Steve's Reviews > The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919

The White War by Mark  Thompson
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's review
Sep 06, 11

bookshelves: history, non-fiction, war
Read in September, 2011

On the hardcover version of Mark Thompson’s The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, there’s a remarkable picture of tiny soldiers jumping out of their snow packed trenches. In front of them is the steep side of a mountain. Talk about the Mountains of Madness! But that’s pretty much the Italian front in World War 1. Overall Thompson does a fine job with this criminally overlooked part of the war, providing a good shapshot of Italian politics, military tactics, and the various historical personalities involved. At its best The White War is a cultural history of the war in Italy (and you can clearly see the roots of the coming Fascist state). It’s also a superb resource for Hemingway junkies seeking background for Farewell to Arms. I couldn’t help but think that a shorter version of the book would of made an excellent appendix to Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory.

So why only 3 stars? Well, truth be told, I found The White War a slog to read. I don’t know what it is about World War 1 books, but it always seems to result in a numbing list of stupid assaults ordered by stupid generals against hills with numbers. (Not too long back I had a similar reading experience involving the battle for the Somme.) The landscape (or in this case, mountain ranges) soon becomes a battered pudding of earth and flesh, with multiple layers. No wonder this generation felt so lost. My distracted reading aside, one of the best chapters in the book is devoted to Italian war poets, and left me wanting Thompson to expand this chapter into longer study. The poems – or excerpts, are that good. Anyone who has read, and admired, the World War 1 poets (who are largely represented as English), should read this chapter.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Paula (new)

Paula Italian WWI poets,such as?

Steve Giuseppe Ungaretti is the main one (I really liked his stuff), but also Clemente Rebora and Fausto Martini. There's also some political stuff that I didn't like. The author found a collection (with uncut pages) in Oxford's Bodlien Library. It also helped that he's obviously a lover of poetry.

message 3: by Brad (new)

Brad All authors from WWI, from every nation that fought, have been amongst the best, and many remain faves. Thanks for pointing me towards the Italians, Steve.

Steve Thank you!

Roman Colombo I'm reading this right now and slog is the best word. How did you stay interested?

Steve Roman wrote: "I'm reading this right now and slog is the best word. How did you stay interested?"

I had recently re-read Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, so that powered me up for the ordeal. It does deepen your understanding of that novel (as well as the late novel, Across the River and Into the Trees), , and Hemingway's personal experience, but beyond that it's a snooze.

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