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A Higher Form of Killing


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Poison gas, the torpedo, the zeppelin--Diana Preston offers a startling new window onto World War I with her chronicle of the birth of weapons of mass destruction.

About the Author

Diana Preston is an acclaimed historian and author of the definitive Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology), The Boxer Rebellion, and The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842, among other works of narrative history. She and her husband, Michael, live in London.


A British historian of considerable breadth and accomplishment, Preston (The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842, 2012, etc.) focuses on three wartime innovations that elevated to new heights mankind's ability to slaughter itself: submarines, zeppelins and poison gas . . . In what is often difficult but necessary reading, Preston provides haunting descriptions of the effects of poison gas. A harrowing--and, in this era of drones, absolutely pertinent--look at the rapacious reaches of man's murderous imagination. -- starred review * Kirkus *
Preston deftly and graphically weaves the complex stories--hitherto kept distinct--of these land, sea and air innovations into a connected narrative. For the first time, readers can grasp the mounting cognitive assault on civilians, soldiers and politicians of the curious clustering of events that spring. * New York Times Book Review *
A fascinating and chilling chronicle of weapons of mass destruction . . . Preston's eloquent and objective history of war is immensely exciting. * Library Journal *
Vividly narrating the deployment of each of these new technologies, Preston emphasizes the horrors they delivered and the ethical deliberations (or absence thereof) of key decision makers. Viewed together, Preston suggests, these three new ways of killing demonstrated the shortcomings of the laws of war and set the trajectory for even more powerful weapons of mass destruction. * Booklist *
Well-detailed, shattering . . . This is Preston at the top of her analytical form, offering fascinating modern parables on war, mortality and civilization. -- starred review * Publishers Weekly *
In her fine new book, A Higher Form of Killing, British author Diana Preston looks at six weeks from late April to June 1915, which, as her subtitle contends, 'forever changed the nature of warfare.' Over this period, Germans deployed chlorine gas at Ypres on April 22 in an attempt to break through the Allied lines; the German submarine U-20 sank the British passenger ship Lusitania, killing 1,189 civilians on May 7; and a German zeppelin airship bombed London on May 31. * The Washington Post *
The author's excellent use of war diaries and newspapers in the sections on Zeppelin warfare are particularly gripping, juxtaposing the terror and awe felt by Londoners and the heroism required of Zeppelin crews . . . A well-documented and argued analysis of the emergence of modern warfare. -- starred review * Shelf Awareness *
For an illuminating look at the Lusitania in the context of Germany's pioneering use of weapons of mass destruction, see Diana Preston's A Higher Form of Killing. -- Lev Grossman * TIME Magazine *
Diana Preston captures beautifully this brief period * Evening Standard *
A wonderful reflection on the excesses of the first world war -- Rana Dasgupta * Observer *

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