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Casualty Figures: How Five Men Survived the First World War Hardcover – 28 Feb 2008

3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (28 Feb. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844672301
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844672301
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 504,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Women's Oppression Today is a book which should be read." International "Women's Oppression Today provides provocative conclusions reached by a mature observer." Library Journal"

About the Author

MICHELE BARRETT is Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory in the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London. She is the author, among other works, of Women's Oppression Today, The Anti-Social Family, and Politics of Diversity

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Casualty Figures as part of a study investigating the authenticity of John Ronald Skirth’s papers (held by the Imperial War Museum, London). Skirth is one of three WW1 soldiers whose biography is included in the book and which I refer to in this review.

The evidence in my study (now held at the Department of Collections Access Library at the Imperial War Museum) shows that Skirth’s account of how he sustained ‘shell-shock’ (a head injury) and his subsequent treatment for it and a ‘nervous breakdown’ are entirely fabricated calling into question Professor Barrett’s research underpinning Skirth’s biography and her decision to include him in her multiple biography.

Skirth’s account of how he sustained ‘shell-shock’ in early November 1917 is given in ‘War Story No.2, Passchendaele’. Apparently he and his best friend, a Scot called ‘Jock Shiels', were attempting to desert when they were caught in enemy shelling. Jock was killed and Skirth knocked unconscious. His treatment for ‘shell-shock’ and a ‘nervous breakdown’ at Abbeville and Schio respectively ensues. Basic checking of his battery’s casualties shows this story is very inaccurate and could not have taken place. John Shiels, the only Scot to die with the battery, died on 18 July 1917 almost four months earlier than Skirth states he died. The only man to die in November 1917 was George Burch - a southerner like Skirth. Skirth makes much of his Scottish pal in his story and, given he was the battery’s only Scottish casualty, “Jock Shiels” cannot be anyone else but John Shiels. The evidence also shows Skirth did not confuse Passchendaele with Messines which, if he had, would invalidate the dates of his treatment at Abbeville and Schio.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Strange this, because my previously objective, but negative, review had been removed. Not seen that before on Amazon.

In essence: this book is very poor, fails to address many of the expected topics, and reads too much like a dry academic text and makes some peculiar 'assumptions' about what modern people might 'expect' people felt nearly a century ago. I felt it a complete waste of effort by the author, and money by me!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Premise, Poor Execution 7 April 2008
By Bridget - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was really excited to hear that someone was writing a book on shell-shock casualties on the First World War. After studying the same topic for several years, I was eager to see what conclusions Michele Barrett had reached on the condition and its historical importance.
While Barrett's research seems to be thorough and the quotes used do a very good job of bringing her subjects to life, she never does more than report the facts that she has found. Nor does she delve any deeper into the experiences of these men beyond their own eye-witness reports. It would have been very nice to see, perhaps other first-hand accounts from other members of the regiment, or official histories of the battles that Barrett mentions as part of her subject's experiences. There is no way to put what happened to these men into context without this information--was their impression of events colored by their shell-shock? How did other men around them perceive the events? What was the general situation in which they were living? None of these questions are addressed in the book, nor is there ever a sense to put these five men in a wider historic context. They remain individuals, removed from the world in which they lived and still two-dimensional, despite the research that Barrett obviously conducted in order to tell their story. The book is very good and is a very good first step in relating the actual experiences of shell-shock during and after the Great War. However exciting the premise of the book may be, it leaves the reader wanting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars: 15 Feb. 2010
By SusieQ - Published on
Format: Hardcover
At first I was surprised to see the low rating Amazon reviewers had provided for CASUALTY FIGURES. (At that point, prior to reading the book, I hadn't read the reviews, just glanced at the star rating.) After reading it, however, I think I understand why. The author doesn't dig deep enough, somehow. It's not that her research is lacking. It's just that, at the end of the book, I don't feel I know these five men. They remain "subjects" in a "study". The author maintains a respectful distance from her subjects; too respectful, perhaps. We aren't even provided with their photographs. Their horrific experiences are detailed, and yet, despite these details, it's a mechanical retelling; a collection of bare-bones psychological history lessons. CASUALTY FIGURES almost reads like a thesis, rather than insightful biographical studies of victims of First World War post-traumatic stress.

Still, I recommend this book because the stories of these five men deserve to be told and known; it is an important subject, and this is a readable book - just not quite the overall excellent reading experience I hoped for.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars CASUALTY FIGURES...GO FIGURE? 16 Dec. 2008
By Annaliese K. Tapee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Most WW1 books I have read usually make me want to give thanks to God that I didn't have to experience the hell called The Great War. Casualty Figures on the other hand is not one of them and falls way short of my expectations.The book is really five mini-biographys of men who were shell shocked and some how survived the war to tell about it in there own words through diaries,private papers and unpublished autobiographys.Although the authors research is quite good, she takes an interesting and sensitive disorder of shell shock and turns it somewhat impersonel,thus making it difficult to get to know and understand these men.She does well with the time they are in uniform but information of there actual treatment and post war years is pretty scant. Often times her line of thought drifts and I found myself turning back pages and rereading the same paragraphs over and over only to try to figure out where she was going which left me puzzled at times. The hardback book is small in size and she does provide 4 BW paintings by artist who also suffered shell shock in WW1,but these too are small,dark and hard to make out which adds nothing to the book.Perhaps photos of the men during the war and later in life wouldn't have made them seem so distant or maybe the recollections of friends,family and brothers in arms could have made a better connection between reader and subject.I wish Casualty Figures would have included the other combatants and how their respective armys/goverments dealt with there shell shocked soldiers. Overall, slightly better than an article about shell shock in a medical journal but not by much.After reading Casualty Figures I really don't know much more about Shell Shock than I did before and I would have liked to have gotten to know our"Tommys" better. One book I would recommend about a shell shock survivor is"The Living Unknown Soldier by Jean-Yves Le Naour" a sad but excellent story,well worth the read.
Steve Tapee 12/15/08
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Important text, but lacks impact 1 Aug. 2008
By WeatherNerd - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It may be poor practice and cliche to start a review with 'I can only agree with the previous reviewer'. But in this case, it's precisely how I feel.

The text, written by an academic professor, should give clear insights into the experiences and consequences of life at the front, and how this related to 'shell shock'. Unfortunately, the author seems to spend as much time, if not more, giving a background to the battles in which the men were fighting as she does delving into their psychology.

I got the distinct impression the author was so careful to get the historical context correct that the real emphasis - the roots of shell shock - was totally lost.

It all ends-up leaving you asking: 'well, what progress has she made with this book?' It's a real pity, but apart from the occasional snippet of interesting information that you may not have found before, the answer is a resounding 'not very much'. It feels terribly unfocused in many places, and feels like it was written a paragraph at a time, with a few weeks - and lost tracks - before the next one was done.

Disappointing, but probably worth reading.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but felt limited, repetitive at times 2 Feb. 2011
By Steven Beeny - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was excited to order Casualty Figures when I first saw the recommendation, however, I can't say I feel the same now having just finished it. All is all, it's not a bad book, nor a poor read, it just felt a touch light at times. The research is obviously there, and well-footnoted, however, it reminded me, dare I say it, of writing a history essay when you one does not have enough material to make a compelling-enough argument. Part of the problem here might be the choice of case studies the author has selected and available material associated with them. The thought that nagged at me the whole time, was 'well, yes, and?'. Incidents are described and passages from first-hand accounts quoted, but at the end of each somewhat short chapter, there is no real moment of enlightenment or truly satisfying conclusion, only a rather abrupt finish with conjecture that 'this might have been what tipped him over the edge'.

For me, most critically, four out of the five accounts are from officers' perspectives, which present a more limited picture of what the rank and file, therefore the largest section of shell shock sufferers, would have felt. This is not necessarily the author's fault - one would expect the archives of the Imperial War Museum would contain less written material from the ordinary soldier, it's just the stories did not resonate with me anywhere near the same as say, Richard Van Emden's oral histories from WW1 survivors.

These are potted summaries in effect, of how the war shattered five mens' lives. There is some sympathetic element to the writing, but most of this is reserved for the rather repetitive afterword. Most of the conclusions contained within were already summarised in the chapters, and it smacked again of an essay that had run out of steam. I think it is commendable of the author to write on the subject of shell shock in WW1, but alas, nothing felt new, or made enough of an impact. WW1 is by no means an unpopular subject for writers, and perhaps we are getting to the lamentable stage in literature where material becomes a touch prosaic given the amount out there.
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