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on 24 March 2010
AJP Taylor was always one of my favourite historians - far more readable than most - and this book is no exception. As the title implies, it is heavier on illustrations than text, but none the worse for that.

Contrary to what some have said, it is not primarily a diatribe against the generals. Taylor may not especially like them (how many do, aside from the late John Terraine?), but his verdict on Haig, in particular, is fair and even generous, especially for the time of writing

"He was a master of railway timetables, deploying divisions as skilfully as any general of his time. His strategical judgements were sound within the framework of the Western front, though he lacked the technical means for carrying them to success until almost the end of the war. - - - Haig had to do what he did, and, though he did not succeed, no one better was found to take his place."

Not a bad epitaph, especially compared to some others Haig has received.

Taylor is tougher on the politicians, who were, after all, in ultimate charge. He records how Joffre had sensibly decided to evacuate Verdun, only to be overruled by Briand. There are many verbal gems, notably his description of the Zimmermann note as "a bright idea such as only a Foreign Office could conceive".

On some points, his prejudices have been toned down, so that emaciated "victims of Allied intervention in Russia" in the first edition became "Victims of civil war in Russia" in the next and finally just "War and famine in Russia" in the paperback. But some still shine through. In particular, Lloyd George is an exception to his low opinion of the political leadership. He hardly has a bad word to say about the man, even swallowing whole his claim (almost certainly false) to have singlehandedly forced the Admiralty to introduce convoys. Taylor also states that American lenders to the Allies would have lost their money had Germany won the war. In fact this was only true of loans made after US entry into the war. The earlier ones were all secured on property in North America, beyond the reach even of a victorious Germany.

All in all, it's a good read but don't rely on it entirely. There are quite a few other histories of WW1 available, so get another to go with this one. But not instead of it. This book would be a great shame to miss.
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on 8 March 2011
A. J. P. Taylor was one of the most acclaimed and controversial historians of the twentieth century. Here he writes a classic account of the first World War from the German invasion of France via Belgium and the resulting stagnant trench warfare on the Western front to the Russian disasters on the Eastern front. He also covers Gallipoli, the Balkans and the war at sea along with every other major campaign during the war. He amply covers the apparent senseless slaughter of the trenches and employs the traditional viewpoint of senseless generals sending brave men to their deaths in their hundreds of thousands. It is more than a military history book however as Taylor also analyses the political and social history of the main protagonists in great detail. Far from just covering the war from the perspective of the great loss of human life it becomes more of an analysis of the concept of total war and social change in the first truly industrial global war.

Taylor's book has attained quite a scholarly following in history circles. It is well researched, very accurate in detail and well written. His viewpoints are quite thought provoking but they do mirror quite accurately the viewpoints of modern historians. Some may disagree with this comment but after doing a modern history degree three years ago, the subject matter I read for this period did not detract that much from Taylor's viewpoints. I was actually surprised to find this so seeing as the book is around thirty plus years old and if there was a conflict of detail between Taylor's book and my course material then it certainly provoked a stimulating but often inconclusive debate!

I would say that overall Taylor's book is a classic of its time; it's a great read full of interesting detail about all aspects of the First World War I enjoyed it immensely but I would point out that you would be best put to read other history books covering this period for a better comparative understanding of the period.
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on 8 June 2010
Some strange comments about this. 'The debate has moved on'? In some technical respects, perhaps, but the need to explain how and why 'a whole generation was butchered and damned' has not disappeared.

What nobody seems to have mentioned, though, is that this is not a purpose-written history of WWI; it is made up of excerpts from Taylor's general history of Britain 1914-45, profusely illustrated with photographs of the conflict. It would be foolish, therefore, to expect anything other than a patchy, impressionistic treatment. Nevertheless, this is a perfectly good short introduction to the subject, well-written, with plenty of Taylor's trademark insights. A thousand times better than those cop-out 'histories' so common today, which are no more than bits of primary sources strung together.
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VINE VOICEon 11 May 2011
AJP Taylor has fallen out of fashion now amongst academics and readers alike, but his books still show how history can be written: crisply, concisely and not without the odd dash of humour thrown in. If more historians took this approach today we might be better served. One historian who hasn't forgotten Taylor's continued relevance to debates is Norman Stone. Stone himself is no stranger to controversy, but even he acknowledges the importance of Taylor's analysis in his own recent short history of WW1.

This volume from AJP Taylor still shows the power of illustrated history. The book is richly accompanied with photographs and captions - the one of Lloyd George "casting an expert eye over munitions girls" can still raise a smile - and shows Taylor's ability to mix words and images pretty effectively when telling a story.

Okay, you may have mixed views on the stance he takes - but we'll say the same of current published histories when they get to be this age. The only difference is: AJP Taylor will still be read; many of the current crop of historians won't.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 March 2012
As a history this book will have some limitations - new research, new views on the leadership of the various campaigns (especially Haig,who has had a bit of a improvement in his ratings of late) and the fact that we are increasingly removed from the concerns,effects and people associated with the first great war,have made Taylor's tome less regarded then it was in past times. For all that the book is an enjoyable introduction to the subject- good humored -a little too cynical in places perhaps,well written- but pacy and rounded out with some very interesting illustrations.

My only gripe with Taylor's view is that it tends to forget that Statesmen and Generals alike operated on very limited information.Also,for all of them,the experience of mass mechanized,fast transit warfare was a completely novel phenomenon. Most European nations had undertaken colonial adventures where their armies pitted themselves against inferior opposition,but the Great War was something different.Taylor is rather critical of the military, but was the alternative to attrition and entrenchment? After all most bright ideas such as the Dardanelles ended in embarrassing failure. I would like to have understood a little more about how Germany became an economic powerhouse , why she wanted her 'place in the sun' and also why it was the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were so weak and unready for war.

Taylor is excellent on issues relating war aims (made up as the combatants went along!),the collapse of the Russian war effort and the negotiated aftermath. It's a broad based history, looking at social,political and economic issues as well as military,so if some of the writers seem a bit sweeping or superficial, perhaps he can be rightly excused. Even so,recommended read.
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on 28 October 2000
AJP Taylor was considered one of the giants of the British historical community. He is the one historian just about every GCSE pupil will have heard of, largely as his works seem to be the most widely quoted in school history text books on the Great War. Which is a shame in a way. Taylor's strength was never in running with the pack. His great strength, a strength that is still present in his works if read today, is that by their controversial nature they stimulated debate. That pretty fairly sums up the appeal of this book. It is a typical product of the 1960s/70s school of Great war historiography. The generals are butchers, the soldiers are dewey eyed, forelock touching innocents sent trotting off to their deaths by unfeeling idiots. The debate has since moved on. Plus, if you are looking for an account of the war in MILITARY terms, this is not the one for you. It's strengths lie in the spheres of social and political history. On the plus side, Taylor's writing style is entertaining and drily witty. The text is enhanced by the addition of a number of photographs scattered throughout the book (many of these include explanatory captions, a further opportunity for Taylor to exercise some rather wry humour. "Lloyd George casts an expert eye over munitions girls"... Well quite.). It is an easy read and very accessible for a Great War novice or younger student. Go into it with your eyes open and take it for what it is - a product of it's times and it's somewhat idiosyncratic author - and there is a lot to be gained from this book. It is an excellent stimulus for debate. Just be sure to read more widely because this gives a very personal and outdated picture. If you only ever read one history of the Great War DON'T make it this one!
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on 12 February 2014
I have been a devotee of The Great War for many years and have read shed-loads about it. From complicated explanations of why it begun through to excessive details about battles on the western front that were fought by heroic men under the direction of stubborn, bordering upon stupid, generals, that cost thousands upon thousand of lives, all of which ended as stalemates. I knew of AJP Taylor’s book but never got around to reading it until now. In my very limited experience, Taylor was one of the finest historians of the 20th century blessed with a unique ability to tell it as it is. This book, written by a man blessed with enormous common sense, is an excellent read. He explains clearly that on the Western Front, once won side made a breach in the defences of the other, the advance could never be maintained because there wasn’t an efficient method for the supply of ammunition and general supplies. Inevitably, an advance would stop and everyone would go back to square 1. Sadly, it took both sides five years to figure this out and to realize that an outright victory would never be achieved on the Western Front. Taylor puts all of this into perspective. He also, rather by accident in my view, gives a unique insight into the Russian revolution and how the whole thing was engineered by just a few people. That Russia withdrew from the war that in turn enabled Luddendorf to transfer yet more divisions to the Western Front, made little impact on the war’s outcome. I daresay that professional historians have, or, will dismiss this book as lacking in detail. However, to me that’s the strength of the book; it is readable! The black and white pictures are superb and include aspects of WWI that I didn’t know about. My view is that the Western front was fought by heroes in pointless armed struggles. Nothing Taylor says dissuades me from this conclusion although the armistice did allow the restoration of the Belgian state (and indirectly, of course many others), which was far from pointless. I could go on, but will do much better by referring you to this book as an absolute requirement if you want to begin to understand that dreadful conflict.
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on 23 February 1999
An excellent, easy to read historical perspective accompanied by many outstanding photographs.
I recommend this book to any reader interested in the genus of the first world war and its history. A useful perspective of the war and how this also set in motion a number of economic, social and political trails that are still with us as we enter the 21st Century.
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on 6 September 2014
Taylor was a master of diplomatic history but when he spread his wings to cover wider topics he remained entertaining but was less original. This book is accordingly a mixture of detailed coming and goings on the diplomatic and political front together with sketchier appraisals of the military situation. He tries to be fair to the Generals and Admirals but ultimately damns them. As John Keegan says they were a hard lot but some analysis would have helped. He is most unfair to Joffre. The eastern front is sketchy at best.The obvious hero from Taylor's view is Lloyd George. This is a typical 1960's view of this war but it is easy to read and reasonably good fun. The photographs are difficult to discern in my edition which is possibly too small. The maps are also fairly useless. Other editions may be better.
Good fun then but read Keegan or Strachen for this difficult subject.
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on 4 January 2013
A great 20th century historian, Taylor writes for the common man. His work is easy to read and also very informative. Plenty of photos keep the work alive at all times. He writes with the ease of a scholar who knows how to reach the general reader.
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