16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Thorough and accessable: A treasure!,
This review is from: Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the First World War (Cassell military trade books) (Hardcover)
Gordon Corrigan has produced a real wonder here: A history book that is thorough, readible, and even humorous! Corrigan's intent is to debunk myths and explain the realities of the First World War in terms that make sense to an audience that has little frame of reference to the realities of the early Twentieth Century. Drawing only the British experience, both from a desire to keep the material to a manageable scope, and from familiarity (Corrigan is former Royal Army), he has accomplished exactly that, and more. This is not a typical chronology of war, nor a list of battle honors, nor is it a narative in the usual sense. Corrigan sticks resolutely to his purpose, and only gives specific battle details when they serve the purpose of elucidating the conditions that existed, despite the undoubtably intense temptation to wander further afield.
By approaching his material myth-by-myth, Corrigan has simplified his task, and made his lessons more accessable to the reader, even if it means that he sometimes retraces his own footsteps. This choice lends Mud, Blood, and Poppycock to use as a textbook as well as a volume of general history. You needn't read the entire book to gain value from it, you only need open to any specific chapter, and Corrigan's entire argument for debunking that particular myth is layed out for you in it's entirety, with no need to refer elsewhere. If, however, you *do* wish to refer elsewhere, there is a rather complete list of end notes to each chapter. This is one of the few items about which I might have any quibble: While the end notes are more useful if you're going to follow-up with additional research, a casual reader would find footnotes easier to read, without needing to flip back and forth to the end of the chapter.
Corrigan isn't infallible, and he does make the occasional error, such as asserting that no army can plan for the 'next' war, but instead *must* plan for future wars by learning from past wars, and that no army has the resources to plan speculatively for the future. This is clearly in error: While any responsible army must indeed study the lessons of past wars, a truly responsible army also studies current trends in an attempt to discern the future. Now while I realize that this, as doctrine, is relatively new, asserting that it doesn't exist at all is a mistake. He does give himself an 'out' by noting that armies of the day had little budgetary resource for studying war from a speculative approach. Still, Corrigan would've done better to explain that doctrines change, rather than to deny the possibility of a particular doctrine. This is one of the very few failed analysis I can find in the entire book, and is a near-miss, rather than a clean miss. On the other hand, Corrigan's dry wit permiates the book, making me smile at the oddest moments. One comment that simply cracked me up was a reference to the effect the shape of mortar pits had on the toilet habits of the King's soldiers. I won't give away the entire joke (nor any of the others scatered throughout), so you'll just have to buy or borrow the book and find it yourself. In fact, I STRONGLY recommend that you do so... Not only is the wit entertaining, but the book is also a wonderful work of historical scholarship. Corrigan's conclusions are solidly based in carefully documented research, and appear to be without ulterior motivation, further reenforcing the value of this work.