on 31 December 2013
Realy enjoyed this book, I have not read many WW1 books, this made me think about how we percieved the war then and now. Very moving as well when thinking about how many lost their lives. This is one of the few books that is able to informatively talk about statistics and facts whilst never loosing the sensitivity of the lives that were lost. Really moving and informative book.
on 28 April 2015
This conflict seems so far away from our world, so disconnected from our present life, we think of the trenches and their awful conditions, stagnating men for years in immovable frontlines lines, the mud, the tunneling, blind men leading blind men out of trenches, men charging by the thousands into deaths arms. We are encouraged to remember, but not given much of a perspective as to why it occurred or how it concern us the great grandchildren of that period. This book present us with a reportage of those events and many conclusions and explanations of where things fit in this story and how they are still relevant to our period.
This is the first war to use air forces, tank divisions, chlorine gas, mustard gas, submarines to sink civilian ships, and air raids on civilians, mass propaganda to recruit and miss inform, this was the first industrial war, with industrial death. Presenting us with the consequences of modern technology and war unleashed on humanity frailty.
It is the point where women begin to be integrated into the workforce, giving them a real political place in society. The place in time where the old class system is chartered
These are the first inroads and seedings of the of future conflicts like the second world war, the cold war, and our current middle east conflicts and wars.
Jeremy Paxman reports from within the time and period about the people of britain their concerns, beliefs, fears, and tribulations; he presents a picture that is history at street level, not from an ivory tower. He tries to capture the mood of a nation through the war and present us with concise analysis of the events, not just political but of a broad spectrum of social concerns.
A very good read of a subject that needs more thought that remembrance.
on 27 March 2014
Having watched the tv series I followed up with the book which I have found very readable, probably because it is both a social and military history rather than just concentrating on the military side. It does bring home how the concept of duty, which was so evident at the time, has long disappeared.
The year 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WW1, or "The Great War", as it was known til another world war came along and gave "The Great War" a different title, this one with a numeral. British writer and newsman, Jeremy Paxman, has written a wonderful book on the British participation in the war. It is only available in the US in its Kindle form at the price of $28.99, which seems excessive to me, so I ordered the real book copy from Amazon/UK for 13BP ($20) plus shipping, which was cheaper than the Kindle copy. But no matter in what form you read it, Jeremy Paxman's book, "Great Britain's Great War" is well worth reading.
As a long-time history buff and voracious reader of history, I've long thought that some of the best history books are those whose authors take a small "bite" off the larger pie and present a slice of history. Now it may mean more reading to learn the whole picture with this approach, but the books that are written this way represent an excellent method of learning history. Jeremy Paxman takes the period of 1914 to 1918 (and a bit later) and examines the war and the effect it had on Britain and the colonies (later the Commonwealth countries). Using the scattered-but-written-as-part-of-a-whole style, he writes about the war in both political and military terms. He highlights both the Battle of the Somme and the Gallipoli campaign as examples of wrong-headed military tactics, compounded by bone-headed political decisions. He is particularly scathing about the usually stupid military commanders, who "lead from the rear" as young men - both officers and enlisted men - are sent into enemy fire as lambs sent to slaughter.
But while concentrating on the political and military aspects of WW1, Paxman doesn't neglect the "Home Front". Why did so many young men join up in those heady days of 1914? And, on, too, for the next year or so, til the wholesale slaughter in Flanders and France made conscription necessary to fill the ranks. Some families lost two, three, even four sons in the war. What was happening on that "Home Front" which kept peoples' spirits at a relatively high point of accepting the sacrifice that comes with a long, hopeless war? And what of those poor men who were grievously injured? Who cared for them? Paxman looks at those men left faceless and the doctors who practically invented plastic surgery to give those soldiers a chance at a post-war life.
Jeremy Paxman has written a hell of a good book about WW1. It is history writing at its best. (My only complaint is the lack of maps. I could only find one, that of the "Western Front", which didn't do me much good when reading about the Gallipoli campaign.)
on 21 January 2014
Jeremy Paxman isn't well known as a First World War academic. In fact, Jeremy Paxman isn't a First World War academic at all. Nevertheless, he has turned his attention to the First World War, presumably to commemorate (or cash in) on the centenary of the conflict. As you might expect of a book by a journalist (no doubt heavily supported by a researcher), there isn't anything particularly new here. However, it is easy to sniff at a work by a 'celebrity' historian and damn it just because he dared to write it. This is actually a decent account - Paxman has collected many examples of British experiences during the war and synthesised them into a very readable account of the First World War from a British perspective. If you want new research or a bit more detail, go with one of the academic historians. But for a popular social history of the First World War, this is a good choice.
As the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War draws near, we will see a flood of books about it, and Jeremy Paxman has got in early with this vivid account, in under 300 pages, of Britain's part in it. In his Introduction he writes that for us the Great War is as far distant from us as the Battle of Waterloo was from the men who joined up in 1914, that as a result many of us make the false assumptions that we understand it, and that we look at it through the eyes of our society rather than through those of that generation. I am not sure that this is entirely true, even of those who, like Paxman, were born five years after the end of the Second World War. I think the UNDERSTANDING of the First World War, and the accounts here of the politics and of the campaigns, would be fairly familiar to anybody who is interested in the history of the time. But Paxman has a point when he shows that the widespread present JUDGMENT that the World War I was a "pointless" waste of lives was not shared by the men who were prepared to sacrifice themselves or by their women folk who saw them going to war.
The considerable value of Paxman's book lies, in my opinion, not so much in seeing that war once more in its original perspective as in his own characteristic mixture of sympathy and sardonic observations, but above all in the many details he has culled from his source material. One early example: "postmen resigned their jobs rather than face the sight of yet another family in tears" as they received the dreaded telegram announcing the death of one of their loved ones. The enthusiasm with which young men volunteered for enlistment in 1914; the proliferation throughout the war of wildly invented stories about German atrocities; the attacks on shops owned by Germans who had long been resident in Britain; the way in which government censorship of the press did and did not work; the bullying jingoism of the Northcliffe Press; the tribunals which were set up after conscription had been introduced in 1916 to hear applications to be exempted from it; the breakdown of traditional sexual morals and its consequences; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey - these and many other themes which are familiar in outline are here copiously illustrated with less well-known details. There are excellent portraits of politicians and generals, grotesque quotations from propaganda and exhortations, and moving excerpts from letters written home by the troops.
Paxman details the horror of living and dying in the trenches, and of the gas attacks of which 181,000 British soldiers died during the war (Germans, too, but we do not get the figures). There were 420,000 British and Empire casualties during the four months in 1916 of the Battle of the Somme, 275,000 a year later during the four weeks of the Battle of Passchendaele, and 250,000 during the six weeks of the last German offensive in 1918. Paxman marvels several times how men endured all this and why there were no significant mutinies in the British army, and not the least interesting part of the book is the great variety of psychological explanations he suggests. The quality of leadership played a great part - not from the very top so much as from the young subalterns who came from the public schools; and so, among all sections of society, did a sense of duty which, Paxman writes, is "today almost invisible in British society". But there was also the fear of being considered a coward, and, worse, of the courts martial which passed over 3,000 death sentences (though only about one tenth of them were carried out).
Throughout the book we see what immense changes the war wrought to the social structure of England - to the role of government, to class relationships (though these reverted to "normal" soon after the end of the war) and to the role of women (which were more enduring).
on 20 October 2014
A well written concise history of the war, not only on the battle field but also the home front. Why the war happened, how so many volunteered and the political currents are well documented. The rumour mongering, spite against Germans and the attempts to keep the reality of the conflict from the people are often shocking. Paxman produces very readable history.
on 8 April 2014
Excellent gave you good insight into human stories as well as actual horror of war so many young men lost to there families
on 12 October 2014
This is not a book of dry facts, it probes and explores the emotion and character of a nation coming of age in the appalling violence that was modern warfare. We know that nothing was the same after WW1 this book goes a long way in explaining why. A must read 100 years on.
on 19 October 2014
I bought this after reading Paxman's book on the Victorians. I enjoy his writing style and the personal way he sweeps you through the story of the time. I have since bought his book on the British empire and am loving that too.