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Little, Brown, April 2016

Paralysis. Stuttering. The 'shakes'. Inability to stand or walk. Temporary blindness or deafness.

When strange symptoms like these began appearing in men at Casualty Clearing Stations in 1915, a debate began in army and medical circles as to what it was, what had caused it and what could be done to cure it.

Then in July 1916 with the start of the Somme battle the incidence of shell shock rocketed. The high command of the British army began to panic. An increasingly large number of men seemed to have simply lost the will to fight. As entire battalions had to be withdrawn from the front, commanders and military doctors desperately tried to come up with explanations as to what was going wrong. 'Shell shock' - what we would now refer to as battle trauma - was sweeping the Western Front.

Re-assessing the official casualty figures, Taylor Downing for the first time comes up with an accurate estimate of the total numbers who were taken out of action by psychological wounds. It is a shocking figure.

Taylor Downing's revelatory new book follows units and individuals from signing up to the Pals Battalions of 1914, through to the horrors of their experiences on the Somme which led to the shell shock that left the men unable to continue fighting. He shines a light on the official - and brutal - response to the epidemic, even against those officers and doctors who looked on it sympathetically. It was, they believed, a form of hysteria. It was contagious. And it had to be stopped. Breakdown brings an entirely new perspective to bear on one of the iconic battles of the First World War.

Extracts from several excellent reviews of Breakdown:

The Times called Breakdown 'an impressive, balanced and often deeply moving book' and concluded: 'As the Somme's anniversary approaches, anyone who wishes to understand it and its terrible consequences sould buy Breakdown.'

(9 April 2016).

The New Statesmen wrote of ‘Historian Taylor Downing’s superb account of the military response to the epidemic of shell shock…Downing’s book is a necessary reminder that trauma is an injury and not a sign of weakness.’

(6 May 2016).

The Financial Times wrote ‘Downing is too clever a historian to rehearse clichés…What is innovative about Downing’s approach is the interleaving of “the crisis of shell shock” with the military history of the Somme. He tells both histories concisely and with good balance.’ (25 June 2016)