S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

BOOK REVIEW: A Box of Sand: The Italo-Ottoman War 1911-1912 by Charles Stephenson

a box of sandI’m conflicted reviewing this book. Stephenson reports the chronologic events of this war in exceptional detail. Unfortunately, it’s dull, and tedious—lacks an empathetic milieu. It’s hard reading for the ordinary citizen. Perhaps it is best as a reference book for the military historian.

This war between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire early in the twentieth-century (1911-1912) for control of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania (now Libya) mostly is lost to history nor is its raison d’être much understood. Stephenson has superbly researched the war’s particulars and has penned about as historically accurate a scenario as one could reckon. He relates in excruciating detail the chronology of the war—laced with interminable quotes from journalists, diary entries, diplomatic and military messages, after-action reports, etc. He spends considerable text discussing the reactions of the Triple Entente to Italy’s (a member) participation in the war, Ottoman politics, and details and implications of the Balkan Wars. Such background is related to the conflict but is tangential and diverts our attention from the main theme.

I’m overwhelmed with ancillary information. The war’s key points are buried in this comprehensive blather. On completion of his text, I do not have a clear picture of the events of this war nor of its origins.

I have three more complaints: the text of this 296-page book is in a small font (size and type not given on the copyright page)—far too small for comfortable reading. And, the Appendices are in an even smaller font. Often times, he mentions locations in the text that are not plotted on his maps. The Index contains only the names of people mentioned in the text. A more comprehensive Index would contain geographic locations, ship’s names, and etc.

Lastly, though the war ended officially in 1912 it morphed into a protracted war with the indigenous Senussi that lasted until 1934. The Senussi are a Muslim political-religious Sufi order and tribe of (now) Libya and Sudan.

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