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Dag Chr Bjornland (Norway)

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Battles East: A History of the Eastern Front of the First World War
Battles East: A History of the Eastern Front of the First World War
by G. Irving Root
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.50

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 2 Mar 2010
This is easily the best book I have read on the Eastern front during the great war. The military operations are described in vivid narrative, with compassion and genuine understanding. Mr. Root writes very well, with obvious enthusiasm for his complicated subject. I never found the book unengaging or dry. This is a military history, but with good descriptions of the political and cultural background as well. And unlike several recent authors on WWI, who for all their manifest "cleverness" at times seem quite lost in the geography, Mr. Root knows exactly where he is. There is a haunting sense of background atmosphere, through the half-forgotten landscapes of Galicia, Bukovina and East Prussia, as the gigantic armies clash. I was struck by the nuanced and unbiased narrative, with even the Romanians given some credit. The maps, prepared with obvious care, are not reproduced clearly and are almost intelligible. This, however, does not detract from a very clear five-star rating. This book should be better known!

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
by Mark Thompson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 21.74

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great War and Italy, 12 Nov 2008
I fully agree with what the other reviewers have said about this book, which is a marvellous overview of the Italian front during 1915-18. Not only a military history - though it is that, of course, but also a political and cultural history. And not only of the Italian experience, even though that is the main focus, but also of "the other side", the multi-national Habsburg empire. The outnumbered Austrian army (with bosnians and croats strongly represented here) fought well on the Italian front, in contrast with other theatres.

The author gives a balanced, beautifully written, exciting and very moving account of this not-so-known part of the Great War: how Italy tumbled into it 1915, the desperate and futile fighting along the Isonzo, the debacle of Caporetto, the recovery and the peace settlement eventually leading to the establishment of fascism. The author is very much inside his material, and the book has a very strong sense both of time and of place. At times it reminded me of Alistair Horne or John Keegan. Strongly recommended, and not only to military history buffs!

The Battle of the Frontiers: Ardenne (Battles & Campaigns)
The Battle of the Frontiers: Ardenne (Battles & Campaigns)
by Terence Zuber
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Biased tactical study, 24 Sep 2008
The so-called battle of the frontiers in 1914, during the opening days of the great war, has received astonishingly little attention. With the notable exception, that is, of the relatively minor actions in which the BEF (British expeditionary force) was involved: Mons and Le Cateau in particular. In reality, these "frontier battles" in august 1914 were a massive series of meeting engagements from Alsace in the southeast to Charleroi in the northwest. Most of them were catastrophic French defeats, all of them were bloody.

So hats off for Mr. Zuber for this new book, concentrating on the clashes in the Ardennes on or around August 22nd. These battles involved the French third and fourth armies and the German fourth and fifth. Mr. Zuber describes a series of fights in the wooded terrain of the Ardennes, with systematic and detailed descriptions primarily based on German sources. His main point is that the French didn't lose because of suicidal bayonet charges, but simply because the German army was much better trained, better led and applied sounder tactics and lower-level leadership. Which undoubtedly is true, up to a point. The problem is that he takes this very far. The author is undoubtedly very fascinated by the German army and all things German. This leads to a very strong pro-German bias throughout. One gets the impression of French soldiers milling around in their red trousers, doing absolutely nothing right, and even cowardly shooting Germans in the back. In the end, this glaring unbalance detracts from the reading experience.

True, the French were worsted in these battles, their casualties huge, Joffre's plan XVII failed. The defeat of the colonial Corps at Rossignol was a complete disaster. But still, I believe the facts are more nuanced. The French 5th army turned at Guise on the 29th and inflicted a sharp set-back on the German 2nd army. And some days later the whole French army astonishingly (yes, miraculously) turned, fought and stopped the Germans cold on the Marne. Had they suddenly become better trained?

The author is a retired officer, and his style is clear, dry and precise, with lots of abbreviations. There are maps, but a tactical study like this needs more and better. And the arranged cover photo, showing a proud German soldier with a dead "poilu" at his side, both in post-1916 uniforms, gives misleading associations and has nothing to do with 1914.

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