John Jr.'s Reviews > The Pity of War

The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
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's review
Oct 07, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: warfare-history

The entire 20th century was a period of calamitous mistakes in judgment, which in many ways arose from the errors of the First World War. Many traditional views of that war have themselves been mistaken reckonings, according to Niall Ferguson’s sensitive, detailed, and powerfully persuasive reading, the breadth of which ranges from the war’s literature (even his title quotes a poem) to its financing.

As is often the case with The Economist, its review of The Pity of War gives a knowledgeable assessment. The review takes issue with one of Ferguson’s many “iconoclastic answers,” to the question of the war’s inevitability, and though it’s not very evocative it at least praises the book as “a work of grace and feeling.” But those with a serious interest in the Great War would do better simply to read Ferguson.

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John Jr. The publisher's description of the American paperback edition errs in saying, "More British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam War." On July 1, 1916, British forces suffered 57,470 casualties, according to Wikipedia; John Keegan, in The Face of Battle, rounds that off to "about 60,000." But casualties aren't deaths; "casualty" means "a person killed or injured." Some 21,000 British soldiers lost their lives on the first day, and this is a far cry from the roughly 58,000 American military deaths in Vietnam.

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