Book Review: The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919


by Mark Thompson

New York: Perseus / Basic Books, 2010. Pp. x, 454. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $18.95 paper. ISBN: 0465020372

A very readable, often insightful look at Italian operations on the Isonzo Front during the First World War.

In The White War, British historian Thompson, who has also written several books on the dissolution of Yugoslavia, gives us a vivid account of one of the physically most difficult theatres of the First World War, which is generally neglected in most histories of the conflict, which tend to focus on the Western Front, and in any case assume neither the Italians nor the Austro-Hungarians fought particularly hard or well.  He is highly critical of the Italian Army, which was not only ill-prepared for war, but was quite poorly led.  Thompson is particularly hard on Italian chief-of-staff Luigi Cadorna, a remarkably out-of-touch officer, who took criticism as a personal affront, believed his enemies were conspiring against him, and, most egregious of all, blamed failure on cowardice or treason, and meted out death sentences lavishly.  Of the troops themselves, Thompson is often lavish with praise for their courage and endurance in fighting in some amazingly horrific environmental conditions and under often extraordinarily inept leadership.  There are some excellent battle pieces in The White War, and a good analysis of the disaster at Caporetto, which arguably did much to improve the performance of the Italian Army, particularly with the replacement of Cadorna by Armando Diaz.

While Thompson fails to cover the other Italo-Austrian front, in the Trentino in any detail, and tends to skimp on the Austro-Hungarian side, The White War is an excellent read for anyone interested in the “Forgotten Fronts” of the Great War or in Italian military history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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