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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great War Myths,
'History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember'. (1066 and All That).
Previous books by David Reynolds on America, Churchill, Origins of WW2 and the Cold War established him as a leading historian. His book on Churchill, in particular, was received with widespread acclaim.
The current flood of books on the Great War with many more to come (these will be followed by books on the anniversary of each of the four years of the war, with no doubt emphasis on the Somme) concentrate on the outbreak, fighting, and final victory over Germany and her allies in 1918. Very little is said about the consequences of a war that toppled four Empires, saw America emerge as a world power (a reluctant one), and caused over 12 million military deaths at a cost of at least 6 billion dollars. David Reynolds book seeks to rectify this. He succeeds spendidly.
Many historians have implied that between 1914 and 1945 Europe took leave of its senses. These, it is said, were years of death, misery and degredation. The horrors of Stalinism and Nazism overshadow the era. Reynolds acknowledges the shadow that the Great War cast over Europe in particular. On the other hand, the revulsion at the suffering plus war weariness served to create an atmosphere which embraced new ideas of openness, discussion and morality.
The author argues we 'have lost touch with the Great War'despite the number of novels and poems written about the war. The war, he says, has become a 'literary war, detached from its moorings in historical events'. Our view of the war is now one of mud, blood and futility. He argues that by reducing the war to personal tragedies we have lost the big picture: 'history has been distilled into poetry'.
Reynolds reminds us that life went on after 1918 but in a world turned molten by the volcano of war. Most of the world was not in perpetual mourning, the 1920's were not, as some have argued, a 'morbid age'. In his book he explores the impact of the war on the period up to 1939 when another global war broke out. He looks at various themes such as liberal democracy, colonial empires, the world economy, cultural values, and the constant search for world peace. He points out that not all of the legacies of 1914-18 were bad or negative, many were positive and transformative.
He demonstrates that Great Britain's experience was quite different from that of much of Europe. This is in fact a major focus of his 650 page book. We were never invaded or seriously bombed. We did not have to face revolution or, apart from Ireland, civil war.
Reynolds examines the impact of the war in Africa, Asia, Palestine and Mesopotamia.
He points out the impact of the war on the USA noting that we suffered 723000 deaths, the US 116000, of these some 55000 died from influenza in the 1918 pandemic.
In the US Civil War more than 620,000 died, more than in both World Wars.
In other chapters the author discusses the onset of the Second World War, the issue of Remembrance and a conclusion in which he summarises the long shadow's overall effect on the period after 1918.
The book is replete with excellent illustrations including cartoons, paintings, posters, photographs and memorials. The index is very sound and comprehensive.
This is a thought-provoking book. It is learned, well-researched and written in an elegant and clear style. It enhances our understanding not only of the Great War but also how that terrible war has affected for good and ill the lives of millions around the globe to this day.
Very highly recommended.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unconventional book about the First World War and its legacy both in history and through cultural memory.,
David Reynolds is a widely published and respected academic historian who has written a book about the Great, or First World, War which is not another history of the war or some part of it. Instead he has chosen to look at the war's significance - political, social, economic, moral and cultural - for the rest of the 20th century and how attitudes, especially British ones, to its Western Front in particular, changed over time.
As Reynolds recognises, the 21 years following 1918 were post-war and not yet "inter-war" a necessary perspective when discussing events before the outbreak of another world war. I cannot fault the six chapters that form Legacies, the first part of this work but as a student of 20th century European history I didn't feel as though I had learned much that was new. It was only when the author discussed the American experience that I felt I was reading something fresh.
Refractions, the second part of this book, I found much more interesting as it provides analysis of the impact of the First World War, as the Great War had become, on the second half of the century and beyond. As Reynolds mentions in his Introduction, the war is viewed not only as history but through a cultural prism in which poetry, particularly that written by a handful of anti-war poets, has loomed large in shaping both individual memory and collective remembrance. The author shows how it was that in the 1960's the war came to be seen as an almost totally negative and wasteful experience and its British participants as either incompetent generals or duped victims. These perceptions have largely conditioned popular understanding of events such as the first day of the Somme. As Reynolds admits, academic revisionists, such as Sheffield, advocates of a more positive assessment of the war in its historical context, have, outside of academe, struggled to turn the tide in challenging these firmly held views.
This is a well-written book and an excellent purchase for the general reader, though someone with a wider knowledge of history may find the second part more engaging and challenging than the first. A novel approach to the historical understanding of this war which should be applauded in attempting to appeal to a wider audience whilst also being of value to a more specialist reader.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read,
This is one of the best written and most readable history books I have read . The interpretation of interwar history was fascinating. I was also impressed by the authors review of the evolution of how we come to see the Great War since the 1960's.One of the best of the books I have come across in the flood unleashed by the imminent centenary of 1914.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant about the after-effects of the First World War,
This is an exceptionally interesting book about the after-effects of the First World War, though much of what Reynolds writes about cannot strictly be described as its after-effects, and in Part One there is also a good deal of pre-war material and of attitudes during the War itself. There is, for example, a beautiful chapter about the English poetry written and the paintings made DURING the War. (Their impact AFTER the war is analyzed with equal brilliance in Part Two of the book.) But Part One is mostly about the history of the European countries and of the United States in the inter-war period, and even readers who are familiar with it will surely find here many nuggets and aperçus of which they have been unaware.
In particular Reynolds aims to show how little, compared with the continent, the War destabilized Britain and why this was so. Even though it was not always apparent in the strident language of some conservative politicians and newspaper about the dangers of the Labour Party or in that of the more militant trade unions, there was in fact a much stronger consensus about democracy and about distrust of the far left or the far right. Especially in times of crisis, Britain's opposing parties came together in coalitions: how many readers were conscious of the fact that coalitions governed Britain for 21 of the 31 years between 1914 and 1945? In a very technical chapter on economics, Reynolds also shows that, despite well-known distress (to some extent mitigated by the dole), the British economy actually "came through the 1930s much better than most of the developed world". He also pays exceptionally close attention to Irish affairs. There was of course first the war against Britain and then the bitter civil war; but after 1922 Eire, too, enjoyed a democratic stability which it would have been hard to foresee in 1922. In the domestic history of the United States also the War had left the social and political fabric largely unaffected.
The contrast with Weimar Germany and with the successor states in Eastern Europe could not be starker. Germany had been humiliated by defeat, and crippled by reparations and inflation; her constitution made coalitions not a matter of choice but of necessity and these were therefore always unstable and quite unable to agree on how to deal with crises such as the Great Depression. On all of this, Hitler will cash in. The successor states were ostensibly created to give expression to national self-determination, though in fact the borders were often the result of fighting after 1918, and therefore not recognized by their neigbours; and most had substantial discontented minorities within them.
The discussions of the after-effects of the Great War in the Soviet Union, post-war Italy and France are treated rather cursorily compared with Britain and the United States.
Part Two begins with a chapter highlighting how different from the First World War were the tactics on land and in the air of the Second, partly because of the "lessons learnt" from the First. These "lessons" also shaped the decisive final outcome: total victory and Unconditional Surrender this time, and a United Nations that was supposed to be very different from the ineffective League of Nations.
In the 1960s there were new debates about the interpretation of the First World War. Was it a war into which the world had stumbled as the result of the misjudgments of individuals? Did American enter into the First World War in the cause of freedom and self-determination or to impose the American way of life on the world?
In Germany there was the debate about whether Nazi aggression was an aberration or a continuity of German ambitions which had caused the First World War; in France, whether collaboration of so many Frenchmen in the Vichy period was an aberration and whether the real continuity was between the heroes of the First World War and the Resistance in the Second.
In the inter-war period, most people in Britain (though of course there was always a dissenting minority) took the view that, dreadful though the carnage had been, the War had not been pointless. But in the 1960s Alan Clark, Joan Littlewood and A.J.P.Taylor popularized the notion that the First World War, into which bumbling statesmen had slithered, caused y bumbling statesmen, had been a pointless slaughter caused by generals who were "donkeys". This idea was reinforced by the collections, published around that time, and especially in Britain and Australia, of the experiences of individual soldiers on the Western Front and at Gallipoli - Reynolds shows how, in Australia, this coincided with and contributed to that country's emotional detachment from Great Britain - and these, in turn, will be followed by a spate of famous novels right into the new millennium and into the time when the last survivors of the Great War died as centenarians.
In the 1960s the European Economic Community its members surmounted the hostilities of the two wars. In 1964 a film about the Great War was a joint Franco-German production shown simultaneously in both countries; and Reynolds describes a similar joint commemoration by Australians and Turks in the 1980s and 1990s. In Northern Ireland, by contrast, the 50th anniversary in 1966 of the Easter Rising revived passions among Catholics and Protestants alike and would within two years trigger the thirty years of The Troubles. With the dedication in 1998 of the Island of Ireland Peace Tower at Messines in Belgium, commemorating the deaths of Protestant and Irish soldiers at that battle, we have here also at least an aspiration of reconciliation.
Despite Russia's immense losses in the Great War, the communists did nothing to memorialize it. Only in 2004, after the fall of communism were the heroes of that war commemorated.
This is an immensely rich and stimulating book based on an enormous range of reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars It may have a Long Shadow, but.....,
..at some point, like the Napoleonic Wars, it must pass into another form of history soon, please. Somewhere, deep in the structure and complexity of this book, there still resides some difficult conclusions about the role of a central strong power in the middle of Europe. Recent events in the Ukraine need to be read in the light, not the shadow of this.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opening windows in the mind,
This study moves on from contemplating only the carnage in the trenches after the stalemate of late 1914, to considering how the memory of the Great War on its various fronts impacted on politicians of all the countries involved in the following decades. Not least, in pointing out how the actions of the British and French in dividing up the Middle East along artificial lines after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (the new country of Iraq, for instance, was an arbitrary combination of the provinces of Basra, Baghdad and the Kurds in the north), have led to the current difficulties in Iraq and the disasters in Syria. A "long shadow" indeed!
9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A healthy perspective.,
David Reynolds has written a very thought provoking book much needed when historically ignorant figures like Cameron and especially Gove make such unhistorical comments about the First World War in the year of its 100th.anniversary. Not based on original research but rather on compendious reading of current and recent research,Reynolds has constructed a series of arguments about both the short term and long term consequences of the 1914-18 wars that is refreshing in the variety of view points which it discusses and especially the way in which a thoughtful historian views the changing perspectives over time as well as different national perceptions of the apparently"same"events. Hard to understate the value of this stimulating book which deserves a wide audience,but will not be read by the most opinionated given airtime by the media and the press.
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the long shadow,
an excellent book well written and researched adds a very interesting dimension to the long term effect WW1 had on Europe and the world
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A long view,
Essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the 20th century, and the impact of wars on the development of most countries from USA to western and eastern Europe.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1914-1918 : one hundred years on,
david Reynolds has written a tour-de-force on the subject and I highly recommend this book. There will be many similar published during 2014 but this is the one to read. Highly recommended.
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The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds (Paperback - 11 Sep 2014)
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