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Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War [Paperback]

Jerry White
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Feb 2015

11pm, Tuesday 4 August 1914: with the declaration of war London becomes one of the greatest killing machines in human history. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers pass through the capital on their way to the front; wounded men are brought back to be treated in London’s hospitals; and millions of shells are produced in its factories.

The war changes London life for ever. Women escape the drudgery of domestic service to work as munitionettes. Full employment puts money into the pockets of the London poor for the first time. Self-appointed moral guardians seize the chance to clamp down on drink, frivolous entertainment and licentious behaviour. As the war drags on, gloom often descends on the capital. And at night London is plunged into darkness for fear of German bombers and Zeppelins that continue to raid the city.

Yet despite daily casualty lists, food shortages and enemy bombing, Londoners are determined to get on with their lives and flock to cinemas and theatres, dance halls and shebeens, firmly resolved not to let Germans or puritans spoil their enjoyment.

Peopled with patriots and pacifists, clergymen and thieves, bluestockings and prostitutes, Jerry White’s magnificent panorama reveals a struggling yet flourishing city.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 Feb 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099556049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099556046
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 629,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"Zeppelin Nights is social history at its best… White creates a vivid picture of a city changed for ever by war" (Robbie Millen The Times)

"Jerry White's name on a title page is a guarantee of a lively, compassionate book full of striking incidents and memorable images… This is a fast-paced social history that never stumbles… A well-orchestrated polyphony of voices that brings history alive" (Richard Davenport-Hines Guardian)

"White delivers in brilliant time-eclipsing detail an evolving and often deeply moving portrait of a city that became gradually squeezed to its limits" (Juliet Nicolson Sunday Telegraph)

"Jerry White is masterful at mixing hard facts and statistics with telling anecdotes" (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

"If you only read one [book about the First World War], choose Zeppelin Nights, which is packed with new information and avoids the clichés that are wearying us all" (Eleanor Updale Tablet)

Book Description

A unique look at London during the First World War, seen through the eyes of the people who lived there by an acclaimed writer who ‘is to London as Boswell is to Johnson’

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
This item has not been released yet and is not eligible to be reviewed. Reviews shown are from other formats of this item.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Social History 19 Sep 2014
When one thinks of London and war, one inevitably thinks of the Blitz. But acclaimed London historian Jerry White has written an account of London in the First World War. It is a fascinating account and all the more so for being a less well-known history.

White explores the impact of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) on Londoners, with highly amusing anecdotes such as the investigation into ‘Tippling Among Women.’ Morally lax theatres were also the bane of the establishment: the Lord Chamberlain was charged by the King himself to investigate a picture of a scantily-clad music hall performer in an illustrated paper.

Women came under further attack due to their perceived loose sexual conduct. Arthur Conan-Doyle described the city as ‘harlot-haunted’, a view not shared by Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst’s account of the sights she witnessed reads far more credibly and charitably. Dancing was of course condemned too, as ‘enjoying the war’. Interestingly, the first female police officers began to appear on the streets at time.

While these aspects of social history are absorbing as well as at times highly entertaining, White also unflinchingly explores the harshest realities of the war. London with its many hospitals treated thousands of injured, maimed and disfigured men who arrived in daily waves. Children heard the names of the dead at their school assemblies and lists appeared in every town hall.

And of course, it wasn’t just soldiers. Civilians also died in the terrible Zeppelin incendiary raids. On 31 May 1915, Elsie Leggatt, not even four, was the first to lose her life. Her sister May died from her burns a few days later.

No wonder Londoners sought consolation where they could. Recommended.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book via the Historical Novel Society. This review (or an edited version) has appeared in the Historical Novels Review. My review is my independent opinion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War 12 July 2014
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
I’ve read another book by this author on London in the Eighteenth Century. This book follows a similar format, telling the life of London and its people during a particular period, in this case from 1914 through to 1918, the time of the First World War. It’s fascinating to learn how Londoners coped first with the shock of the news of the War, and then how people reacted to the War itself. There is much to learn for the reader from a book like this; I didn’t know, for example, how troops from the Western Front were shipped back to London for hospital treatment and were picked up to be taken to hospital in cars donated by wealthy patrons. Interestingly the logistics of shipping men back and forth was something that had to be thought of as though for the first time – something we take very much for granted in this modern world of ours one hundred years on.

The book moves chronologically, but also through chapters that are broken down in general ways into subjects or themes – for instance, the idea of women in the workforce, of banning “indecent” entertainments for the duration, of the breakdown or interruption to services to homeowners and businesses, food shortages, coping with the harrowing effect of zeppelin raids or threats of invasion, managing without the menfolk at home; so many things that had to be dealt with on a daily basis that are hard to imagine from our distance now.

As with the author’s other books, this is a lively mixture of fact and anecdote; interesting, enlightening and entertaining all at once. It is a book I felt best read in chunks – one chapter at a time, and a bit of time to digest the dense amount of information in each chapter before moving on to the next. Wonderful, and highly recommended.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent book. From the title I had expected a book about warfare and London bombing, but it was far wider than that. It is an excellent account of what life was like in London before and during the First World War, from the entertainments, to the rise of the munitions industry with it's Canary Girls. There are the prostitutes and good time girls alongside the newly formed Women's Police Service who sought to control them. Class is a big issue with the upper classes feeling less of the shortages than the poorer classes did. And of course the persecution of all aliens living in London city. It is a microcosm of life during wartime, and although it only considers London, it reflects what life must have been like throughout Britain. I would heartily recommend this book if you are interested in life on the Home front during the First World War
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
In 1921 the Italian General Douhet wrote his 'Command of the Air',a classic account of air power theory, and about the need to build a strategic bomber force arguing it would enable wars to be fought without the need to fight land wars like that of 1914-18. He argued the areoplane had altered warfare irrevocably. By the 1930's Baldwin was warning the bomber would always get through. The Great War saw the first demonstration of war from the air. The experience influenced Douhet and Baldwin greatly. Also influential was H.G.Wells whose The War in the Air was published in 1908. Numerous other books discussed terror bombing. Like Wells these authors were mainly influenced by the growing influence of science on warfare. In 1913 Wells had even anticipated nuclear war.

What few appreciated in 1914 was that the ability to wage war from the air meant civilians no longer enjoyed immunity. It was to prove to be a momentous development in the history of warfare.

Italy was the first state to conduct air war by bombing. In 1911 she bombed targets in Libya. The bombing sometimes took the form of a dropped hand grenade.
The controversial strategic bombing offensive of the Second World War was an inevitable outcome, based as it was initially on winning the war from the air, thereby avoiding horrendous casualties resulting from land operations.

This most interesting book by Professor Jerry White of London University tells the story of Zeppelin, Gotha and Giant air raids on London in the Great War. The first of 52 raids beginning on the night of 20-21 January 1915. The object of these raids was to destroy the morale of the British people.

The book is a welcome relief from the numerous accounts of the land war currently pouring out like a torrent.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars I have read many many books on this subject in ...
I have read many many books on this subject in the last 50 odd years, this is decidedly an average one
Published 4 hours ago by Joppaboy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book.
Published 1 day ago by tim potter
5.0 out of 5 stars Changing london in the conflict 1914-1918
Excellent about the city of London and its people the First World War changed people's lives forever especially women who before the conflict were expected to do just what they... Read more
Published 8 days ago by dvd critic
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting angle on London at war.
Enjoyable social history. A tad academic in style, but clearly very well researched. The resilience of London and Londoners shines through this work.
Published 1 month ago by James Drayton
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the Home Front
An excellent, well-researched read which satisfied a lot of my curiosity about what was happening at home during WW1. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Henry Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
Extremely well written and informative acount of life in London during WW1.Highly recommended as essential reading for anyone interested in the home front during this period
Published 2 months ago by J. M. Allen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A good transaction. A good book. Very pleased
Published 2 months ago by A W BEARD
3.0 out of 5 stars ... for tis compelling subject though from an historical survey good...
Not gripping enough for tis compelling subject though from an historical survey good contextual materials
Published 3 months ago by P. A. Delaney
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent well written book. V good to read.
Published 3 months ago by Henry Brian Blackler
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening
Wonderful book about a little known episode of the First World War. So curious that it has not been spoken about more.
Published 3 months ago by Lynn Brittney
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