism and key people, then begins the fighting, then spends another chapter or two backtracking to talk about individual nationalists who fought for Italy. I know modern historians think that they need to tell me about unimportant individuals, but I don't care at all.
4. It's all Italy all the time. Very little perspective from the other side.
5. Talks at length about how much of the nation did not want war, and how it was a few industrialists and nationalists who conspired to throw Italy into war. However, he references in passing huge crowds clamoring for war. Who were these people? The sheep that were tricked?
Regional situation, politics, contrast the two sides militarily, start of war with references to politics and home front activities. That's what I want. Nice and linear.
"OK, but rather spoilt by narrator"
An area of history I knew little about so I was pleased to find this book. The rather breathy, exclaimation style of the narrator was a bit off-putting though. It was as if he was narrating for a childrens book. Perhaps a bit of audio "proof reading" would have helped too - he said Australian instead of Austrian once or twice.
Well researched though, and recommended. I will Google some pictures of the mountain fighting to get an idea of what it looked like.
"Excellent study of a little-known conflict"
Like most in the English-speaking world I tend to think of the Great War as a conflict between the British/French and Germans in Flanders. The many other fronts get little coverage, so this book on the Italian war effort was a refreshing change. The book is far more than just a story of the campaign - it covers the politics in Rome and even the literary angle - while conforming to the popular format of including many private letters and diaries to give an impression of the experience of the ordinary soldier as well as the generals. I thought the balance between these elements was spot on, and worked well in portraying the horrors of the war itself and the wider political games being played. Thoroughly recommended.
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