the-white-warGlenys Kinnock once observed that busy people only get to read one book on holiday. My book this time was The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson. I was largely ignorant about the 1915-1919 war between Italy and Austria-Hungary until as a student in the summer of 1980 I babysat for an architect’s son in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomite mountains. One day we took the cable car high up above the piste of Ra Valles and, down below, I could see the remains of a wooden shanty town. Intrigued, I started to discover that the front line had run through those mountains. Thompson has written a brilliant book, a mixture of political, economic, social, and cultural analysis, as well as an account of the ghastly and disastrous tactics of Cadorna, Italy’s top general and every bit as much of a ‘donkey’ as the generals on the Western front (for long afterwards, to British troops ‘to do a Cadorna’ meant to screw up completely). This is also a cracking good read, with many a poetic insight or witty epithet. Just one will have to do here: ‘Sonnino (Foreign Minister) was silent in all languages he spoke, while Orlando (Prime Minister) was voluble in all the languages he didn’t.’ The study also provides sobering insights into the roots of Italy’s dalliance with Fascism and the Balkan convulsions that would, ultimately, lead to the reassertion of the nation states of the Western Balkans today. I warmly recommend this book not just to those interested in military history but to those who want to understand better why Europe is the way it is.