The Last Full Measure by Michael Stephenson
How Soldiers Die in Battle

83%

8 Critic Reviews

Throughout the book, the author is evenhanded, clear and consistently illuminating; even those well-read in military history are likely to learn something new.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

In this brilliantly researched, deeply humane work of history, Michael Stephenson traces the paths that have led soldiers to their graves over the centuries, revealing a wealth of insight about the nature of combat, the differences among cultures, and the unchanging qualities of humanity itself.

Behind every soldier’s death lies a story, a tale not just of the cold mathematics of the battlefield but of an individual human being who gave his life. What psychological and cultural pressures brought him to his fate? What lies—and truths—convinced him to march toward his death? Covering warfare from prehistory through the present day, The Last Full Measure tells these soldiers’ stories, ultimately capturing the experience of war as few books ever have.

In these pages, we march into battle alongside the Greek phalanx and the medieval foot soldier. We hear gunpowder’s thunder in the slaughters of the Napoleonic era and the industrialized killing of the Civil War, and recoil at the modern, automated horrors of both World Wars. Finally, we witness the death of one tradition of “heroic” combat and the construction of another in the wars of the modern era, ranging from Vietnam to America’s latest involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In exploring these conflicts and others, Stephenson draws on numerous sources to delve deep into fascinating, period-specific detail—tracing, for instance, the true combat effectiveness of the musket, the utility of the cavalry charge, or the vulnerabilities of the World War II battle tank. Simultaneously, he examines larger themes and reveals surprising connections across both time and culture. What does the medieval knight have in common with the modern paratrooper? What did heroism and bravery mean to the Roman legionary, or to the World War I infantryman—and what is the true motivating power of such ideals? How do men use religion, friendship, or even nihilism to armor themselves against impending doom—and what do we as human beings make of the undeniable joy some among us take in the carnage?

Combining commanding prose, impeccable research, and a true sensitivity to the combatant’s plight, The Last Full Measure is both a remarkably fresh journey through the annals of war and a powerful tribute to the proverbial unknown soldier.
 

About Michael Stephenson

See more books from this Author
MICHAEL STEPHENSON is the author of, most recently, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought. In addition to his writing, Stephenson spent more than twenty-five years as a professional book editor, for much of that time with a particular focus on military publishing. For six years he was the editor of the Military Book Club. He lives in New York City.
 
Published May 22, 2012 by Crown. 482 pages
Genres: History, War, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Last Full Measure
All: 8 | Positive: 7 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Excellent
Apr 01 2012

Throughout the book, the author is evenhanded, clear and consistently illuminating; even those well-read in military history are likely to learn something new.

Read Full Review of The Last Full Measure: How So... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on May 24 2012

Mr. Stephenson honors the fallen by making their experiences fiercely, viscerally understandable. Though it hardly qualifies as escapist reading, its fascination with historical detail and celebration of raw courage make it hard to resist.

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Open Letters Monthly

Excellent
Reviewed by Steve Donoghue

In every chapter, our author displays – but does not flaunt – not only his encyclopedic knowledge of all things military history but also his refreshingly ‘Big Picture’ understanding of it all...

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HistoryNet

Below average
Reviewed by David Zabecki on Nov 02 2012

There are some disturbing aspects about the final chapter...While the documentation and references in the first seven chapters are uniformly excellent, the author cites at least one highly questionable reference multiple times in Chapter 8...

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Civil War News

Excellent
Reviewed by Joseph Derie on Aug 20 2012

Stephenson has mined the sources for all periods and generally done an excellent job...The Last Full Measure will be of interest to...those interested in learning how soldiers have died in battle from the birth of recorded history to the present day.

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Rhapsody in Books

Good
Reviewed by Jim on Jul 10 2012

Stephenson’s writing is crisp and effective. He tempers the intensity of his accounts with poignant quotes from letters or other writings of battle participants.

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Collected Miscellany

Good
Reviewed by Jeff Grimm on Sep 15 2012

Stephenson’s prose is interesting and powerful. He covers the subject in an objective manner and brings intriguing insights into the subject of battlefield death.

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Battles and Books

Good
Reviewed by Patrick Shrier on Jun 18 2012

Michael Stephenson comes as close to describing the reality of combat as I have ever read from a non-combat vet. This objective and fair description of death in battle should be on the shelf of every military historian, whether they are a veteran or not.

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