on 19 April 2002
The preface to 1914 tells the simple tale of how British Tommies came to be so known. That Lynn Macdonald has brought this to her readership shows evidence of her remarkable curiosity and coherence with the mentality of her readers. More importantly, it stand as an example of the compassion, affiliation and (not too) respectful admiration she has born for the simple every-day soldiers who fought the First World War. Her attitude to those men and her understanding of their times, their concerns, humour, culture and variety mean that the focus of her attention is on the richest raw material that the Great War can provide — the experiences of those who fought it. Thankfully, Macdonald also has remarkably artful narrative and linguistic skills. She brings her history to the page so well that no fiction could quite touch it — it engages the reader like a tale woven to enchant, not like the carefully researched piece of history that it is. The result is an account that is extraordinary.
Macdonald tells the whole history, with her focus on the effects on the individual. She explains the political circumstances, the history and the cultural background, all of which leads to the strategic position which pits army against army. Making the tactical level clear, Macdonald also delves into those extraneous influences that can turn the tide of events — the weather, the moon’s phases — whatever has influence. With all this done, we find ourselves seamlessly at the level of a single individual’s experience. Unlike so many historians who have some form pre-determined agenda, Macdonald doesn’t favour any group over another, relating the experience of the general as clearly and lucidly as that of the average Tommy. Weight of numbers brings the common soldier to the fore, but no function, role or level of involvement seems insignificant to her. She has a remarkable skill and an unparalleled mastery over her material, but what marks her out as particularly special is her evident magnanimity.
on 20 March 1999
Macdonald's book is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the 'It'll be all over by Christmas' phase of WWI. It is a fascinating account of the regular army ('The Old Contemptibles' as Macdonald avoids calling them wherever possible) in the summer and autumn of 1914, and of a war of movement before a war of stagnation, so closely associated with the Western Front, was reached. The retreat from Mons, The Battle of the Marne and how this led to the First Battle of Ypres may be fully understood from this book. Personally, I would have benefited from a greater number of maps to show the 'war of movement' across northern France and Belgium, and for greater detail of the Battle of the Marne, but these are my only reservations. Take time also to look at the photograph on both front and rear covers: it speaks volumes about the men of 1914! An important book, particularly for those who think that WWI was just about fixed trenches, no-man's land and the Somme. Highly recommended.
on 12 March 2001
Lyn Macdonald is perhaps one of the most influential writers in the new form of accessible history now being written, but she remains ahead of many others due to her non-invasive style. This book is compiled from painstakingly collated facts, letters and conversations with eyewitnesses from The Great War. But unlike many books that consist of dry retelling of historical military manoeuvres, this is written with accuracy and compassion. The book 1914 (Days Of Hope) will be surprising to many people as very little of the first part of the war was fought in the trenches and a large proportion of the British standing army was lost, but what they achieved was astonishing and is largely overlooked when The Great War is thought of. The first couple of chapters discuses the logistics of how the war started and how the troops were deployed to France. The vast majority of the book describes the events after the landed in France. This was so gripping I literally read it right though the night. It has you laughing with ridiculous events, such as an officer trying to dye his white horse brown to make it less visible at night and gets the dye mixture wrong and ending up with a canary yellow one by mistake, much to the delight of the enlisted men. But by describing everyday events it allows you into the feelings and camaraderie of the men, until you feel that you have some kind of understanding of how they felt and how they could do what they did. I can not recommend Lyn Macdonald's books more highly for being readable, informative and, forgive me for saying it, but completely lacking the pompous overtones of so many accurate historical books.
on 21 March 2003
How many times have you seen the phrase "If you only read one book read this" to find that, after reading the book, it's not so great after all. Well this one time you will not be disappointed. Lyn Macdonald takes you straight into the hearts and minds of those involved in the conflict with her blend of narrative and first hand accounts. From the very beginning of the book you are drawn into the conflict that marked the end of imperialism and ushered in a new age of industrialised warfare. It is a refreshing approach and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
on 14 December 2012
Lyn Macdonald has written a very readable account of the first year of the Great War. She manages to combine scholarship with a personal dimension that results from her discussions with so many of those who took part. Her account brings to life the actions of that 'contemptible little army' in outclassing and out-shooting the German military machine. The heroism, tenacity and professional excellence of the British Army comes over clearly, as does the shocked courage of the Germans, massacred time and again, advancing against small, and often dislocated, portions of British infantry, cavalry and artillery. By the end of the year, that British Army had ceased to exist, but so had the German momentum and ambition. After that it became a war of attrition while we searched desperately for a solution to the weapons and communications impasse.
on 16 March 1999
This book can be described as coming from another age. However, on reading it you cannot help but feel that it is of the present. It is a distillation of how countries can so easily enter into war, only to find that once they have whipped up immense enthusiasm, they lose control and events overtake them. Into France with all good intensions, to be pushed back to the Marne, and then raced to the Belgian ports. To spend another four years wondering why ............. Absolutely enthralling. Like you are with the men every step of the way. Written in a way as to carry you along with their pride. READ IT AND LEARN.
on 4 June 2014
Excellent book and first class account of the first few months of 1914. Amazon what are you playing at ? Why is this book and Last man standing not available in the kindle store, her other books are, what is going on, is it you or the author . Please tell us all.
on 25 November 2000
The Great War has been written to death: It's responsible for a whole era of British literature, and a hornet's nest of political controversy. But, beneath the poetry and epics and politics, the Great War has been indecipherable, if not entirely invisible. In her books, Lyn Macdonald has made it into a human story.
I can't praise her enough.
on 16 October 1998
This book, and its successors are the _MOST_ interesting and poignant histories I have read. Using accounts from old soldiers, and a narrative that avoids the glib histories of battles won and lost this history brings alive WWI and both touches and chills the reader.
As the participants of WWI gradually die and we are left with nothing more than folk memory and Hollywood History, this book and others like it may help us learn the lessons of history and not forget that people in the past were just like us
on 24 November 2015
Lyn Macdonald writes so well and brings this first year of the Great War to life for me. I have read a good many of her books and they've never disappointed.