Book Review: The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle


by Michael Stephenson

New York: Crown, 2012. 480. Append., notes, biblio., index. $28.00. ISBN: 9780307395849

As the sub-title says, The Last Full Measure is an historical survey of the ways in which soldiers die in combat.

Military historian Stephenson begins literally at the beginning, discussing the types of wounds the could be inflicted by primitive weapons such as stones, clubs, and fire-hardened spears, and follows the evolution of weapons to the present in a series of chapters that take a look at the nature of combat across the ages.  Individual chapters cover pre-historic and ancient times, the Medieval period, the era from the introduction of gunpowder through Napoleon, the American Civil War, nineteenth century colonial warfare, each of the world wars, and the post-World War II period.  Stephenson wraps things up with an appendix on military medicine.  His narrative can be quite grim, appropriately, as he discusses in often graphic terms the ways in which weapons cause deadly injury, whether directly or indirectly.  A particularly valuable aspect of his treatment is that where possible Stephenson supplements modern historical and medical explanations the effects of combat with first hand accounts, from literature across the ages, beginning with The Iliad right on through letters and memoirs of modern soldiers, which also helps add the psychological effects upon the troops, something we still do not fully understand. 

The Last Full Measure is a very important work for anyone interested in war and human conflict.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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