While Martin Gilbert is clearly writing from a position of huge erudition and learning, the structure of the book is such, in my humble opinion, that it is unclear what his exact purpose is. On the one hand he is trying to paint the big picture, detailing all the intricacies of the various fronts of the war, even introducing fronts that I didn't know or had forgotten were there, such as those of Salonica or Libya. On the other hand he is trying to leaven it with the personal experiences of soldiers on the ground. And while we do get some sort of cross section of the experiences of combatants from the various participant nations, by far the largest preponderance of these are of the British experience on the Western Front. One is thus left with the impression that Gilbert was not sure if he was writing a big picture overview of the whole war, as the book's title would suggest, or an account of the Brish experience on the Western front. Thus I can understand why some reviewers feel the account is anglocentrically biased.
Futheremore, the way these aspects are interleaved - big picture narrative interspersed with personal anecdote - is managed in such a way that gives a somewhat fragmentary reading experience. I recently read an account of the WWII pacific war, Rising Sun (Military Classics)
by John Toland, who managed to achieve the same goal much more effectively, by telling the big picture story through narrative accounts of individuals from all ranks and backgrounds in the theatre. So, I know that what Gilbert wanted to do can be done. I just don't think he achieves it here.
Having said that, there is a huge amount of information in this book and one cannot fail to learn a great deal of history from reading it. I am glad however that I had previously read Stevenson's 1914-1918: The History of the First World War
which gives an extremely solid amd satisfying big picture account. If I had not read that beforehand this book might have left me with a relatively fuzzy picture of the sequence and significance of developments.
I also have to say, in this book's favour, that its human perspective is very humane and moving. One almost gets a glimpse of the mindset of the age, that kept most people committed to the hostilities, despite the awfulness and even the hopelessness that each side had to endure. Having said that, no matter how much I read about the first world war I cannot escape the conclusion that it was plain ignorance and delusion that led populations into the nightmare. It does seem to me that people of all backgrounds had the mentality of cattle. I cannot conceive of this kind of war being met with such enthusiasm by people today, but then maybe I am deluding myself about how far we have all come.
As for war guilt, this account puts the blame firmly on the Germans and personally on Kaiser Willhelm who vacilated in the days leading up to war, talking himself out of it from time to time only to be manipulated back into it by his overbearing staff. It seems he could have said No, and at times even decided to, only to be talked back into it by the Prussian hardliners around him.