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 Valery'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 petain and de Gaulle, France's two leaders in the next war - the seeds of the future.
Ian Ousby wrote widely on subjects both English and French. His recent books include The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English and Occupation- The Ordeal of France 1940-1944, which won the 1997 Edith McLeod Literary Prize, given annually to the British book which 'has contributed most to Franco-British understanding', and the 1997 Stern Silver PEN Award for Non-fiction. He died in August 2001.