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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history of a brutal but almost forgotten war, 19 April 2011
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This review is from: The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 (Paperback)
I visited the Vittorio Emmanuel monument in Rome a few years ago. The Italian tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the monument and there are displays on Italian military history. Italian participation in World War one was mentioned a lot and I realised I knew very little about this subject.

I did some research and this was one of the very few English language books on the subject. Thankfully Mark Thompson has written an excellent book.

The book is primarily about the origins and effects of the war in Italy rather than Austria.
Thompson goes into great detail on the state of Italian politics and diplomacy before the start of the war. This is very interesting, particularly how some politicians saw the "Risorgiemento" of the 19th century as unfinished business until certain territories could be reclaimed from Austria/Hungary as well as the dynamics of Italy's Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria.

Italy finally entered the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia in 1915, seeing an opportunity to gain territory from a weakened Austria. Thompson describes the usual initial enthusiasm for the war. Needless to say this soon waned, as breakthrough successes proved elusive. The war soon became a stalemate, with Austrians usually holding strong defensive positions.

Thompson strongly criticises the tactics and ability of the Italian military hierarchy under the command of Cadorna for any number of costly deficiencies and errors. Life for ordinary soldiers was as bad as on other fronts and this is described well. The casualty figures are frightening, especially considering the tiny territorial gains that were made, if any were made at all.

Thompson has not just written a military history of the war. Almost every second chapter looks in detail at a particular aspect of the war, such as profiles of Cadorna and "War poet" Gabriele D'Annunzio. There is a particularly detailed chapter on the poetry to emerge from the war. It seems to be a particular interest of the author.

The aftermath of the Italian "victory" is described, stretching up to the post World War II era, when a lot of the territory gained was lost. Thompson also examines the influence the war had on the emergence of Mussolini's dictatorship in the early 1920's.

This is an accessible, well-written book on a relatively little known aspect of World War I.
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