What is it? A "total war," the authors say in surfers' tongue, is "a big one." Later they tell us they mean World Wars I and II, though this is somewhat of a misnomer, for these pages also meditate on war and strategy of any stature. How did it get that way? Despite the subtitle, the authors don't presume to know. "The 'causes' of the last two big wars . . . are mysteries," write Ruthven Tremain, an author of reference books, and Thomas Powers, a reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for a series of articles on the Weathermen. "There is no way of interpreting the pattern of war so far, and what might happen next." What the authors offer instead in these pages is more modest but no less valuable: quotes culled from two millennia about arms control and the nature of war which might help readers spot "patterns" to suggest "what will happen next." Sometimes, the authors step too far into the background, quoting former U.S. negotiator Bernard Baruch and atom bomb scientist Robert Oppenheimer, for example, but not explaining the tension between them. This understated approach, however, is a refreshing alternative to the plethora of war books with overbearing political agendas. "Total War" observes without condescending, informs without indoctrinating and warns without preaching.