Read The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne Online


The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 is the second book of Alistair Horne's trilogy, which includes The Fall of Paris and To Lose a Battle and tells the story of the great crises of the rivalry between France and Germany.The battle of Verdun lasted ten months. It was a battle in which at least 700,000 men fell, along a front of fifteen miles. Its aim was less to defeat the enThe Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 is the second book of Alistair Horne's trilogy, which includes The Fall of Paris and To Lose a Battle and tells the story of the great crises of the rivalry between France and Germany.The battle of Verdun lasted ten months. It was a battle in which at least 700,000 men fell, along a front of fifteen miles. Its aim was less to defeat the enemy than bleed him to death and a battleground whose once fertile terrain is even now a haunted wilderness.Alistair Horne's classic work, continuously in print for over fifty years, is a profoundly moving, sympathetic study of the battle and the men who fought there. It shows that Verdun is a key to understanding the First World War to the minds of those who waged it, the traditions that bound them and the world that gave them the opportunity.'Verdun was the bloodiest battle in history ... The Price of Glory is the essential book on the subject'  Sunday Times'It has almost every merit ... Horne sorts out complicating issues with the greatest clarity. He has a splendid gift for depicting individuals'  A.J.P. Taylor, Observer'A masterpiece'  The New York Times'Compellingly told ... Alastair Horne uses contemporary accounts from both sides to build up a picture of heroism, mistakes, even farce'  Sunday Telegraph'Brilliantly written ... very readable; almost like a historical novel - except that it is true'  Field Marshal Viscount MontgomeryOne of Britain's greatest historians, Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, is the author of a trilogy on the rivalry between France and Germany, The Price of Glory, The Fall of Paris and To Lose a Battle, as well as a two-volume life of Harold Macmillan....

Title : The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
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ISBN : 9780140170412
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Number of Pages : 388 Pages
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The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 Reviews

  • Warwick
    2019-03-10 19:38

    I have a Sick Child right now, which means I'm currently running on less than three hours' sleep. This feels to me like total exhaustion. Still, things could be a lot worse. It's been instructive to remind myself that French soldiers in the line at Verdun not uncommonly went eleven days without any rest at all. Although when I cheerfully reminded my wife of this fact at 4 a.m. she didn't seem to find it very reassuring.Eleven days though! Imagine trying to confront an armed Brandenburger with that level of sleep-deprivation. Luckily, such an eventuality rarely came up: one of the most striking things about Verdun was the fact that you were unlikely ever to face up to the enemy, or even see him. All you had to do was wait until your turn in the front-line trenches, and then endure as much shelling as you could before you were eviscerated.This perhaps sounds like some grimly comic exaggeration, but in fact the French commanders were quite explicit about the pointless deaths they expected from their men. General Nivelle's orders were to ‘Ne pas se rendre, ne pas reculer d'un pouce, se faire tuer sur place’, while one colonel told his troops: ‘On the day they want to, they will massacre you to the last man, and it is your duty to fall.’As pep-talks go, that's not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. In fact it's only a couple of rungs up from ‘Men, why don't all of you fuck off and die.’What was it all about? Well, the Germans guessed rightly that France would never surrender Verdun, which was a key fortress-town near the front lines. They therefore reckoned that by attacking it continually, they would force the French to sacrifice themselves in order to prevent its loss: ‘the forces of France will bleed to death,’ in the words of the famous German memo, ‘whether we reach our goal or not.’This subtle plan had, as Captain E. Blackadder would later put it, just one tiny flaw: it was bollocks. The problem was that the Germans attacking Verdun were compelled to haemorrhage troops almost as fast as the French. So you had both armies hurling great bodies of men at each other, both sides constantly decimated by extremely heavy artillery fire, all over an objective that the Germans never even seriously expected to win.It was very quickly obvious that the whole affair was pointless; but, because of astonishingly limp leadership on both sides, it went on for fully ten months. At the end of which, the front line was in roughly the same place it had been at the beginning and three hundred thousand boys were dead.As Paul Fussell has pointed out elsewhere, to call Verdun a ‘battle’ – as though this relentless endurance of shelling were remotely similar to Blenheim or Waterloo – is to give entirely the wrong impression. Men did not fight men at Verdun, or very rarely; instead, men were pitted against heavy artillery. They heard little but screaming shells and lived – if they were lucky – half-underground in trenches where the water was often waist-high. The ground had been churned up so many times that corpses were (to borrow a cooking term) folded in throughout, and body-parts protruded from the trench walls or confounded your spade when you tried to dig in.The psychological effect of this on the soldiers is…well, it can hardly be imagined. One priest, Sergeant Dubrelle, wrote home with some decidedly un-Catholic feelings:Having despaired of living amid such horror, we begged God not to have us killed – the transition is too atrocious – but just to let us be dead. We had but one desire; the end!Alistair Horne – rising to the peaks of desperate irony that Verdun demands – comments: ‘At least this part of Dubrelle's prayers was answered the following year.’ Horne's tone and command of his material really is excellent throughout; he is very good on the political side, he offers outstanding character sketches of the major players, but he is also determined to make clear the experience of the regular soldiers who, amidst the horror, enacted ‘countless, unrecorded Thermopylaes’.Many of the peripheral details here are fascinating. I knew of course that cavalry was still considered a strong tactic at the start of the war, but I had not previously appreciated how proportionally undeveloped was the use of motor-cars. In 1914, there were only 170 vehicles in the entire French army, and the Senegalese troops brought in to the service depots at first ate the grease.One of the most riveting aspects of learning about the First World War, for me, has been the extent to which it is inseparable from the Second, so that whole period of 1914-1945 can be understood (as one historian said) almost as another Thirty Years War. This element comes across strongly in Horne as well, in unexpectedly tragic ways. It was Verdun that convinced French commanders of the vital necessity of strong forts, leading to their later over-dependence on the Maginot Line; indeed, ‘more than any isolated event of the First War, Verdun led to France's defeat in 1940’. While on the other side of the lines, it created ‘a vacuum of leadership in Germany into which rushed the riff-raff of the Himmlers and Goebbels’.The most prominent symbol of this trajectory is poor Pétain, who emerges here as one of the great tragic figures of the century. Deeply protective of his troops, by far the most humanitarian French general, he would almost certainly have evacuated the whole Verdun salient if he'd been allowed; instead, he was forced to preside over a protracted slaughter. His resulting defeatism and pessimism were the first steps on the road that led inexorably to Vichy France.In terms of raw numbers, there were probably more outrageous encounters; 20,000 British alone were killed on just the first day of the Somme, for instance. But what made Verdun uniquely horrific was how long it went on for. Even academic, judicious Horne finds himself concluding that ‘It is probably no exaggeration to call Verdun the “worst” battle in history’, and a microcosm of the wider conflagration:It was the indecisive battle in an indecisive war; the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war; the battle that had no victors in a war that had no victors.One feels deeply that what happened from February to December 1916 was a ghastly mistake for the species as a whole. Then again, perhaps the most appalling thing is the possibility that this is not so. ‘War is less costly than servitude,’ writes the French novelist Jean Dutourd, in a comment that Horne quotes twice and that I found utterly chilling: ‘the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau.’ Now there's a choice to keep you up at night.

  • Matt
    2019-02-25 20:04

    About a month or so ago, I attended a theme party to celebrate a friend’s birthday. This was the third or fourth theme party I’d been to in the past twelve months. For whatever reason, as we get older, my social circle has decided that nights of raging drunkenness need some patina of class. Thus, the period costumes. During the party – celebrating the speakeasy era of gangsters, flappers, and moonshine – we started planning other theme parties for the future. Mostly, this conversation consisted of me trying to convince everyone how much fun a lumberjack-themed night would be. (Beers, bacon, flapjacks and flannel!). As we talked, we hit upon the idea of a One-Hundred-Years-Ago-Tonight party that would celebrate the fashions, foods, drinks and dress of people who walked and lived this day a century before. The idea stuck in my head, and I pondered it the next day, while I battled a raging hangover. One hundred years ago from right now (this moment, already fleeting) would place us in 1913. The last year of peace and hope of a fresh century, about to turn into the bloodiest years in human history. Next year, of course, means the one hundred year anniversary of the start of World War I. That’s kind of crazy. One hundred years. No living memory of the first totally modern war. Even before its centennial, World War I existed in the shadows of its bigger, bloodier brother, World War II. Despite its importance, it is usually relegated to a footnote, that footnote being: World War I is the reason that World War II, the war we actually care about, ever happened. World War I has lately come to fascinate me. I have been circling the subject for awhile now, plucking books here and there, imprinting the story’s broad strokes in my mind. Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory, about the infamous battle of Verdun, marks the point at which I start to narrow my reading, focusing on specific details. The Price of Glory turned out to be a great way for me to dip my toe into the gory specifics of the Great War. It is a slim, brisk telling of a bulging, complicated battle, a battle that came to define the wastefulness of World War I. The battle took place between February and December of 1916, on the rough ground north of the French city of Verdun. It began with a German offensive designed not for a breakthrough, but to draw French troops into a slaughter pen. The Germans’ initial forays were unexpectedly successful, leading to the capture of strategically valuable French positions. Instead of letting that territory go, the French decided to take it back. Seven hundred thousand casualties resulted. All from a battle the Germans started with no intent of winning. Horne focuses his telling on the human element. He is not overly concerned with troop movements, of the alphabet-and-roman-numeral soup of corps, regiments, and companies marching this way and that. It’s just as well, because the maps that are provided are essentially useless. If you are a reader concerned with orders of battle, you should probably look elsewhere. This is a bird’s eye look at Verdun, presenting the biggest picture possible while often swooping in low for a detailed look at a person or situation.Horne pays close attention to the generals, of whom he creates some indelible portraits. Of Petain: What manner of man was this amorous general who was soon to earn from his countrymen so much honor and love, that would later be replaced by so much hatred and dishonor? At the time of which we write, Petain was a bachelor of sixty, with commendable vigor for his age…With the commanding posture that was the unmistakable and indelible mark of St. Cyr, and clad in the uniform of ‘horizon blue,’ there was no more impressive sight on a French parade ground. To have seen him and de Castelnau together, one might well have assumed that Petain was the born aristocrat, the squat and rather swarthy general the peasant; though in fact it was the reverse…However, unlike many histories that tell their stories from the top down, Horne does not neglect the infantrymen in the trenches. To the contrary, his look at the common soldier is exceedingly intimate, and bolstered by the fact that Horne was able to interview many of them while they still lived. This results in a lot of impressive first-person testimony of the nasty, close-in fighting among the French fortresses surrounding Verdun. Horne is a highly respected historian and writer. He was educated at Cambridge and this book is best read with the voice of a British professor stuck in your head. The prose is witty, erudite, at times strangely beautiful. He can be at times maddeningly broad, while at other times sharply incisive. There are certain pomposities built into the text – namely Horne’s frequent use of foreign phrases that he wouldn’t deign to translate – but that is part of its charm. The tragedy of World War I goes a long way towards explaining France’s ignominiously early exit in World War II. This was a country and a culture psychologically ravaged by the German occupation between 1914 and 1918. Four percent of the total population of France died. Four millions soldiers were wounded. Untold millions bore the haunted memories. It’s enough to explain the reason the Maginot Line was built, and also why it didn't matter. When The Price of Glory was originally written in the 60s, memories of Verdun were still strong. The battlefield was still extremely dangerous and potted with unexploded ordinance. The landscape had not been altered. The participants still walked the earth. This book benefits from all that. It has the lingering horror of Verdun coursing through its veins. It creates a vivid impression of yesterdays that keep getting farther away.

  • happy
    2019-02-25 21:44

    I found this a superb look at the iconic battle of World War I. In spite of being written appox. 50 yrs ago, Alistair Horne’s look a Verdun stands up extremely well. Mr. Horne looks at the battle from all levels, from the poor infantry soldier in mud to the highest general in his chateau. In looking at the commanders, the German commander, Falkenhayn, comes off extremely poorly. He is presented as being overly cautious, overly secretive, excessively stingy with troops, having a flawed strategic vision, and probably his worst fault - indecisive. In fact Mr. Horne has almost nothing good to say about him. The French commanders don’t fare much better. With their over reliance on "Spirit of the Attack", they let the defenses around Verdun decay to the point that they were almost inviting a German attack. Of all the major French commanders, Petain comes off the best. In looking at the French commanders, the author also looks at the culture of the French Army. He looks at how the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war affected the development of the army's culture and tactics. This culture embraced the "Spirit of Attack" as the only approved method of war and led to many needless deaths in the trenches along the western front. The picture painted of Petain, the accepted hero of Verdun, is an officer completely out of step with the prevailing attitudes in the army - a defensive specialist. He was the right man, at the right place, at the right time.In addition to giving an excellent understanding of overall flow battle, the author also does a commendable job of telling the reader the experience of the men who had to make the battle plans work. The story of the poor infantry soldiers, both German and French, is in my opinion the best part of this work. His telling of the fall of Ft. Douaumont to the Germans in the early stages of the battle is very well done. The author also tells of the emotional toll the battle took on the men fighting there. By the end of the battle entire French battalions were baaing like sheep as they moved to the front. Yet, in spite of the horrendous loses and living conditions, there were no major break downs in disciplineMr. Horne also lets the reader know of the new weapons and tactics used in the battle. These include the first use of flame throwers and phosgene gas by the Germans and rolling barrages by the French as they pushed the Germans back in fall of 1916.In addition to telling the story of the battle itself, the author looks at the effects it had on the army's both sides, both in its immediate aftermath and how it affected the developement of tactics that were used in Second World War.About the only problem I had with the book is rather nitpicky, but as with many other authors of books on the Great War, Mr. Horne’s uses many quotes in French and the translations sometimes leave a little to be desired.Overall, this is one the best books I’ve read on the Great War. I highly recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in the events that occurred some 100 yrs ago. My rating - 4.75 stars, for Goodreads - round up to 5

  • Geoff
    2019-03-01 01:44

    On my recent trip to France, I stayed for a time in a village called Gigny, situated on a plateau of farmland where Upper Burgundy meets Champagne; a town of about 30 houses total, close-knit, yards cordoned off by tall stone walls overgrown with lilac and ivy. The entire countryside was dotted with similar clusters of ancient towns, each of them radiating from a small square dominated by a church bearing dates of construction beginning in the fifteen or sixteen hundreds. The roads connecting these anonymous hamlets were often only a lane and a half wide, dusty, skirted on each side by sloping fields brilliant with rapeseed in bloom, or emerging sunflowers, young wheat undulating in the breeze, or channels of dense, deep green forest; the wind running across the stalks of plants would culminate in a sound not unlike hearing the ocean break from across a bluff. In our rental car, we would pass through one of these farm towns in a matter of minutes, sometimes less, and then be again amid the ranging expanse of fields- it was a beautiful, enchanting desolation. We would comment now and then on that peculiar desolation, on what seemed to be the lifelessness of these towns secluded in the foothills east of Paris that spread on toward Switzerland and Germany and the heights of the Alps, populated by buildings that looked, from the exterior, as if no one had tended to them for a century; and then we were out again across another broad expanse, another village, a spire, an agglomeration of terracotta-tiled houses and unpeopled streets.A common feature of these towns, besides the tiles and the spires and the stone walls and the little gardens, quickly became apparent- a tall obelisk set on a stone base, engraved with the dedication “Pour les morts” and the years 1914-18, and on the reverse side the same inscription followed by the years 1940-45. Sometimes, even more affecting, “Pour les enfants morts”. Every one of these villages had a monument to their war dead, still tended, with wreaths and flowers decorating them, sometimes set in the church square and sometimes erected on a well-chosen overlook, so that one could contemplate the sacrificed and the landscape that was sacrificed for all at once. Considering that seventy percent of the French Army at one time or another found themselves involved in the battle of Verdun, more likely than not a great number of these engraved names bore witness to that horror. It also came as no surprise to find, in the opening pages of Alistair Horne’s book, a familiar reference to the strange isolation of these towns in Champagne-Ardenne that we had observed, towns whose very topography, very essence, spirit and form, were grievously altered by their proximity to the front lines of the World Wars. Part of it can be explained by the simple fact that their children never returned, and even a hundred years later the landscape of France is being influenced not only by what occurred in Verdun during those ten months in 1916, but by everything that followed in the first half of the 20th century- everything that Verdun gave birth to.The cottage where we stayed in Gigny had a small enclosed yard with a stone barn and a well, in the morning magpies and doves would fly from tree to tree above and sing, a truck selling fresh bread would sound its horn as it paused on its route, and the wind would make a constant song; in the evenings owls called out and the hours were accompanied by the regular tolling of bells resonating from the church spire. It is so difficult to imagine, after these idyllic impressions have taken hold, a century ago the sound of artillery echoing over these same places like the mad beating of muffled drums, or the thought that farther eastward, on the other side of the Meuse, French observers watched as these same style of church spires, usually visible along the horizon, disappeared morning by morning (they were leveled so the Allied guns had fewer sighting points), and that this lush, verdurous landscape that I experienced was at one time long ago so immolated that one aerial observer compared it to the “humid skin of a monstrous toad”.The particular tragedy of WWI, and holocausts like those that occurred at Verdun and the Somme, is the fact of their being wars not of men against men, but as is so often reiterated in this book, of men against material. What is flesh and bone and blood supposed to gain against multi-ton iron-encased shells, whose shrapnel fragments alone took two men to lift and pulverized instantly the bodies that weren’t incinerated by their initial blasts? What could lines of bodies do marching into the firing zone of hundreds or thousands of well-barricaded machine guns? What use rifles against Big Berthas and what resistance does flesh and reason hold to flame throwers, phosgene gas that penetrated masks, and beyond that, the simple lack of food and water and sleep in a landscape barren and burned, bereft of hiding places and forests reduced to smoldering splinters, and unremitting shelling that so churned the earth that bodies were interred and spat up and interred again, so that when forces dug into their trenches at night, in the morning they beheld that their walls were lined with corpses? This was the first instance in history of mass armies colliding with the new death machines of industrialized war; in some ways it was a grand experiment in mass murder; for the first time air forces were formed, machine guns utilized to their full extent, flamethrowers and gas attacks and unimaginable long range artillery barrages employed- it was a grand preview of what progress was to make of the battlefield in the 20th century- and the wretched souls who walked into it did not know what was waiting or quite what to do about it. Eric summed it up very well in his review of this book, that “disparity, that failure to come to grips with a merciless new order, that suspension in a bypassed culture... a powerful image of human bewilderment before change, and time passing.”Old Europe was being obliterated on the mill of the Western Front, and you get the sense that not even those in command had anything approaching a full appreciation of the changes that had come over tactical battle. A quarter of a million people died at Verdun, many of them in missions that were suicidal from the outset (toward the late periods of the battle, battalions took to cynically bleating like sheep on their way to the front lines), many of them meeting their death simply because of poor planning, or incomprehension at the consequences of the new technologies. For a time it seemed that the battle itself had become some malevolent force, independent of those fighting it, some kind of “Moloch” or “Minotaur” or “Ogre” (as soldiers began referring to it), that demanded more blood, whose raison was no longer some tactical positioning or the possession of some particular fort or tract of land, but the ritual of death itself; the Totentanz enacted in February of 1916 was sustained of its own inertia.As the summer of 1916 dragged on, the strategic importance of a victory at Verdun became less and less relevant for both sides, but the symbolic importance of maintaining the battle rose in inverse proportion. Disastrously, for the fates of countless souls, Verdun became the all-important symbol of vitality and tenacity for both armies, for the success of the War in general, and as Horne observes “In all man’s affairs no situation is more lethal than when an issue assumes the status of a symbol. Here all reason, all sense of value, abdicate.” Thus the butchery grimly dragged on through Autumn.What Horne does so well in this book is to give a heartbreaking, human picture of those that participated in the battle, along with a virtuoso recreation (that belies phenomenal amounts of research) of the ebb and flow of the battle. Individuals are so carefully and lovingly recreated, heroes and villains, brave men and fools dropped into the narrative of the battle so fittingly that you would think Horne was inventing; alas he was not. Single sentences describing individual soldiers could easily be expanded into book-length portraits, and the Great Leaders of the armies on both sides are not spared when they were ridiculous or cruel, blind, bull-headed or prophetic, and even occasionally noble. Perhaps the great achievement of this book is that it takes one of the most distinctly inhuman events in history, and fills it to overflowing with humanity.

  • Buck
    2019-03-20 21:58

    Some selfish but ultimately healthy mechanism insulates us—most of us, most of the time—from life's horrors. Without a mental carapace to protect us from the sheer awfulness of things, we’d be reduced to masses of quivering, suicidal jelly before we even got out of bed. Take this humdrum little factoid: a quarter of a million men died in the Battle of Verdun. A quarter of a million. The mind refuses to assimilate such a statistic. Sure, you can understand it, but its full significance doesn’t register; it couldn’t possibly, because if you ever managed to grasp the immensity of suffering concealed behind that cold, round figure, you’d go insane. Something very, very bad happened at Verdun in 1916. Not just bad in the trite war-is-hell kind of way, but cosmically, apocalyptically bad. Those who experienced the battle groped instinctively for religious or mythological analogues: ‘Moloch’, they called it, or ‘Minotaur’, or simply ‘the monster’. All these nicknames attest to a feeling shared by nearly everyone who was there: a sense that the war had finally exceeded the reach of human control or comprehension. As the editor of the German Reichsarchiven put it:...Verdun transformed men’s souls. Whoever floundered through this morass full of the shrieking and the dying, whoever shivered in those nights, had passed the last frontier of life, and henceforth bore deep within him the leaden memory of a place that lies between Life and Death, or perhaps beyond either... But ordinary soldiers could be no less eloquent. A French sergeant—who had once been filled with ‘the patriotism of the warrior’—wrote to his wife:I have changed terribly. I did not want to tell you anything of the horrible lassitude which the war has engendered in me, but you force me to it. I feel myself crushed…I am a flattened man. Or there’s the Jesuit priest who had enlisted in the ranks and who found himself expressing, in the words of the author, ‘singularly un-Catholic sentiments’: Having despaired of living amid such horror, we begged God not to have us killed—the transition is too atrocious—but just to let us be dead. We had but one desire: the end.Military history per se doesn’t really interest me: I couldn’t care less how many meters XX Corps advanced or how the 9th Hussars effected a sweeping pincer movement. And in the vast, chaotic abattoir that Verdun became—troops being marched up to the line would sarcastically bleat like sheep—such tactical details are even less relevant than usual. Alistair Horne knows this, and though he’s very good at the ‘big picture’ stuff, his true forte is the telling close-up, where he zooms in on a solitary individual to show you the grime on his face, to let you hear his cynical jokes and—all too often—witness his final moments.The Price of Glory contains dozens of these inset portraits, many of which read like novels compressed into a single paragraph. They give an overwhelming impression of the variety, intensity and plain oddness of all those vanished lives. Here’s Horne describing Jean Navarre, a French fighter ace:The son of a wealthy paper manufacturer and something of a playboy, Navarre loathed killing and claimed he flew only because he had to. He took poorly even to relaxed airforce discipline; he was incapable of keeping a log-book, and was at one time placed under arrest for disobedience. The men in the trenches adored him because when there was no enemy in the air he would ‘distract’ them by hurling his red plane…into terrifying—and strictly forbidden—aerobatics over the front line. In all he fought 257 combats at Verdun, most of them against heavy odds, and shot down eleven planes. Wounded, he displayed violent bad temper in hospital; shook Paris by his wild debauches on convalescent leave; and finally ended the war in a mental home, suffering from chronic depression into which he had sunk after the death of his brother. In 1919, while preparing a stunt to fly under the Arc de Triomphe, he was killed in collision with telephone wires under circumstances that suggested suicide.Isn’t that amazing? You couldn’t invent such a fascinating character if you tried. I don’t think they even make people like that anymore.Well, I feel I’m on the verge of one of my tiresome anti-fiction rants here, so I’ll calmly remove my hands from the keyboard. But let me say that if you have any desire to understand the series of collective psychotic episodes known as twentieth-century history, you could do worse than to start at Verdun. It’s pretty much the primal scene. No wonder the last hundred years have been totally FUBAR.

  • Eric
    2019-03-12 22:47

    Usually I just breeze through military history, but this was very affecting. Horne has that novelistic eye for the pathos of everything human--for even something as dry-sounding as the fluctuations of French army tactical doctrine 1870-1940. Horne shows you the sadness and helplessness behind the old cliche, 'generals are always fighting the last war.' The French army is bottled up and surrounded in fortress towns like Sedan and Metz by the Prussians in 1870--so in the years between then and 1914 a mindlessly aggressive, chauvanistic faith in the holiness of attack, and a contempt for fortifications or defense or even tactical retreat, holds sway among the French officer class--and you can guess how successful those ideas were against machine guns and massed artillery, once WWI started. The incredible carnage and loss of manpower of WWI then swings the pendulum the other way, and France re-commits to fortresses and static defense, and builds the Maginot Line, a relic that is then simply driven-around by the German panzer corps in 1940. The defining choice of the battle of Verdun was General de Castelnau's decision to defend the city, to pick up the German gauntlet, a choice Horne doesn't see as very wise--but de Castelnau was a young officer in 1870, had witnessed the headlong rout of the French army and was fearful of what might happen if he ordered a retreat from a city of great symbolic importance to French history. There is something so poignant about how military officers are shaped by the traumas of their early careers, when they are young and powerless witnesses of defeat and incompetence. One thinks of Colin Powell's doctrine, which states that the US should only commit itself to war when it has overwhelming force, a definite political goal and an exit strategy. A junior officer in the 1960s, Powell wanted to avoid another Vietnam; they heeded his doctrine in 1991 but, as we know, in 2003 even Powell seemed to forget it.All war is sad, but there's something about WWI (and the American Civil War) that strikes me as especially tragic. I think it's just how unprepared Americans in 1860 and Europeans in 1914 were for what was about to overtake them. They spent years grimly performing quaint, outdated, "heroic" tactics with industrial weapons that had rendered the use of such tactics nothing short of suicidal. That disparity, that failure to come to grips with a merciless new order, that suspension in a bypassed culture, is for me a powerful image of human bewilderment before change, and time passing. Horne is very well placed to represent this as he was an officer in WWII, and one of his recurring themes is how differently things were conducted (when it came to infantry tactics) in the war he fought in. They had finally faced up to the bottomless destructive capacity of modern war.

  • A.L. Sowards
    2019-03-06 22:52

    This was my first WWI battle-level book and it was very informative. Sad, too, because Verdun is among the worst battles in history. (Horne makes the case that it is the worst battle in history, even worse than Stalingrad, and he might be right.)Faced with stalemate on the Western Front, Falkenhayn, German chief of staff, came up with a plan to bleed the French army white. He would attack a target they had to defend, like the forts in front of Verdun, and then let attrition take its toll. There was fighting around Verdun before the battle started, and there was fighting after, but the main campaign started with the German attack in February of 1916. Of course, for the German front-line soldiers, the goal was to take Verdun—not just to attack it and force the French to defend it—so the early months of the battle consisted of German breakthroughs that never got as far as they could have, because Falkenhayn wouldn’t provide enough troops to exploit front-line successes. The lack of honest communication on strategy between Falkenhayn and his generals cost the German Army dearly. And naturally the French defended their territory tenaciously, through new weapons like phosgene gas and flame-throwers, through mud and shells and more shells, usually while hungry and thirsty and surrounded by corpses.What Falkenhayn didn’t realize was that attrition would hit both armies. By the year’s end, the French and German armies were exhausted. The German army would not recover during WWI, and it’s easy to argue that the French army never recovered at all. Yet the longer the battle went on, the more important victory became for each side, and so the battle continued.It’s easy to picture WWI as a horrible series of men in trenches, suffering huge casualties to take only a few yards of territory, commanded by officers that kept repeating the same mistakes over and over. That’s true for Verdun, in part, but that might be an oversimplification. German storm troops had good success with their new techniques early in the battle. Indeed, the French learned from them and French troops, mimicking their enemy, had some early success in the Somme. Toward the end of Verdun, Nivelle perfected the rolling barrage technique with artillery, and the French were able to recapture most of their lost territory at what, compared with the rest of the battle, seemed like lightening speed. Naturally the Germans quickly adapted, so the rolling barrage technique didn’t work the next year and stalemate returned to the trenches.Horne concentrated on the leadership at Verdun, but included information on the grunts involved in some of the heavy fighting, especially that surrounding the forts. After reading this book, I find myself reluctantly respecting Petain. Most of my knowledge about Petain prior to reading this involved his WWII actions, but during WWI he was the right man at the right place, a rare general who saw men as men. Most other WWI-era generals seemed to see men in the same way they saw bullets and shells—go ahead and use them up; they’re expendable; we’ll find more somewhere. Horne quotes another writer who says War is less costly than servitude . . . the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau. But in 1940, Petain didn’t know about Dachau, he only knew Verdun, and I can understand his desire not to repeat it. (He was also very old and may have been slightly manipulated during WWII. And he was handed a mess he didn’t make and I don’t think anyone could have fixed it at that point. My prior contempt for Petain has been transferred to Laval. Who knew this book would turn me into a Petain apologist?)Horne’s writing is good, though it was written for an audience that reads far more French than I do, and he rarely provides translations. He sums the battle up with these words: Neither side ‛won’ at Verdun. It was the indecisive battle in an indecisive war; the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war; the battle that had no victors in a war that had no victors.

  • Mikey B.
    2019-02-25 19:43

    This is a searing account of the battle of Verdun. The relentlessness and remorselessness of battle are illustrated in this book. The battle - meaning the killings, became self-perpetuating. It was only Petain on the French side who was able to "slow" this murderous momentum. The Germans introduced phosgene gas to increase the attrition.As the author suggests Verdun may be a reason for the French collapse in 1940. The soldiers were not fighting each other, but were fighting artillery - and were maimed and blown to pieces by it. The Verdun battlefield was small and concentrated and the duration was long. The entire area was constantly being shredded by artillery.The only objection I have is that the author analyzes characters too much by facial features, like Falkenhayn. Also sometimes we are waded down with military positional descriptions - this division on the left flank, that division posted...Nevertheless this is well worth reading.

  • Tony
    2019-03-08 03:07

    In the author’s words “Verdun was the First World War in microcosm; an intensification of all its horrors and glories, courage and futility.”This book is considered a classic for a reason. Well written, at times almost poetic, this does a good job of retelling the battle of Verdun, using witness accounts from both sides, from the lowest to highest levels, and also locating it within the wider context of WW1 and WW2. Just a couple of niggles - the author’s continual quoting of untranslated French annoyed me, and the maps were too few and poor.

  • 'Aussie Rick'
    2019-03-22 20:06

    This is a classical piece of military history, well written and presented. This would be the best book that you'll find covering the terrible slaughter that is known as 'Verdun' during WWI. The author is one of the best English authors who covers French history and he writes his stories well. Take the time to read this book you wont be disappointed!

    2019-03-22 03:07

    A comprehensive, well-written history of one of the First World War's most bloodiest battles, which raged from February to December 1916. Codenamed 'Unternehmen Gericht' (Operation Judgment), Germany attacked the fortress town of Verdun in its bid to break the backbone of the French Army and so demoralize France that it would feel compelled to sue for peace.

  • Betsy
    2019-03-11 00:04

    What makes Verdun even more tragic is the idea that the British Army needed to take some of the pressure off the French by attacking on the Somme, and more men died.One more thing about this book's title; it says so much in a few words. What a price the soldiers and the world paid.

  • Ian
    2019-03-22 03:04

    After reading "The Fall of Paris" earlier this year I was keen to follow up with this second part of Alistair Horne's trilogy about the Franco-German conflicts of 1870 - 1940. This is a comprehensive analysis of the immense Verdun battle of 1916, with a particular emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of the generals on both sides - Joffre, Pétain, Nivelle, Falkenheyn, the Crown Prince, Knobelsdorf; and others. It's also strong on the experience of the battle for the ordinary soldier. Obviously no mere book can convey the horrors of war, but this one will leave you wondering how on earth human beings could have withstood being caught in the maelstrom of Verdun.Broadly speaking I had known the events and outcome of the battle before reading the book, though I had not realised just how close the French had come to disaster on more than one occasion. I suppose that realistically battles between evenly matched armies will often be decided by very narrow margins. As with "The Fall of Paris" though, the author sets out the influence of the battle on subsequent events. Crucially, he concludes that the French and German armies drew opposite conclusions, and that those conclusions decided the outcome in 1940. For the French, the heroic resistance at Verdun, based on strong fortifications, led to the adoption of the fatally defensive "Maginot Mentality". For the Wehrmacht, a large number of whose WWII generals had fought as junior officers at Verdun, the lesson was about how to ensure an attack did not lose impetus, and how to avoid attacking infantry being slaughtered by enemy artillery and machine guns. Horne went on to write a third book about that outcome, even though as a Francophile and a WWII veteran himself, he describes that outcome here as "almost too painful to recall."

  • Brendan Hodge
    2019-03-22 23:56

    Alistair Horne's detailed history of the nearly year-long battle of Verdun is both exhaustive and human in its detail -- much like his A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962 which I read and very much liked last year. Most importantly, Horne does a good job of going beyond the too-easy (especially with WW1) tack of portraying the horrors of the battlefield and contextualizes Verdun in the French national self understanding. Price of Glory is part of a loose trilogy, which also includes The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71, which deals with the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to 1871 and also To Lose a Battle: France 1940 which deals with France's defeat at the beginning of WW2. Horne's work is a useful corrective to a number of pop-history assumptions, both about how the Great War was fought and about the importance of martial glory in French self-understanding. It was specifically because France had taken so much pride in its all-out defense against Germany in the Great War that their sudden and complete tactical defeat in WW2 was such a blow to the national psyche -- a wound still very much in evidence in French handling of Vietnam and Algeria.The book, which makes extensive use of first hand accounts from both French and German soldiers, makes for gripping reading.

  • Tyler Lees
    2019-02-23 02:38

    To explain the bloodshed of the twentieth century, Alistair Horne undertook to view them through the prism of th relationship between France and Germany, culminating in a trilogy: The Fall of Paris, The Price of Glory, and To Lose a Battle.In The Price of Glory, Horne explains how defeat in the Franco-Prussian war shaped France prior to World War One, and the key battle for France at Verdun, and how the outcome at Verdun would shape the decades to come. At Verdun, Germany would waste away its best opportunity to force a decisive victory, while France would find its postwar strategic vision become obsessed with fortifications.Horne demonstrates how Verdun was in many ways a microcosm of the First World War - little change at a horrific human cost, and a demonstration of the true horror of war.

  • Mike Grady
    2019-03-17 23:05

    Excellent read on one of WWI's major battles. The author captures both the epic scale of the battle as well as the horrible conditions for the individual soldier. There is also an afterword as well as an epilogue to illustrate the impact that the the battle and key players had on the Second World War. Fascinating.For me, the only draw back was that while the author provides several quotes in French, he does not provide an interpretation.Recommended for those interested in either the First World War or the brutality of the conflict.

  • Andrew Ssempala
    2019-03-11 20:54

    Huh! I had never read a complete story about war when I first read this book in mid 2000. I shall never forget the name of the man who wrote this book. Its simply one of the very best books I ever read. It revealed to me that even though the weapons used in the World War I were not as lethal as what we saw in the next war, still the ferocity was maddening. That infamous standoff at Verdun between the arnies of France and Germany will remain one of the greyyest description of war in my mind. The one man I shall never forget here is the meticulous General Petain.

  • Al
    2019-03-11 03:52

    Good book on the Verdun campaign. Very compelling read. It left me angry at the arrogance and blindness of British and French military leaders. Horne gives both sides of the story, and his German vignettes are compelling.

  • Richard Dollison
    2019-03-03 19:53

    Excellent book about a horrible event. It is difficult to imagine that one battle claimed 700,000 casualties.

  • Kristin Strong
    2019-03-13 23:52

    Written over 50 years ago, when the memory of Verdun was much fresher than it is today, this chronicle of the longest and bloodiest battle of the First War (and possibly the longest and bloodiest in history) is definitely not a dry account of troop movements and battle plans. It's the story of the battle, rather, often in the words of the men who fought there. The humiliation of the Franco-Prussian war that drove France to defend Verdun to the last man, the doctrine of relentless attack adopted by the French high command, the desire of German commander Falkenhayn to "bleed white" the French army at just this point on the Western Front -- all this conspired to make this battle into a conflict that Horne likens to two mountain goats, horns hopelessly tangled, doomed to struggle to the death.The tragedy was compounded by inept and indecisive commanders, insufficient planning for supply and communications routes, and the reliance of the French on the line of forts around Verdun to withstand everything the Germans could throw at them and protect the city (this would come back to haunt them in 1940, as we know). And the willingness of men in power to continue pouring the bodies of millions of men into what many called a meat grinder allowed the bloodbath to continue for ten long, muddy, miserable months.When finally the battle drew to a close, it was with a whimper, not a bang. The commanders changed, objectives shifted, and the war dragged on for nearly two more years. The lessons learned at Verdun by both sides affected tactics and strategy and technology, but were sadly not sufficient to prevent yet another worldwide conflict in the very next generation, or to stop later leaders from throwing their forces into other, smaller Verduns in that war.

  • Sami Merilä
    2019-03-01 03:56

    Koska vuosi sitten en oikein tiennyt mitään Ensimmäisestä Maailmansodasta, päätin lukea aiheesta kolme kirjaa. Tämä on niistä toinen, ensimmäinen oli Elokuun Tykit, joka kertoi sodan ensimmäisen kuukauden tapahtumat. Verdun:n valitsin luettavaksi siksi, että taistelun nimi on aina välillä ollut esillä kun kuvataan ihmisten mielettömyyttä. Ja sellainen tämä taistelu oli. Taistelutantereella esiteltiin uusia aseita (mm. liekinheitin, tykistön kaasukranaatit), uusia taistelutapoja (mm. ilmataistelu lentueissa, ryömivä tykistökeskitys). Sota muuttui brutaalimmaksi. Periaatteista ei luistettu, vaan miehiä lähetettiin tapettavaksi. Kenraaleilla ja marsalkoilla oli valtapeliä, jossa yksinäinen sotamies ei merkinnyt mitään. Kuvaavaa oli, että ranskalainen kenraali Petain, joka oli hetkellisesti ranskalaisten rintamalinjan ylipäällikkönä, taistelun jälkeen sai lähinnä pilkkaa kohdakseen ja ura kääntyi laskuun, vaikka hänen ansiostaan tuhannet sotamiehet jäivät henkiin.Kirjasta ei välity tuoksu ja voi olla vaikea käsittää, että Verdunin kaupungin ympärillä haisi mätänevä liha vielä seuraavan vuoden kesänä. Hyvin kirjoitettu kirja (tosin kieli on jo vanhahtavaa), mutta hivenen kuivakka. Taidan lukea viimeisen kirjan aiheesta liittyen lähinnä politiikkaan - ennen ja jälkeen.

  • Ethan
    2019-03-18 02:53

    This is a fantastic history of the battle of Verdun. Alistair Horne is exceptional at contextualizing the battle in it's place in WWI and it's aftereffects on the German and French mindset leading into WWII. He unpacks the battle from the highest level to the lowest soldier in the trench. He's descriptions of the absolute horror experienced by the men that fought there, especially at Fort Douaumont or Mort Homme will stay with you. Truly top notch history and extremely readable. My only complaint is that he doesn't translate any of his French quotes! The book is littered with them and he just drops them in there, forcing you to go to the internet and google translate them! I know he probably speaks fluid french, but not all of us do! A super minor quibble but I think he does it in all his books, it takes you out of the flow to have to pull out your phone and look up a translation.

  • Philip C.
    2019-03-15 20:03

    I first read this book when I was in High School, and after 40 years I still find new ideas to consider. The Author is not a Scholar, but that does not distract from his account of France's National Martyrdom. Filled with character sketches as well as a battle history. The book has withstood the test of the changing historiography surrounding the Great War. Horne's insights into the impact of the battle on French society remain trenchant and relevant. Without the Victory of Verdun, France does not win the War, and without the price of that Victory Hitler does not March into Paris in 1940. If one does not read any other book on this battle, read this one.

  • Joanne Stevenson
    2019-03-23 23:55

    This is a deceptively thin book that took me nearly two months to read. Perhaps because I needed to return to check maps look at photos of the soldiers in the narratives and read paragraphs outloud to anyone who would sit still long enough. The mind boggling carnage of World War I is captured and the lessons of war learned in WW I and so eagerly applied in WWII are captured so well in the story of this battle, as is the unbelievable power of a handful of men with serious personality defects. I wish this was required reading in high schools.

  • Tawnee
    2019-03-16 20:40

    Let's just say I'm not a huge history buff... at all. I was headed to France with a history major and he wanted to visit Verdun. Yet, I couldn't tell you the first thing about it. He recommended this book before we went and I was glad he did. It really put things into perspective while I was there. It's been over six months since I read the book, but wow - what these men went through is insane. This book is very well put together. It's very educational, but keeps your interest. And if you ever plan to visit the forts, you should definitely grab this book before you go!

  • Norm
    2019-03-24 01:53

    This is a fascinating book about an almost-forgotten but pivotal battle of World War 1. It is told mostly from the French perspective, and is exhaustively researched and stirringly written. I won't try to convey the impressions that this book provokes, but between this and "Poilu" (written by a foot soldier in the French army of the time) give the reader an in-depth picture of one of the great insanities of modern civilization...

  • Aaron Shields
    2019-03-17 23:53

    700K+ dead. What a harrowing disaster.

  • Lohra
    2019-03-15 19:56

    Well summarized book on Verdun. Good overview of the importance of the battle, the incompetence and belligerence of the leaders, the hefty sacrifice and hellish conditions of the men in the front lines. You really come to appreciate why France didn't put up much of a fight in WWII (neglecting The Resistance, naturally). They had nothing left to give. A sad and frustrating read, a sad and frustrating time.

  • George Nap
    2019-03-10 20:46

    " War is less costly than servitude...the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau." - Jean Dutourd

  • Darren
    2019-03-13 23:43

    As expected, this was an incredible book. Alistair Horne is definitely the master. This book should be a keystone to any attempts to understand WWI.