DEATH OR GLORY by Robert B. Edgerton


The Legacy of the Crimean War
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A messy book about a messy war. Edgerton (Anthropology and Psychiatry/UCLA School of Medicine) has written histories of the Zulu, the Ashanti, and the Japanese—perhaps not the best background for a social history of the Crimean War (1853—56). The author correctly points out that this conflict between Russia and the Allies (Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia) was the most widespread armed engagement in Europe during the century 1815—1914. He also accurately notes that the Crimean War intensified warfare with the introduction of new technologies, including the railroad, the telegraph, newspaper coverage, innovative rifles, exploding shells, battle steamships, trench warfare, and better techniques in hospital care. Certainly no one would argue with his contention that the majority of deaths were due to sickness and disease. However, that’s about all Edgerton gets right. He commits frequent errors of historical fact on the order of claiming “over 1 million” deaths in a war whose casualties are usually estimated from 500,000 to 800,000. More thematic problems include his attempt to claim Crimea as the most horrific conflict in modern history (despite two subsequent and bloody world wars) by excessively focusing on soldiers” battlefield cruelty and drunken debauchery—behavior hardly unique to Crimea—as well as such other wartime perennials as vermin, disease, and prostitution. The text is repetitive and poorly organized. And as for Edgerton’s summation of a conflict that caused the breakdown of the Concert of Europe, ended a European peace that had lasted almost 40 years, led to four wars altering the balance of power, and prolonged a decaying Ottoman Empire, all with dire future results: the ostensibly anthropological insight that “everyone involved in it responded in much the same ways” because they were “all equally human” just doesn—t cut it. This account has little of worth to contribute to Crimean War studies. (11 b&w photos, 2 maps)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8133-3570-1
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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