As I write this, August 10 2014, one hundred years ago, British troops were preparing, perhaps starting to embark for France to save 'plucky, little Belgium.' Anyone with even half an interest in history and the modern world generally, knows and maybe understands what happened in the next weeks, months and years. Or, in many cases, think they know and understand.
The First World War is, possibly, the most misunderstood of conflcts. Many of the myths about it, have become so quoted in a plethora of books, that they know seem to have become fact.
I remember Anthony Burgess writing that borrowing Joyce's Ulysses from the library is useless; Ulysses is not a book to be read on the time constraint of a library loan. Strachan's To Arms, comes in the same bracket. This is a book to be savoured, read, re-read, put down, picked up weeks, months or years later, and read, or cherry picked from. But, and this is not a criticism, it is not the book to read if you know nothing or very little about the First World War. To Arms has plenty of facts, names and dates in it, but, not simply laid out in date-line order. No, this is historical writing of the highest order. The facts, names and dates are used to flesh out and give coherence to the argument and perspective of each chapter/essay. Hence, for the beginner, who'll probably want to know what the cause of the war was in date-line terms, or when Mons, First Ypre (you mean there was more than one?) occurred, and why isn't The Somme mentioned, this book is not so helpful. But, for the likes of me, who do know those things, this book is simply superb. He uses dates, names and facts to dig beneath them and show why there are there.
Read this book, or Strachan's New History of the war, written to accompany the superb TV series, and much about this terrible, terrifying, puzzling and confusing conflict will come into focus. To reiterate, this is historical writing of the very highest order.