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4.3 out of 5 stars43
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 January 2011
The best and most comprehensive overview of WW1 that I have found. It avoids the "stupid officers, brave Tommies" oversimplification of events, by exploring some of the real strategic and cultural reasons behind the military decisions taken.
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on 2 January 2013
Two people here have given 1 star ratings based upon their seller experience and problems with kindle.
Just giving a 5 star rating to cancel out those effects somewhat and give it a fairer total rating.
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on 16 December 2012
The First World War is a massive subject. Keegan does a great job capturing the essence of the war without dragging the book out as long as the war itself. When covering a topic of this scale, it is impossible to dive into all the details. So Keegan's overview is not suitable for the well read student. But for those who are a novice to the subject or have only read about parts of the war or seen it in documentaries, Keegan is a great place to start. Keegan explains at depth how the war began. He discusses the spark and what transformed an isolated tragedy into a juggernaut of world slaughter. It is fascinating to read how military strategy preempted political reality, and misguided belief in the quick decisive victory, sent millions to their graves. As a avid reader of WWII, it is interesting reading how the strategy of WWI influenced the path of WWII. Especially interesting is reflecting on what the outcome of WWI would have been with the technology of WWII.

But with the end in sight (at least the Germans thought so), the war takes a different shape as it hardens into trench warfare. Keegan explains how the tactics and strategy for trench warfare evolved throughout the war. He discusses the uses of new technologies like chemical warfare, indirect artillery, machine guns, aerial combat, and tanks. Keegan also explains that all these new technological advances only serve to stack the body count without delivering the knockout blow so desired. He shows over and over again how the lack of development in communications prevented breakouts from sustaining their momentum. In fact, it would take another war to hone these techniques even after the technology was available. Even in Normandy during WWII, the allies found it difficult to coordinate infantry with armor formations and close air support. Keegan also explores the expansion of the war as a European war grows to consume most of the world. He covers the war at sea which results in the near annihilation of the German High Seas Fleet.

But the book is not perfect. There could be more maps to reflect the narrative. Keegan does allow national pride to color his discussion of British actions. The end of the war lacks the coverage it deserves. Others have pointed out the gripes. But, it is hard to please everyone. Keegan still delivers an excellent overview of the "Great War". I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in history. Understanding WWI is fundamental in appreciating the history of the last century. The lessons of the world wars should be understood by anyone interested in foreign policy.
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on 11 March 2016
received today many thanks
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on 2 March 2012
As much as I would agree with other reviewers that this is a well-researched book with a wealth of information on many aspects of the war, I found this incredibly difficult to get into. I felt that it was really dense, shifting between countries and treaties and statistics, without any real explanation. Approaching this book as a novice left me feeling disoriented. Moreover, Keegan's writing style is very formal and lacks any real personality; it is therefore not particularly pleasurable to read, and at times I felt myself skipping forward.

Also, this is not really a people's history, in that it doesn't really dwell on the lives of the soldiers in any great detail, but rather the politicians that sign the papers that lead them into battle. I also found that, a hundred pages in, there was hardly any mention of the British in the war, and the perspective was mainly from Serbian and French accounts.

This is a scholarly but also very dense read. It moves at such a pace through so many issues and ideas that it will leave you feeling more confused than when you first set out.
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on 24 October 2014
Excellent book
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on 21 August 2014
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on 18 January 2016
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on 1 January 1999
This book was rather disappointing. It contains a broad narrative history of the First World War but with little critical examination of the dynamics of what happened. The First World War was seen by those who were in it as cataclysmic. The fighting was bloody and inconclusive. This led to a collapse of legitimacy in the regimes who were the main belligerents. Russia and Germany which were authoritarian empires experienced social revolutions. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up. In England, there was a generation of writers such as Robert Graves and Seigfried Sassoon who wrote of the war describing it as senseless.
Anyone familiar with both the first and second world wars will realize the contrast between the two conflicts. The First World War was characterized by stagnant trench lines with very heavy loss of human life. The Second World War was different in that although the loss of life was far greater, the reason for it was not casualties in battle but the widespread killing of non-combatants and prisoners. For example in the Second World War the German Army suffered about 30,000 casualties in the conquest of France. By contrast the British Army lost 50,000 casualties on the first day of the Somme offensive with no appreciable gain of ground.
The character of the First World War has used to be thought to result from the slow recognition of the effectiveness of new weapons. These included the machine gun, the magazine rifle, the use of barbed wire and the development of quick firing artillery. Such weapons made attacks on fortified positions difficulty and costly of human life. According to this theory the reason why the Second World War was different was due to the use of the Tank and Aircraft. Tanks were able to break through fortified positions and to make wars, wars of movement. More recently, this view of things has been challenged. The reason for this is that a number of Second World War battles were fought without tanks and used similar weapons to that used in the First World War. Accordingly the reason for the bloody character of the First World War was the poor quality of generalship and the development of tactics. (See Donkeys by Alan Clark for example)
Keegan's examination of the various major battles is superficial. The reason for this is no doubt the vast reach of the subject. In a book of some 400 pages he looks at every campaign of the war. This means that he is limited in what he can say about any battle. His discussion of the battles around Verdun for instance are nine pages long. It is Keegan's view that the Generals were not incompetent. His view is that the main reason for difference in the First and Second World wars was the use of radio sets. The cumbersome sets of the first war made it impossible to coordinate the various arms of the services. With small mobile sets everything changed.
Unfortunately he fails to look at the reality of the individual battles and to see why break throughs did not eventuate. Was it prudent to plan a battle at Ypres when it should have been clear that the preliminary bombardments would turn the battlefield into a quagmire and prevent the movement of heavy equipment through them and preclude any real advance. Was it sensible on the first day of the Somme battles to assume that an artillery barrage had been successful and to march army units across in tight formation so that German machine gunners could have a field day. The book really fails to look in an analytical way at the war based on most modern studies.
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on 21 November 2012
A readable book that gives a reasonable overview of the huge arena of the First Word War.
Unfortunately the maps in the Kindle version are all misplaced in the text and wrongly labeled.
The book is quite expensive, for an e-book and shouldn't be faulty in this way.
If a paper book was faulty like this,you would take it back to the shop for a replacement/ refund, but with
Kindle you are just stuck with a duff book..
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