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The Road to Verdun: France, Nationalism and the First World War

`This is an outstanding book, rich in its insights, and written with verve and style... In a piece of bold craftsmanship, the author launches his narrative of the battle, then spools back to explore the psychological and cultural journey that brought France from her nadir in 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon, to her life-and-death struggle in the killing fields of Lorraine 101 years later.’

Malcolm Brown, Guardian

`This is a book as careful to touch its readers’ emotions as it is to deepen their understanding.’

Times Literary Supplement

`It is a story that still has the power to shock and horrify... consistently intelligent and readable... an engaging and important book.’

New Statesman

‘The real richness of this book for military historians is his culling of French soldiers’ memoirs and diaries. His text is studded with quotable and memorable descriptions of the horrors of the battle.’

Sunday Times

`Brilliantly told... magnificent... Piercing insight, controversial political analysis... telling character portrayal, historical and military study and individual human tragedy is all skilfully knit together in one seamless whole...a masterpiece.’

BBC History

Verdun was the largest, the longest and the bloodiest battle between the French and Germans in the First World War, lasting from February 1916 until the end of the year and claiming more than 700,000 casualties. For the French in particular, it was always more than just a battle, being rather (in Paul Valéry’s words) ‘a complete war in itself, inserted in the Great War’.

Ian Ousby’s masterly book gives a dramatic and brilliantly illuminating account of the generals’ planning and the troops’ suffering. At the same time it challenges the narrow horizons of military history by locating the experience of Verdun in how the French had thought about themselves since the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War. Verdun emerges as the mid-point in the cycle of Franco-German hostility, carrying both the burden of history and — if only by the presence on the battlefield of men like Pétain and de Gaulle, France’s two leaders in the next war — the seeds of the future.

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