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Disappointing and poorly researched
on 30 November 2007
I bought this book after having read the enthusiastic comments of previous readers but I have to say I was quite disappointed. The book promises a revolution in the interpretation of the Great War from the point of view of military history and cultural history, but does it manage to achieve that? I reckon it doesn't, as it has left too many things out of the picture, that is, those things that do not fit the author's thesis. For example, Todman strongly absolvitory idea that there is no relation between the rise of Nazism and the end of W.W.I is totally questionable. Surely he manages to sound persuasive because he leaves Fascism out of the picture, by the way ignoring all the researches carried out by important Italian historians like Mario Isnenghi and Giorgio Rochat, who have thoroughly analysed how W.W.I paved the way to Fascism (a political movement whish was mostly led by war veterans, like Mussolini and Italo Balbo, and which in turn strongly influenced Adolph Hitler--another Great War veteran). His exploration of the negative myth of the Great War is not complete, not at all, because he seems to suggest that it's the British war poets who created the negative image of the war, while, had he bothered to read e.g. A.D. Harvey's Muse of Fire, he might have understood that it's an international phenomenon, and that there are dozens of books which depict the great war as the hell it was--sure, if you stick to a parochial point of view which only takes into account British authors you may think that only a few malcontents complained about the war, but if you read also Dorgeles, Lussu, Hemingway, Renn, Remarque, O'Flaherty, Dos Passos, cummings, Kraus and many others you may see things differently (and I am mentioning the literary authors, to whom one should add dozens of diaries, memorials, etc.). Then the issue of how the commanders were judged by subsequent historians is oddly incomplete: no mention of such a key essay like Tim Travers' The Killing Ground, no mention of the fundamental essays by John Keegan. So I see no reason to extol this book, whose intentions may have been good (e.g. I do believe that a totally negative picture of the life led by soldiers in the treches is not totally acceptable, and other classics of war literature might be mentioned, such as Ernst Juenger or Blaise Cendrars), but whose achievemnets are limited and whose overall thesis ("the war wasn't that bad") is still disputable. Then, I absolutely disapprove of another smug argument that Todman seems to like so much, that is, what might be summarized as "we won the war, so what's all this fuss?" It seems that he ignores the story of Pyrrhus' victory--which, for a historian, is unforgivable.