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Review: Volume 1 - First World War

Review: Volume 1 - First World War

This is no formal history of the Great War in the strict or scientific sense of the phase; no detailed record of naval and military operations. There have been many occasions on which silence or reticence seemed the only way to maintain the national composure. "Mr Punch's History of the Great War" is a mirror of varying moods, month by month, but also reflecting in the main how England remained steadfastly true to her best traditions.

Charles Hudson VC was one of the twentieth century's outstanding fighting soldiers. His military career through two world wars and in Russia in 1919 earned him a host of medals. He was also a man of deep feeling, an accomplished poet and, in many ways, a rebel. In this compelling biography, the author skilfully interweaves his own narrative insight with his father's wartime journals and other unpublished material. The narrative includes detailed personal descriptions of the Battle of the Somme and other actions. It recounts the authoress Vera Brittain's bitter reaction to the death of her brother Edward when under Hudson's command in Italy in 1918 and tells how Hudson, out of compassion for her feelings, did not reveal the truth until he met her in 1934. It tells of the extraordinary affair in the summer of 1940, when the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, asked a meeting of senior army commanders in the then beleaguered Britain whether, in the event of a successful German invasion, their soldiers would agree to be evacuated to Canada or whether they would insist on going home to support their families. The author examines Hudson's motivation in both wars and delves deeply into his complex, and highly courageous, character.

We know a great deal about Lawrence of Arabia but what about the lot of the common soldier who fought on the Middle Eastern Front? Using personal accounts from the diaries and letters of British soldiers who served in the First World War, David Woodward describes the experience of combat in Egypt and Palestine. Drawing upon unpublished records in the Imperial War Museum, "Forgotten Soldiers of the First World War" paints a vivid picture of life for the British Tommy in conditions vastly different from the Western Front, where heat, sand storms and insects proved just as deadly as the enemy.

The book offers an account of the activities of Australian soldiers on leave who ended up in Ireland as tourists and often found themselves caught up in the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Black and Tan War. The chapter on the Easter Rising adds a new dimension to the increasingly complex picture of that event, while students and scholars of the Irish diaspora will find much of interest also. The author makes use of participants' diaries. There are fascinating glimpses of rarely mentioned social aspects of wartime Ireland, such as the 'six bob a day tourists' (Australian soldiers on leave). Kildea also looks at the ongoing impact of the First World War on Australian and Irish identity, and compares recent commemorations of WWI in both countries.

The Cambridge History of the First World War

This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: December 2013
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online ISBN: 9780511675676
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9780511675676
  • Subjects: American History: General Interest, British History: General Interest, Military History, History, Twentieth Century Regional History
  • Collections: Cambridge Histories - Global History, Cambridge Histories - British & European History, Cambridge Histories - American History, Cambridge Histories - Asian History, Cambridge Histories - Middle East & African Studies
  • Series: The Cambridge History of the First World War

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Book description

Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of the First World War offers a history of the war from a predominantly political angle and concerns itself with the story of the state. It explores the multifaceted history of state power and highlights the ways in which different political systems responded to, and were deformed by, the near-unbearable pressures of war. Every state involved faced issues of military-civilian relations, parliamentary reviews of military policy, and the growth of war economies and yet their particular form and significance varied in every national case. Written by a global team of historical experts, this volume sets new standards in the political history of the waging of war in an authoritative new narrative which addresses problems of logistics, morale, innovation in tactics and weapons systems, the use and abuse of science all of which were ubiquitous during the conflict.


'… both scholarly and deftly drafted, a joy to read. It provides broad as well as deep analysis of just about every conceivable facet of this global catastrophe. It deserves close reading and contemplation.'

Len Shurtleff - World War One Historical Association

'The global perspective on the war, represented in these volumes, adds further layers of complexity to our understanding of this foundational moment in modern history. The conjunction of early twentieth-century patterns of globalization and industrialized great power war was singular, distinguishing it from earlier European conflicts fought across the globe and the Second World War, which followed the collapse of globalization in the 1930s.'

List of Maps
1:The Origins of the War
2:Willingly to War
3:The Western Front in 1914
4:The Eastern Front in 1914
5:The War in Northern Waters 1914-1915
6:The War in the Pacific
7:The Dark Continent: Colonial Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa
8:Turkey's Entry
9:Germany's Global Strategy
10:Financing the War
11:Industrial Mobilization
Conclusion: The Ideas of 1914

'One of the most impressive books of modern history in a generation.' Max Hastings, London Evening Standard

The First World War: Volume I: To Arms

World War I is the runty little sibling of a cooler, better-known big brother, World War II. The perception of World War I&aposs sheer meaningless, along with World War II&aposs historical impact, has continued for long these many years, despite constant reappraisals, including Niall Ferguson&aposs recent theory that it was all one big war, with a little break in the middle. For whatever reason, movies, books (aside from some great novels, such as "All Quiet on the Western Front"), and the History Channel a World War I is the runty little sibling of a cooler, better-known big brother, World War II. The perception of World War I's sheer meaningless, along with World War II's historical impact, has continued for long these many years, despite constant reappraisals, including Niall Ferguson's recent theory that it was all one big war, with a little break in the middle. For whatever reason, movies, books (aside from some great novels, such as "All Quiet on the Western Front"), and the History Channel are in love with World War II, while World War I gets the shaft.

This is too bad, because I think WWI has the preeminent place in 20th C. history. Not only did it lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, the fall of the French and British empires, and the global dominance of the United States, but the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, to punish Turkey, created the modern Middle East. And we all know how well that turned out.

I've nibbled at the edges of World War I. I read John Keegan's slim one-volume history, "The First World War." I read "Dreadnought" and "Castles at Sea" by Robert Massey, detailing the naval arms race leading to WWI and the naval battles of WWI respectively. I read Tuchman's "The Guns of August" and Ferguson's "The Pity of War." Once I had the basic chronology, I started looking for a multi-volume work to let it all cohere in my mind.

Strachan's "To Arms," the first in a proposed trilogy (which will never be finished, unless he lives forever), came highly recommended. I hate it. In the memorable words of "The Critic": it stinks.

Apparently, in order to be a serious historian, you have to be boring. For this book is boring. I mean, really boring. It's not that I didn't understand the entire chapter devoted to the loan structures of every beligerent nation, it's that I didn't care. Funnily enough, Strachan writes at one point that he feels the cause of the war had a great deal to do with the personalities involves. He then goes on to say absolutely nothing about any of the personaliies. Indeed, all humanity is drained from this book, as a thief (such as myself) might siphon the gasoline from your automobile late at night, while you are watching "Let's Make a Deal." I don't think there's a single person mentioned in the whole book. I didn't know that. I didn't know that WWI started, was fought, and ended, without human participation.

The descriptions of battles are frustrating. Fine, I get it, you're not a narrative historian, so you aren't going to use anecdotes from the people who fought it, or even the people who were in command. You're just going to explain the troop movements. I'm okay with that. JUST PUT IN SOME FRACKING MAPS! Honestly, you telling me that the 25th Battalion went East while the 142nd Regiment marched Southwest and Company A of the 18th Regiment of Lancers played pinochle on an alluvial plain 45 miles south by southeast of Paris really doesn't help me without a battle map. Oh, he has these wonderfully helpful topographical maps, but there are no troop movements. In order to make even the slightest sense of Strachen's incoherent and dry-as-old-toast retelling of von Moltke's execution of the Schlieffen Plan, I had to look up maps on the Internet. That was fun. Reading a book that is the size of a fat baby while simultaneously scrolling through battle maps online.

I finished it, though. If millions of men could live and die in the trenches, I figure the least I could do is read an incredibly boring and un-insightful account of their sacrifice. . more

Community Reviews

With the centennial of the onset of World War 1 upon us, I sought and found in this 2004 book a good choice for a one-volume history of the whole shebang. It is highly compressed into 340 pages, but is not wanting for covering the war in its world-wide aspect. With such a scope, we lose out on in-depth character assessment of major figures, but there are too many of them anyway. What we get instead is an effective framework of interpretation for hanging a lot of the facts and factions and sites
With the centennial of the onset of World War 1 upon us, I sought and found in this 2004 book a good choice for a one-volume history of the whole shebang. It is highly compressed into 340 pages, but is not wanting for covering the war in its world-wide aspect. With such a scope, we lose out on in-depth character assessment of major figures, but there are too many of them anyway. What we get instead is an effective framework of interpretation for hanging a lot of the facts and factions and sites of conflict. Each of ten chapters covers a theme, and in the process the reader is led to the perspective that for many of the participants the war was meaningful and worked to achieve the aims of big ideas.

I appreciated that his credentials are sound as an Oxford historian involved in work in a massive trilogy on the war, the first volume of which “To Arms” came out in 2001. This more accessible synthesis created as a companion to a TV documentary, which I was pleasantly surprised to be available on YouTube(Intro Chapt. 1). I was also reassured with a favorable reaction to the book in a New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik:

Strachan is no drudge he has a point to make and a message to deliver. His desire is to take the cliché image of the war, particularly the English one—the war as Monty Python massacre, with idiot Graham Chapman generals sending gormless Michael Palin soldiers to a senseless death—and replace it with something more like the image that Americans have of our Civil War: a horrible, hard slog, certainly, but fought that way because no other was available, and fought for a cause in itself essentially good.

I was drawn in the first paragraph of Strachan’s preface:
In Britain popular interest in the First World War runs at levels that surprise almost all other nations, with the possible exception of France. The concluding series of Blackadder, the enormously successful BBC satirization of the history of England, has its heroes in the trenches. Its humor assumed an audience familiar with chateau-bound generals, goofy staff officers and cynical but long-suffering infantrymen. The notion that British soldiers were ‘lions led by donkeys’ continues to provoke a debate that has not lost its passion, even if it is now devoid of originality. For a war that was global, it is a massively restricted vision: a conflict measured in years of mud along a narrow corridor of Flanders and northern France. It knows nothing of the Italian Alps or of the Masurian lakes it bypasses the continents of Africa and Asia it forgets the war’s other participants—diplomats and sailors, politicians and laborers, women and children.

I am glad to get a broader foundation, even if it tarnishes my impulse to judge that war is never worth its cost. I have long been under the sway of the image of the total waste and futility of the war as dominated by the story of the slaughter of the Somme, Verdun, and Passchendaele and led to hate the cold blindness of generals like Douglas Haig. This has been reinforced by accounts written in the 20’s such as Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Robert Grave’s memoir “Goodbye to All That”, as well Faulks’ recent novel “Birdsong”. The dreadful defensive stalemate at the trenches was unfortunately what the generals faced, and the decisions to risk so many lives on a breakout against machine guns were transformed to the war of attrition and industrial exhaustion. Though Strachan doesn’t spend much time second guessing the generals, he doesn’t go quite as far as Gopnik in excusing them: “If a steering committee of Grant, Montgomery, Napoleon, and Agamemnon had been convened to lead the allies, the result would have been about the same.”

With such losses, why weren’t there more voices to say “It’s not worth it compromise in a negotiated peace”? Some seemed to think and believe that the massive loss of human life demanded total defeat of the enemy to make their loss worth something. Others would point to German and French intransigence over Alsace-Lorraine as the key barrier to Wilson’s 14 points for peace. Still others consider perpetuation of the war as bound to early visions of key leaders like Churchill on the spoils of empires that later got divided so richly in the Treaty of Versaille. I don’t get a clear answer on this question from Strachan, or else no dominant reason stands up as responsible for the tragic duration of four long years. He does make a point that only because the enough soldiers believed in the war and did not to mutiny was the war able to continue as long as it did.

Strachan does put a dent in my comfort in the notion of inevitability of this war through reading that stopped on Tuchman’s “Guns of August” (1962). She implanted in my brain a picture of bumbling but warmongering empires which were so trapped by their nest of unstable alliances that of the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo represented effectively a random spark to start the conflagration. Yes, a lot of leaders were already planning for war, but Strachan emphasizes how the war the Germans and Austrians wanted in 1914 was a restricted one to settle the fate of Serbia and that they were genuinely surprised over Russia’s mobilization in response. And the apparent roll-out of the invasion of France according to the 1905 Schlieffen Plan was not significant as an inflexible script for the Germans in Strachan’s view.

Strachan also dispels the notion that the onset of the war was driven in a meaningful way by imperial ambitions of Germany, Britain, and France. However, for many of the other participants brought in through the extended conflicts of the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empires, the territorial integrity as nations and motivations for expansion did serve as a prime motivator. I was able to learn a lot more about the fates in the war of Serbia, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, and Greece and come to understand some of the causes and consequences of fighting taking place in Turkey, in Mesopotamia and Palestine in the Middle East, and at multiple sites in Africa. Obviously, just broad strokes, but vivid nonetheless.

No matter how foolish the concept that this as “the war to end all wars”, the prospects for significant consequences did indeed lead to meaningful consequences:
This is of course the biggest paradox in our understanding of the war. On the one had it was an unnecessary war fought in a manner that defied common sense, but on the other it was the war that shaped the world in which we still live. …
The First World War broke the empires of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungry, and Turkey. It triggered the Russian Revolution and provided the bedrock for the Soviet Union it forced a reluctant United States on to the world stage and revivified liberalism. On Europe’s edge, it provided a temporary but not a long-term solution to the ambitions of the Balkan nations. Outside Europe it laid the seeds for the conflict in the Middle East. In short it shaped not just Europe but the world in the twentieth century. It was emphatically not a war without meaning or purpose.

Within Europe, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Finland, and Lithuania had all achieved independence and a measure of definition before Woodrow Wilson even landed at Brest. …In Central and Eastern Europe war had effected change, and for those who sought such changes it continued to do so. Indeed, the United States’ own decision to intervene was confirmation of the same point. War could work.

In a 2013 interview, Strachan warned planners of the centennial events that the commemoration was in danger of becoming sterile and boring. He calls for more than pity over a meaningless tragedy, and promotes discussion and education on a broader scope about the war.

Strachan gets his wish on more debate about the Great War when the first broadside of this centennial year was fired by British Education Secretary Michael Gove in the The Daily Mail in January 2014. Titles alone tell a lot:
--Gove: Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes?”
--Editor: Michael Gove blasts 'Blackadder myths' about the First World War spread by television sit-coms and left-wing academics
• Education Secretary says war is represented as a 'misbegotten shambles'
• But he claims that it was in fact a 'just war' to combat German aggression”

--Actor (in The Guardian): Sir Tony Robinson hits back at Michael Gove's first world war comments”
• Actor who played Baldrick says Gove is irresponsible for saying Blackadder is leftwing and paints war as 'misbegotten shambles'

--Blogger (in History Extra): Is Blackadder bad for First World War history?
--Columnist (in Huffington Post): Michael Gove attacked For 'Blackadder' comments on 'Left-wing' whitewash of WW1 history

You can see for yourself the punch and affront and antidote to insanity in the parodies referred to:
--Blackadder: Good Luck Everyone
--Monty Python: Ypres 1914 skit

. more

Video added 4 March 2021

There is a 2-minute video introducing the book which I have embedded below.

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Review: Volume 1 - First World War - History

The war that began formally in August, 1914 changed the political and geographical map of Europe, the Middle East, and even much of the Far East--and, in broader but very real terms, the Earth itself. In many ways, we are still engaged in this war and the maps are still flowing. Though there was a period of 'entre deux guerres' in the 1920s and early 1930s--a false peace at best--the world has for the most part been on a war-time footing and economy for the past hundred years.

It's important to remember that time, to understand the people who lived through it, and to enter into the dynamics, the reverberations of which are still felt in our own time. These sixteen books, including histories, memoirs and novels, are some of the best from and about that period and give us an opportunity to experience this watershed in human history.


Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road by Pat Barker. A Trilogy (1992-1996)

In 1917, Siegfried Sassoon publicly refused to continue as an officer in the British Expeditionary Force in Europe. His regard of the war as senseless slaughter and his public figure had authorities classify him as "mentally unsound." He is subsequently sent to a hospital where a renowned psychiatrist and anthropologist, William Rivers, tries to restore him to sound mind and to the trenches. Barker mixes first and third person narratives in this ongoing story of the inner and outer struggles of the war. She mixes fictional characters, such as Dr. Rivers, with actual ones, such as Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, to create a compelling tapestry of this watershed event in history. "[A] fierce meditation on the horrors of war and its psychological aftermath." - New York Times

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon (1930)

Better known for his war-time poetry as well as his being one of Britain's major poets and novelists after the war, Sassoon also wrote a 3 volume fictionalized version of his own life. Memoirs of an Officer is the second volume of the trilogy and deals with Sassoon's alter-ego, George Sherston, as he experiences the bitter life of the trenches, officer's training, and his return to France at the Somme. fter being wounded at Arras, Shelton is sent home to recuperate where he arranges an interview with an anti-war columnist. He decides to speak out against the war, which could be considered treasonable. He is declared insane and transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh. This is a fine set piece to the Pat Barker books which also deal with Sassoon.

Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (1924-1928)

Parades End is considered by many the greatest of the British war novels. Written by one who served as an officer on the western front and originally published as four linked novels, the narrative follows Christopher Tietjens through the decade as he experiences the destruction of his Tory values as well as his most significant relationship. The trenches of the war's battles and a post-war relationship with a young suffragette reshape his world as he becomes part of the national reconstruction. Christopher's experiences of the cataclysm of the war parallel the changes in the society around him as the Victorian/Edwardian period yields to the murky, often terrifying 20th century, which comes hard on the heels of the Great War.

W.H. Auden wrote in 1961, "Of the various demands one can make of the novelist, that he show us the way in which a society works, that he show an understanding of the human heart, that he create characters whose reality we believe and for whose fate we care, that he describe things and people so that we feel their physical presence, that he illuminate our moral consciousness, that he make us laugh and cry, that he delight us by his craftsmanship, there is not one, it seems to me, that Ford does not completely satisfy. There are not many English novels which deserve to be called great: Parade's End is one of them."

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928) also The Road Back (1931)

All Quiet on the Western Front has been called the quintessential war novel of the 20th century. Along with its sequel, The Road Back, Remarque depicts the lives of ordinary soldiers caught up in the insanity in which, as Thomas Hardy noted, "You shoot a fellow down/ You'd treat if met where any bar is, / Or help to half-a-crown." The first book sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print. The Road Back continues the story recounting the soldiers' transition from the trenches to their homes, especially harrowing since the trenches for these German soldiers were often not far from the towns to which they returned. Both books were among the first banned and burned by the Nazi government as "degenerate."

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (1939)

Though not as well-known as Remarque's book, Trumbo's portrayal of the inner journey of a grotesquely wounded American WWI soldier remains a terrifying and moving recounting of the consequences of our insane repetition of the horrors of war. Trumbo, speaking of World War I in 1959, said, "Nine million corpses later, when the bands stopped and the serenities started running, the wail of bagpipes would never again sound quite the same. It was the last of the romantic wars." Though the book was suppressed by the U.S. government for fear of undercutting morale as we moved toward the new war, it became an underground classic among American soldiers both in Europe and in the Pacific.


The War that Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War by Margaret MacMillan (2013)

Written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, Oxford professor Margaret Macmillan addresses the still enigmatic question of why Europe would abandon the peace, confidence, and prosperity of the first decade of the century and walk into the devastation that could have been avoided, even at the last moments. MacMillan begins in the early 19th century and ends with the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. She traces the political and cultural paths, the technological and economic changes which eventually converged in the cataclysm that has defined our history ever since.

"The logic of MacMillan's argument is such that even now, as she leads us day by day, hour by hour through the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, we expect some statesman or other to jump on the lighted fuse. 'There are always choices,' MacMillan keeps reminding us." - The New York Times Book Review

A Short History of World War I by James L. Stokesbury (1980)

Felt by many to be the best short history of the war, Stokesbury lets words and actions speak for themselves. He takes no sides, here, but lets history unfold as it happened. Stokesbury was a professor of history at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, until his death in 1995.

The First World War by John Keegan (1998)

This is one of the finest single volume histories of the war, straightforward and honest. With no "grand theory" to prove, Keegan lets the reader draw their own conclusions. To quote Publishers Weekly, "In a riveting narrative that puts diaries, letters and action reports to good use, British military historian Keegan delivers a stunningly vivid history of the Great War. He is equally at ease and equally generous and sympathetic probing the hearts and minds of lowly soldiers in the trenches or examining the thoughts and motivations of leaders who directed the maelstrom."

Fromkin covers the shaping of the Middle East from 1914-1922. He describes the effects of the Allies alliance with the Arabs and the German support of the Ottoman Empire along with the many intrigues among the various political and social units of the area. He also analyzes the European and especially the British role in shaping the nations and the cultures of the Middle East at the 1922 Cairo conference, with the creation of the present day countries including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and the later nation of Israel. This was done at a time when an alliance between Arab nationalism and Zionism seemed possible, but that was scuttled by European decisions about the countries they then controlled.

Fromkin, like Tuchman (see below), is a non-academic historian, which might explain the straightforward narrative without the tangential material so dear to academia. He also creates a realistic picture of T.E. Lawrence and his work in Arabia. Lawrence's rather sane suggestions about how Britain in particular should treat the Middle East were ignored by Winston Churchill and the other major figures at the Cairo conference however, many of Lawrence's forebodings have proved true even in our own day. All in all, a great read, especially important in understanding today's Middle Eastern crisis. "Wonderful. No book published in recent years has more lasting relevance to our understanding of the Middle East." - Jack Miles, Los Angeles Book Review

The Guns of August: the Outbreak of World War I by Barbara Tuchman (1962)

Tuchman describes the months leading up to the opening of the war and the first months of conflict. To quote, Doug Grad, Tuchman's editor at Random House, "This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war. Tuchman is masterful at portraying this abrupt change from 19th to 20th Century."

Memoirs & Autobiographies

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (1922)

This is the autobiographical account of Lawrence of Arabia who describes his role in the formation of the modern Middle East and his part in the revolt of the Arab world against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence also played a role in the Allies' dividing of the Middle East at the 1922 Cairo Conference, a division whose effects are felt in conflicts to this day. Lawrence was trying to be a moderating influence in this conference but was ignored by most members of the predominately British committee. His memoir recounts exploits, machinations, and adventures, some admittedly romanticized by Lawrence, during the War and his work with Allenby and the rest of the British military during the conflict itself.

This is the first volume of the memoirs of Vera Brittain who lost her fiancé, her brother, and two close male friends in the war while she became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in different parts of the world. Even 80 years after its publication, Brittain's memoir has continued to inspire and has become a major work in both history and woman's studies. In 2009, Diana Anthill wrote in the Guardian, that Brittain "was brave, and her strong feelings would always express themselves in action. And she was honest. as blazingly honest as anyone can be."

Toward the Flame by Hervey Allen (1926)

Allen's account of the American 28th regiment in 1918 is considered one of the finest presentations of the United States' involvement in the War. Allen went on to become a successful novelist, best known for Anthony Adverse. Allen's National Guard unit was called up and poorly trained for what they were expected to accomplish, but Allen lets us enter into the anguish of his troop marching through France to their participation in the disastrous battle for the village of Fismette. This is a clear-sighted account of the realities of war from those who were part of it.

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)

This exceptional autobiography recounts Graves' school life and his life as a young officer in World War I. "It is a permanently valuable work of literary art, and indispensable for the historian either of the First World War or of modern English poetry. Apart, however, from its exceptional value as a war document, this book has also the interest of being one of the most candid self-portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted. The sketches of friends of Mr. Graves, like T. E. Lawrence, are beautifully vivid." - Times Literary Supplement

Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Office by Edward Campion Vaughan (1981)

Vaughan, a young British officer, wrote this diary in 1917, ending with the Battle of Ypres in which most of his company died. He develops from a cocky and inept young officer to one humbled both by his superiors and by the horrors he experiences, and, as the books develops, he becomes a more courageous and capable leader. The book moves from eager, almost arrogant, enthusiasm to despair, as we see a young man coming to terms with his own life and the lives for which he's responsible. The final sentence is telling: "I sat on the floor and drank whisky after whisky as I gazed into a black and empty future." James J. Cramer, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2006, recommends the book as one of the best dealing with war: "Vaughan describes the screams of the wounded [at Ypres] who had sought refuge in the freshly gouged holes only to find themselves slowly drowning as rain fell and the water level rose. A relentlessly stark account of the war's bloodiest, most futile battle."

To Hell and Back with the Guards by Norman Cliff (1988)

Norman Cliff was 21 when he joined the Grenadier Guards. He was in action at Loos, the Somme, where he was wounded, and the bloodbath of Passchendaele, In the service up to the end of the war in 1918, Cliff refused promotion or commissions in order to stay with his fellows, many of whom he saw die horribly. He served in what was considered one of the toughest groups in the British army and was decorated for valor. However, the insane slaughter of the war, as he depicts it in his memoir, haunted him till his death at age 83. After the war, he became a journalist, a pacifist, a friend to Mohandas Gandhi, and a pursuer of peace. This book, published 11 years after Cliff's death in 1977, displays the filth and hell of combat as it truly is. He dedicated to book "to all who strive for world peace and an end to wars."

I definitely agree that Kenneally's superb "Daughter's of Mars" belongs on the WWI list.

The first half of JoJo Moyes " "The Girl He Left Behind" is set in occupied France during WWI and gives a view of that war seldom treated. While I enjoyed the entire novel, it is the first section that really made me think about French civilians under German occupation during that war. And it is frightening how similar the treatment of the French civilians by the Germans was then and later in WWII.

The origins of the First World War

Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College since 2002, and was Director of the Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War between 2003 and 2012.

Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College since 2002, and was Director of the Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War between 2003 and 2012.


The recent crop of books on the origins of the First World War dispenses with the notion of inevitability in the outbreak of war, and stresses the maturity of European civilization in 1914. They are in danger of prioritizing urban life over rural, civilization and culture over backwardness and superstition. They also say less than they might about the enduring place of war in international relations. The stress on contingency is to be welcomed for getting history away from the determinism of long-term trends, and for reopening the uncertainty of the outcomes still open to the Great Powers in 1914. However, the overall effect is cyclical. The prevailing wisdom on the reasons for war has reverted to the argument that ‘Europe slithered over the brink’, which dominated from the 1930s until the publications of Fritz Fischer in the 1960s. This does not mean that ‘Fischerism’, with its belief in German war guilt, is extinct. The challenge which now confronts historians, as they approach a four-year centenary, is to break this circularity and to explore new paths.

Blood transfusion at the time of the First World War--practice and promise at the birth of transfusion medicine

The centenary of the start of the First World War has stirred considerable interest in the political, social, military and human factors of the time and how they interacted to produce and sustain the material and human destruction in the 4 years of the war and beyond. Medical practice may appear distant and static and perhaps seems to have been somewhat ineffectual in the face of so much trauma and in the light of the enormous advances in medicine and surgery over the last century. However, this is an illusion of time and of course medical, surgical and psychiatric knowledge and procedures were developing rapidly at the time and the war years accelerated implementation of many important advances. Transfusion practice lay at the heart of resuscitation, and although direct transfusion from donor to recipient was still used, Geoffrey Keynes from Britain, Oswald Robertson from America and his namesake Lawrence Bruce Robertson from Canada, developed methods for indirect transfusion from donor to recipient by storing blood in bottles and also blood-banking that laid the foundation of modern transfusion medicine. This review explores the historical setting behind the development of blood transfusion up to the start of the First World War and on how they progressed during the war and afterwards. A fresh look may renew interest in how a novel medical speciality responded to the needs of war and of post-war society.

German War Aims in the First World War

1 Meyer , Henry Cord , Mitteleuropa in German Thought and Action, 1815–1945 ( The Hague 1955 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar This standard work requires some revision in the light of Fischer's findings. Fischer shows that Mitteleuropa was more important on the official level than Meyer—without access to the Foreign Office documents—was aware. It is now clear that Meyer was that rare author who underestimates the importance of his subject matter.

2 Gatzke , Hans , Germany's Drive to the West ( Baltimore 1955 ).Google Scholar This excellent work stands up remarkably well in the light of the new materials discovered by Fischer, though it must be supplemented on some points. To give but one example: Gatzke was puzzled by the contrast between Bethmann's moderation on Belgium in August 1914 and his acquiescence in the annexationist Delbrück-Zimmermann memorandum in December 1914 (Ch. 1). The missing link is provided by Bethmann's “September-Programm 1914” (discussed below), which Gatzke—lacking access to the Chancellery files at Potsdam—could not know.

3 Bethmann's important memorandum of September 9, 1914, has not been mentioned by any previous author, including E. O. Volkmann, who had access to many Foreign Office files while serving as an expert adviser to the Reichstag Committee of Inquiry in the 1920's. Did Volkmann know this memorandum and conceal its existence for patriotic reasons? The question—which is important in reaching any judgment about both Volkmann and the work of the Reichstag Committee—cannot be answered conclusively. Fischer found the memorandum in the Chancellery files, not the regular Foreign Office files, and it is improbable that Volkmann had access to the former. It can be proved, however, that the Foreign Office did exercise a “patriotic” censorship over what materials were made available to die Reichstag Committee. See an important unpublished letter of Consul Max Müller, Foreign Office liaison man with the Committee of Inquiry, to Senator Petersen, Chairman of the Committee, dated December 11, 1919, and a request of Müller for additional personnel because he could not cope with the work load by himself, dated December 18, 1919. (Foreign Office files, Serial 2787:D540925–927 and D540922.) The use of executive privilege to hamstring the work of parliamentary committees is, of course, a practice known in many countries and is not especially discreditable to either the Foreign Office or the Reichstag Committee. It does, however, show the indispensability of the kind of archival work done by Fischer even upon subjects covered at length by the Committee of Inquiry.

4 It may be noted that Fischer conveys a misleading impression when he occasionally implies that Germany could have had a satisfactory negotiated peace at any time if only she had forsworn annexations. He ignores the fact that Allied annexationism was equally a barrier to a negotiated peace. Fischer incidentally does not always differentiate sharply between a negotiated peace based upon the status quo ante (which a strong German leadership might have accepted) and a “Wilsonian” peace—involving the loss of Alsace and Posen—which an undefeated Germany could not possibly entertain. (The argument in Ch. 23 that Germany should simply have accepted Wilson's fourteen points in January 1918 is “unhistorical.”) Fischer is, of course, right in his insistence (see especially Ch. 9) that Germany should have offered an anti-annexationist peace at all times, if only to score a propaganda victory and embarrass the Allied war effort—but the chances that the Allies would have accepted such a peace must be considered poor.

5 Germany's promotion of revolutionary movements will be the theme of an important new book by Egmont Zechlin, Friedensbestrebungen und Revolutionierungsversuche, of which some advance chapters have appeared in the weekly Das Parlament. Zechlin is especially brilliant in comparing German efforts in 1914–1918 with Bismarck's important but little-known “flirtation” with Hungarian, Serb, and Czech revolutionary circles in 1866.

6 Fischer's statement of Germany's war aims overemphasizes their “aggressive” character and minimizes the “defensive” component that also played a role. The idea of a Central European Customs Union was, for example, stimulated in part by the experience of England's wartime blockade and genuine fear of Allied postwar economic discrimination against Germany. The stress upon military securities, guarantees, etc., came naturally to men haunted by the vision of an inevitable second world war before the first was even finished. There was some truth, moreover, in the contention that Germany had only the choice between becoming a genuine world power and being soon reduced to the status of a parochial country in Central Europe (with little influence upon the future course of world history). Fischer pays too little attention to these genuinely tragic elements in Germany's situation: the German megalomania was undoubtedly promoted by a genuine feeling of insecurity. One must further ask whether it was absolutely illegitimate for Germany to seek to become a world power in view of its formidable strength. Admitting that such a goal was beyond their resources, is it reasonable to expect the Germans of 1914 to have recognized this fact and accepted all its consequences? These questions are more easily asked than answered.

7 On this topic, see the important study by Geiss , Immanuel , Der polnische Grenzstreifen, 1914–1918 ( Hamburg 1960 )Google Scholar , originally a dissertation directed by Fritz Fischer.

8 It should be noted that Fischer's unfavorable picture of Bethmann as an annexationist requires pari passu a favorable judgment upon the Independent Socialists, who argued that the Majority Socialists were deceiving themselves—to use no stronger term—in maintaining that they must support the moderate Bethmann against the annexationists. If Fischer is right, the Independent Socialists were right also, and the Majority Socialists were either stupid (in failing to see that Bethmann was fighting much more than a merely defensive war) or wicked (in knowingly supporting an annexationist Chancellor contrary to their own principles).

9 Fischer , F. , “ Kontinuität des Irrtums ,” Historische Zeitschrijt , 191 ( 1960 ), 95 .Google Scholar This article is a reply to one by Hans Herzfeld, “Zur deutschen Politik im Ersten Weltkrieg,” ibid., 67–82, which criticized an earlier article of Fischer's wherein he anticipated the major theme of his book: “Deutsche Kriegsziele, Revolutionierung und Separatfrieden im Osten,” ibid., 188 (1959), 249–310.

10 Many German reviewers have bemoaned the fact that Fischer has “one-sidedly” concentrated upon German annexationist war aims and painted a false “overall picture” by not giving equal prominence to Allied annexationist war aims. The charge would be justified if Fischer had intended to write a general book on war aims in World War I, or had castigated German annexationism for being morally sui generis. His intention was, however, to analyze Germany's striving for European hegemony, and for this problem Allied war aims were quite irrelevant. Fischer is right, moreover, in his contention that Germany, and Germany alone, threatened the European equilibrium by its annexationism, thus qualitatively differentiating German annexationism from that of other powers. It should also be noted that Fischer set himself the scholarly task of exploring the German archives others will no doubt perform the same task for the archives of the Allied Powers as they are opened to historians. Fischer naturally presents in extenso what he found in his researches without attempting to anticipate what future scholars will discover in Paris and London. He has the right to assume, moreover, that Allied war aims are well known to the reader: they were, after all, revealed by the Bolsheviks as early as 1917 in the “secret treaties,” and were largely incorporated in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

11 There have, of course, also been some outcries from the “incorrigible” elements within the German historical profession, some of whose older members have been marked for life by their passionate absorption in the campaign against the “war guilt lie” in the interwar years. A notorious example is a review by Erwin Hoelzle in Das Historisch-politische Buch, X (1962), 65–69, which scores some telling scholarly points but is deplorable in its overall tone. Fischer's “one-sided” emphasis upon German annexationism is described as approximating “the monologue of a madman,” and Hoelzle accuses him of national masochism because he forgets that “one owes justice to one's own country as well as to other nations”!

12 Dehio , Ludwig , Deutschland und die Weltpolitik im 20. Jahrhundert ( Munich 1955 ).Google Scholar

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