Book: The First Total War

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Book:

The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

Author: David A. Bell
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Publisher: Mariner Books

World War I has been called “the war to end all wars,” the first time combatants were mobilized on a massive scale to ruthlessly destroy an enemy. But as David Bell argues in this tour de force of interpretive history, the Great War was not, in fact, the first total war. For this, we need to travel back to the era of muskets and sailing ships, to the age of Napoleon. According to Bell, it was then that warfare was transformed into the hideous spectacle that seems ever present today. Indeed, nearly every modern aspect of war took root in that time: conscription, unconditional surrender, total disregard for the rules of combat, mobilization of civilians, guerrilla warfare, and the perverse notion of war fought for the sake of peace. The revolutionaries were leading “the last crusade for universal liberty.” A war for such stakes could only be apocalyptic—and terribly bloody.

With a historian’s keen insight and a journalist’s flair for detail, Bell brings this period to life while keeping an eye on our own “war of liberation” in Iraq. The parallels are astonishing, making this vivid narrative history as timely and important as it is unforgettable.

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