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Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities [Paperback]

Gary Sheffield
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jun 2002 Systems and Control: Foundations and Applications

The First World War is arguably the most misunderstood event in twentieth-century history. In a radical new interpretation, leading military historian Gary Sheffield argues that while the war was tragic, it was not futile; and, although condemned as 'lions led by donkeys', in reality the British citizen army became the most effective fighting force in the world, which in 1918 won the greatest series of battles in British history.

A challenging and controversial book, FORGOTTEN VICTORY is based on twenty years of research and draws on the work of major scholars. Without underestimating the scale of the human tragedy or playing down the disasters, it explodes many myths about the First World War, placing it in its true historical context.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; New Ed edition (5 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747264600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747264606
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 174,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Sheffield...sets out the arguments for an interpretation not based exclusively on the war poets, Alan Clark and Blackadder...One can only hope that his compassionate, clearly argued book will displace the [mythical] version (David Horspool, Guardian)

This is revisionist history at its best - thought provoking and original (Trevor Royle, Sunday Herald)

An important book that shatters many myths about the First World War (Richard Holmes)

Amongst the most important books to have been published on the Great War for some years. Very strongly recommended (Stand To!)

Book Description

'An important book that shatters many myths about the First World War' Richard Holmes

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true WW1 classic (already) 28 Jan 2005
By oldhasbeen VINE VOICE
Firstly, a word about what this book isn't - it is not intended to be narrative, year by year account of WW1. Many such books already exist, I found Huw Strachan's very good.
What this book does offer is a reappraisal of WW1, comparing the realities of the Great War with the tired stereotypes and myths that are served up regularly (and unquestioningly) in WW1 films, books and documentaries. Dr Sheffied does not flinch from asking the hard questions, and some readers will be shocked, or possibly angered, by some of his findings. But you don't have to agree with every word of it to find this an outstanding contribution to war history.
Apart from being an outstanding historian, the author is also an excellent writer who retains the reader's attention with stylist prose and wit. Unlike some other "revisionist" authors, he also writes with great compassion for those caught up in the war and resists the trap of rubbishing anyone who has written anything contrary to his thesis, except in cases where it is truly deserved (Alan Clark's dreadful "The Donkeys" being a case in point.)
In short, I wholly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Great War.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent reappraisal of the British Army. 7 Oct 2003
By Matt M.
So often thought of in the ideal of poets such as Owen and Sassoon, Gary Sheffield argues that this was hardly the typical view of the British soldier in the Great War. The old line of the British Army being an archaic institution of incompetant officers and disillusioned soldiers is refuted as a myth of post-war pacifist literature. In reality, the BEF experienced the greatest learning curve of all the armies in the war, and profited most from the hotbed of technological innovations and ideas (the tank, air reconaissance and the "creeping barrage"). The evetual reality of this great learning curve was the most impressive and coherant victory in the histoy of the British Army.
As well as the course of the war, Sheffield also seeks to re-examine the causes, with much emphasis placed on the post-Bismarck attitude of Wilhelmine Germany.
Whilst the author does not seek to deny the mistakes that were made, and the tragedies the befell the frontline soldiers, he argues that the "lions led by donkeys" mentality is one that has obscured our perceptions of the Great War even to this day.
The subject of possibly the most controversy, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, is also reappraised in a single chapter depicting the relationship between Haig and the men under his command, which by 1918, could be described as very coherant. Sheffield does not attempt to lionise Haig, but his excellent revision allows for a far more objective look into a very complex character.
An essential read for all who express an interest in the British Army, and the Great War.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Great War 4 Oct 2002
By HPCecil
The First World War had such vast and tragic implications that as Samuel Hynes has said, its reality has been almost impossible for subsequent generations to grasp and has been replaced by myth. First this was a myth of hallowed victory, achieved by a noble army of martyrs, as evoked in the sombre verses of Sir John Arkwright's 'O Valiant Hearts.' Then, after a few years' interval, this was supplanted by an ever more popular myth, still dominant today, of fatuous leadership, semi-mutinous troops, and repetitive, futile, suicidal attacks. This myth drew its emotional force from works like the haunting poetry of Wilfred Owen.

Gary Sheffield's book tells how battles were fought, how decisions were made and how the nature of the war, so apparently unchanging, gradually altered. It gets away from myths and confronts reality, including all that was dreadful and badly managed; but in doing so it also demonstrates that the British High Command could and did learn by its mistakes and develop new tactics, and that the British troops , despite the fearful battering they took, preserved their unit morale. By the summer of 1918, the British Expeditionary Force had become a highly-trained, professional organisation of immense strength - no 'Joe Soap's Army'. The victories it gained during the 'hundred days', when it pushed back the still redoubtable German army, rank as the greatest by a British force in their country's history.
There is still a popular tendency today, outside historical circles, to mistrust revisionism of this kind as 'pro-war' and to prefer, as being supposedly more humane, depictions of the conflict based on the 'futile war' myth, such as Alan Bleasdale's 'Monocled Mutineer' and Joan Littlewood's 'O What a Lovely War'.
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113 of 126 people found the following review helpful
Not another book about the First World War. After all, we all know everything about that conflict. Brave working class lads shivered and suffered in muddy trenches, sacrificed in futile "over the top" attacks urged on by toffish officers, themselves under orders from a callous and bungling general staff safely esconsced in villas far from the front line, the whole directed by uncaring politicians (whether imperialistic British or strutting Prussian aristocrats) lustful for power and glory. In short, a total and utter waste of which nothing good can be said.
Well...not nearly correct according to this ambitious but stunningly sucessful revisionist account of the First World War, written by one of the able group of younger military and political historians who are beginning to look through the fog obscuring the realities of the First World War. Gary Sheffield argues that our perception of the First World War is distorted; firstly - by an (entirely understandable) emotional reaction to the massive casualty figures involving so many young men, secondly - by the subsequent portrayal in the arts and literature by the war poets, O What A Lovely War, Blackadder and many others. Sheffield argues that, for all their literary merit, the war poets (mostly officers, all very atypical soldiers) are about as relevant to what really happened as Shakespeare's plays are to English history.
Looking beyond these popular perceptions, Gary Sheffield demolishes the myths of 80 years, with devastating logic and well chosen illustrative examples.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading
Outstanding history - not so much revisionist as nailing down a set of views that seem to represent the still-debated centre ground; more nuanced than Terraine (always worth... Read more
Published 3 days ago by M M MacNair
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful
You don't have to be studying a Masters degree in First World War history to find this book of immediate interest and relevance, especially during the centenary years of the First... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Jonathan F. Vernon
5.0 out of 5 stars perspective
readable, giving a perspective on WW1 as a revisionist, to explain the intricacies of the machinations behind and during the war
Published 11 months ago by midge
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary reading
I loved this book. Gary Sheffield has looked at the British Army's "learning curve" through the war and - whilst applying criticism where it is due - shown that the top brass (and... Read more
Published 11 months ago by D. Spencer
4.0 out of 5 stars The beginning a needed and overdue revisionism
I had been interested in the possible fallaciousness of a certain English poets' and Bloomsbury sentimentalism – "lions led by donkeys", they "die as cattle", etc. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Charles G L Polak
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version?
Why are the publishers being so old fashioned? Getting a paper copy out to Australia is just too expensive. I'll check back once I get my hands on the Kindle version...
Published on 17 July 2012 by Jacques E. George
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a present
This was bought as a present for my father in law. I have not read it but he tells me it is a very enjoyable read.
Published on 11 July 2012 by Njwarner
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought
This is a series of essays on controversies surrounding the First World War. It is well written and balanced and gives plenty of food for thought. Read more
Published on 25 Feb 2012 by Rf And Tm Walters
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT BOOK
Gary Sheffield's book casts a whole new light on World War One. For years we've had to put up with 60s and 70s view of 'Lions led by Donkeys' (actually a quote about the French... Read more
Published on 28 Oct 2011 by R. Stansfield
My grandfather was killed on the Western Front, during the last great German offensive of the First World War, in the Spring of 1918. Read more
Published on 8 Jun 2011 by Stephen Cooper
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