The First Total War

The First Total War : Napolean's Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare

3.71 (305 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Hardback
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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 A. 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, 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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Product details

  • Hardback | 432 pages
  • 154 x 238 x 44mm | 539.78g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Illustrations, maps, ports.
  • 0747577196
  • 9780747577195
  • 1,166,772

Review quote

'In a moment when our leaders tell us we are facing a faceless enemy in an endless war, genuinely illuminating parallels and historical common-sense are often in short supply. David Bell amply redresses the balance by taking us back to the Enlightenment origins of our entwined conceptions of total war and perpetual peace. The First Total War is as wise at it is timely, and as rich in detail as it is grand in scope.' David Armitage, Professor of History, Harvard University 'One of the most thoughtful and original historians of his generation, David Bell has written a book that is as important for the citizen as for the scholar, for it is framed by a merciless tension between now and then. It is engaging: unpretentiously learned, powerfully evocative, endlessly stimulating. It is disquieting: it obliges us to reflect on aspects of our own society, and its representations of war that we have largely repressed. Asking fresh questions, discarding comfortable and comforting behavioral stereotypes, and synthesizing a vast array of material, leavened by his brisk imagination, Bell has mapped what is a virtually new field of inquiry: the culture of war.' Steve Kaplan, University of Versailles 'The First Total War is a fascinating and brilliant work of history. It offers a giant insight into the nature of modern war -- an insight into the strange and scary dialectic of innocence and violence, the dream of total peace and the outbreak of total war.' Paul Berman
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About David A. Bell

David A. Bell teaches French history at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of Lawyers and Citizens, which won the Pinkney Prize of the Society for French Historical Studies, and the highly acclaimed The Cult of the Nation in France. He has contributed to many American and European publications including the New York Times Book Review, Time, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children.
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Rating details

305 ratings
3.71 out of 5 stars
5 19% (58)
4 45% (137)
3 26% (80)
2 9% (26)
1 1% (4)
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