In the UK, were are taught about the First World War. We are taught about the trenches, the slaughter and the waste. Mostly, were are taught about the British and Commonwealth soldier's experience on the Western Front. 'The White War' teaches the English reader about what they are not taught - the Italian/Austrian front.
After declaring war on Austria-Hungary for dubious territorial reasons, Italy sent hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths on the rocks of Carso near Trieste. Men, indeed, who were most likely to be peasants from places such as Calabria in the south, who barely had the vaguest idea of 'Italy' or what they were ordered to fight for. Thomson details the grim experience and grimmer treatment of these men from their superiors. The Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Army, Luigi Cadorna, even practiced the Roman-era punishment of decimation for retreating or mutineering troops. Nor was Cadorna a particularly successful commander, often conceding vast losses for pointless gains soon lost. He was replaced, eventually, but too late to save the Italian effort.
Thompson shows that this war, though being triggered by that infamous shooting in Sarajevo, was propagandised as a continuation of the Risorgimento (the 19th Century unification of Italy), even though Italy had only a partial claim to Trieste, and very little to the majority-Germanophone South Tyrol.
The writer does all this well, and even the digressions into Italian war literature (no doubt inserted as a counterpoint to Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, 'Dulce et Decorum est' school) are fairly tolerable - though the well-aimed kicking given to D'Annunzio is amusing. Faint praise is not what this book deserves, however. It deserves to be read, and read especially by those whose sole exposure to WW1 history is the Western Front. They will learn something, even if it may be different to the lessons of Ypres and the Somme.