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The White War

Mark Thompson

The first narrative history in English of the Italian front: a major forgotten conflict of the First World War.

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In May 1915, Italy declared war on the Habsburg Empire, hoping to seize its ‘lost’ territories of Trieste and Tyrol. The result was one of the most hopeless and senseless modern wars – and one that inspired great cruelty and destruction. Nearly three-quarters of a million Italians – and half as many Austro-Hungarian troops – were killed. Most of the deaths occurred on the bare grey hills north of Trieste, and in the snows of the Dolomite Alps. Outsiders who witnessed these battles were awestruck by the difficulty of attacking on such terrain. General Luigi Cadorna, most ruthless of all the Great War commanders, restored the Roman practice of ‘decimation’, executing random members of units that retreated or rebelled. Italy sank into chaos and, eventually, fascism. Its liberal traditions did not recover for a quarter of a century – some would say they have never recovered.

Mark Thompson relates this nearly incredible saga with great skill and pathos. Much more than a history of terrible violence, the book tells the whole story of the war: the nationalist frenzy that led up to it, the decisions that shaped it, the poetry it inspired, its haunting landscapes and political intrigues; the personalities of its statesmen and generals; and also the experience of ordinary soldiers – among them some of modern Italy’s greatest writers.

A work of epic scale, The White War does full justice to one of the most remarkable untold stories of the First World War.

Critic Reviews

'Brilliant ... In its elegant sweep of cultural and political as well as martial themes, it stands alone: it is one of the outstanding history books of the year.'

Robert Fox, Evening Standard
Critic Reviews

'Magnificent ... original, masterly and definitive.'

Piers Brendon, Guardian
Critic Reviews

'... brilliant account ... Thompson has written a compelling, penetrating book, not just about the 'forgotten front' of the First World War, but about the psychological, political and cultural conditions of a nation tussling - even now - with the price of sacred egoism.'

Frances Stonor Saunders, Sunday Telegraph
Critic Reviews

' ... Thompson's account of this conflict is unfailingly lucid and judicious ... In May 1915 the socialist leader, Filippo Turati, had foretold that 'there will be no winners'. With great narrative skill and with a signally humane empathy for the losers on both sides, Thompson shows just how right he was.'

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Spectator
Critic Reviews

' ... in this fascinating book ... Thompson makes that process extraordinarily vivid, using an impressive range of sources - official reports, newspaper articles, veterans' memoirs, intellectual manifestos - to put into context and humanise the story of military actions and casualty statistics. The picture he paints is little short of horrifying. ... an exemplary and erudite work of popular history.'

Paul Anderson, Tribune
Critic Reviews

'Mark Thompson's wonderfully rich and poignant study, beautifully written and based on a detailed first-hand knowledge of the terrain in question as well as an impressive array of published Italian sources, shows graphically why the events of 1915-18 had such a searing effect on the country's national psyche ... [an] excellent book.'

Christopher Duggan, Times Literary Supplement

Mark Thompson lives in Oxford. He is the author of A Paper House, a much-praised account of the fall of Yugoslavia. He worked for the UN in the Balkans for much of the 1990s.

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