I've been reading about WW1 on and off for 40 years, and to be honest didn't have high expectations of this. I suppose I expected a fairly simplistic, over generalised account with a sort of 'talking down to the reader' style which so many books take when simplifying complex subjects into relatively short format. The book does indeed, assume very little if any prior knowledge. (For example there are icons indicating 'technical stuff' which often explain terminology ('alliance') which many will perhaps feel is a little redundant for themselves, but this strategy indicates that at least part of the target audience for the book is not library hardened, WW1 'enthusiasts'.)
The more I have read, the more my respect has grown for the book and I readily admit my early expectations were unfounded: this is a surprisingly sophisticated book. Though broadly chronological, it is not a continuous narrative and adopts a study guide type of format with lots of subheadings, 'sidebar' boxes, paragraphs focused on topics related to but not embedded in surrounding material. The coverage is very broad but with more depth and subtlety than one can reasonably expect in a book of this length. I can see the virtue, too, in the icons used in the margins to flag up the type of information/discussion that a particular paragraph might contain, such as 'key people', 'technological innovation' etc. In a sense, the whole thing reads (and it is very readable) like a superb set of notes on the war, with annotations that guide the reader through the amount of material and information needing to be absorbed.
Criticisms? Of course the scope, size and purpose of the book means that Verdun and Third Ypres, for example, flash past without any detail and only very 'broad brush' observations about their place in the sweep of the war's history, literally only a handful of pages on battles about which 100s of books have been written. But within the constraints of the breadth covered (every theatre of war, all social, political, technological etc fields included) I find the book quite impressive. There should be a suggested reading list, I think, for those whose appetites have been whetted: I know the literature is vast, but it would do no harm to provide recommendations for the novice of, say, 25 key books on the western front, or some other way of pointing out some key reading for people keen to know more about the Somme, say, or the experience of the soldier in the trenches. As the final part, 'The Part of Tens', seems to me easily the least successful section, perhaps it could have been given over to a similar section, but focusing on key books. Also, the illustrations within the body text are not great in terms of quality of reproduction and I often felt they were there simply to nod towards providing the visual stimulus regarded as essential for such texts. However, the illustrations within the dedicated picture section are fine. There are also quite a lot of slightly 'jokey' subheads ('How Not to Win a Naval Battle': 'This Looks Fun- Can We play? Italy and Bulgaria Join the War') which I, personally could do without, but I accept that these are part of a strategy designed for those who, unlike me, may need a great deal of encouragement to stick with the text. Nowhere is this a serious issue and the book is probably targeted primarily at students. I read to the end with interest and enthusiasm: I learned a lot and was reminded of much that I had forgotten.
I would certainly recommend it as a very worthwhile and readable introduction which 'punches well above its weight', and also as a valuable aide memoire, particularly useful as it can be dipped into easily when one needs to know more about a particular topic. Even 'Old Contemptables' in study of the subject will find much to engage!
A very well constructed guide to the First World War though not being an authority on this particular conflict it is difficult to say with much certainty how much particular emphasis is justified on one particular aspect over another.
Some small observations, when discussing a certain aspect I would have liked some stats to have illustrated, provided more context to the point in question; e.g the small section on punishments for infractions it would have been useful to know what figures exist as far as numbers of men executed for desertion by the various armies military courts.
Another reviewer also raised an important omission as far as logistics in regards to transporting of troops and supply lines. I saw a documentary on the 2nd World War which really showed how 'make or break' it was to establish quick and efficient methods of moving enormous quantities of troops, food, armaments around and the tactical success and disasters of any failure in the supply line as well as the innovative designs (tinned food etc) which necessitated a sustained campaign. It would have been good to have maybe a few paragraphs on this to illustrate the huge effort that goes into 'war' especially without the benefit of many of the technological advances that were to become into being a few decades later. More pictures would have been good as well, I personally would have liked to have seen a few more maps and propaganda posters.
A very good read though and I learned a hell of a lot. Would be a really useful companion book to any more in-depth more typical text book types of book.
In the 100th anniversary year since the start of The First World War, this release in the popular “…For Dummies” series is perfect timing. With the heightened interest in the subject both in schools and by the general reader, a concise guide to the complexities of the subject comes with a ready-made market. Like all of their titles in the series, this book is an easy, step-by-step guide to the key facts, laid out in short bursts of basic information, perfect for someone new to the subject. Anyone seeking in depth analysis or expert insight should look elsewhere; this title is aimed very much at the Secondary School scholar and the entry-level reader.
The aim of such books is to provide an overview of the subject; a light comprehensive understanding rather than any major depth and this is achieved with ease. Although the First World War must be one of the most written about wars in history, most books tend to engage with one small aspect, be it bounded by geography, nation or politics and offer close scrutiny rather than the broad, open-cast mining of information that is the approach here.
Most of us in the west are probably very aware of the Western Front through Belgium and France that pitted French, British and Commonwealth, American and German forces against each other in fairly static trench warfare, but this book offers so much more. The Eastern Front is a subject that is often overlooked but was one that was not only very mobile, pitted dozens of countries and ethnic groups against each other and resulted in a massive upheaval of borders and land ownership changes when the post-war treaties were hammered out.
And what about the war in Africa, the Japanese expansionism in the Pacific, Commonwealth troops in India, Australia and New Zealand, The Ottoman Empire and Mesopotamia it is easy to forget that this really was a “world war” but this book quickly reminds us of the global nature of the conflict. Add to that overviews of the political motives, biographies of the leaders and generals and even a guide to war films, poetry and museums and you will find that First World War For Dummies is probably the most cohesive guide and factual one stop shop for anyone wishing to put their foot in the water of this poignant and complex subject.
I like this book! It's not only a great introduction to the First World War but is lucid and clear - a smart addition to the First World War literature out there.
It obviously deals at some length with the whys and wherefores of the start of WW1 - why did happen at all, in 1914, was it inevitable etc - the tensions of the great powers, the part imperialism had to play, the Balkans problem etc It also deals with the western front and the major battles fought as well as what happened on the high seas.
It dips into areas like the Eastern Front (for me it was a shame this part wasn't a little more expanded), the civilan side of things (as it calls the "blurring of the lines" i.e. trying to break the home front as well as the war front), and women's contribution to the war effort etc as well as the huge impact the russians bowing out of the war and then the Americans entering teh war had on the course of events.
It's not a small book - over 400 pages including the index. I would not necessarily say you should buy this book and no other - there are some great WW1 non-fiction tomes already on the market - but as a more in-depth intro it is hard to beat.
The author clearly sets out his objectives in the Introduction: "I've designed this book to give you an overview of the way the war developed and how it changed the world... to explain what happened, why it happened and what the people at the time hoped (often wrongly) would follow from their actions." He does very well in meeting these objectives. The writing is chatty and direct in the established 'dummy' style, with humour that borders on frivolity at times but does usually get the message over well. The book is organised so that it can be read cover-to-cover or used as a reference by looking up particular events or topics; there are shaded 'side-bar' paragraphs that provide additional information on particular people, events, ideas and other topics. I began by looking up some specific things in which I have an interest, so see if/how they were covered, then reading the entire book. I found it readable and engaging. There are URLs provided to link to a 'cheatsheet' summary with a timeline and map of the European and Middle Eastern fronts to refer to, and some 'extras' with additional material which presumably didn't make it to the book.
In the flood of literature that is emerging at the centenary there is a huge bias towards the Western Front. This book is to be commended in providing a more world-balanced view than most, although it does still tilt towards the Western Front. For example, Plumer's potted-biography does not mention his transfer to the Italian Front after Caporetto. It provides good contextual treatment - before/after comparisons, long-term consequences and linking different themes. Inevitably there are omissions. As one interested in transport I was disappointed that the considerable importance of railways was not discussed - this at least warrants a side-bar paragraph to explain their role both in supplying the front lines and transporting the wounded - as well as a crucial role on the home front in transporting troops, coal armaments and so on. Similarly the use of large numbers of horses and mules on the front lines deserves a mention, as does 'War Horse' in the literature arising from the war. The crucial Mediterranean Line of Communication through France and Italy to supply the Middle East and Salonika Fronts is not mentioned. There are some maps, but the book would be greatly improved by more of them. The illustrations are generally well-chosen and interesting, many of them from the Imperial War Museum collections - the book has been produced 'in association with' the IWM.
... the usual Dummies format, provides a great introduction to The Great War and then some.
My son is currently studying WW1 and 'A' Level and he devoured this book! Was full of praise for the logical way it was laid out, wasn't able to spot any mistakes. He used it to research specific areas of the War and also to help him produce a chronological timeline.
I found the book to be really well researched, written & laid out, with pictures, graphics & highlighted quotes, all creating the usual Dummy easy on the eye effect.
The style was interesting - a little like a series of newspaper headlines followed up with more in depth articles. The authors pretty much assumed no prior knowledge of the War on the part of the reader. To aid such readers, significant points, quotes, terms etc were explained in boxes, to the side of the narrative.
Despite its size (400 plus pages) the book obviously can't cover the whole War in any depth but - IMO - it covers all the main bases and offer a fair amount of more detail & analysis.
Meaning its very suitable to a wide range of readers, with different levels of existing knowledge, though it would seem to be primarily aimed at 'A' level students.
A really good buy; useful, accurate, easy to digest and all at affair price - recommended to anyone studying the subject or just interested in WW1.
A timely book too, with 2014 being exactly 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War.
Although I`m aware of them, I haven`t really used the "Dummies" series of books much before, but when this title came up I really couldn`t pass it by.
The standard format is to offer nice bite-sized chunks of information within a series of topical/chronological chapters; the pages are clearly laid out with further information box-outs and employing a series of margin icons delineating noteworthy aspects as they appear in the text. Plain English is used throughout and uncomplicated explanations are patiently offered when any technical details require elaboration or repetition.
The subject is very well balanced, inclusive and presented; nothing is really gone into in great depth, but virtually all aspects of the war - its origins, the combatants, innovations, social consequences, etc., are dealt with in a rather informal but straightforward narrative.
I`m pretty well-read in the subject and found no real faults, serious ommisions or points of contention. I imagine that the target readership is the teens/twenties GCSE demographic but anyone - regardless of age group - otherwise daunted by the apparent complexity of this important era of history could read this.
The "Dummies" series really is misnamed - the title inadvertently implies a degree of condescension when in fact the books provide valuable study material in comprehensive, well-written texts and this volume by Dr Seán Lang is no exception.
This is a fine introduction to the First World War, very recommendable as both a reference and study aid.
*In a later section of the book depictions of the war in film, arts and literature are mentioned for further study; I was pleased to see the painter John Nash - brother of Paul - receive a mention; I would add C. R. W. Nevinson and Henry Tonks to that list as well.*
Books of this genre deceive.
I have purchased a number over the years to help me with projects as diverse as Windows 8 through to photoshop and with this item to aid my 14 year old son who will be visiting Flanders to view the World War 1 battlefields as a prelude to undertaking his GCSE history, for which World War 1 will be a significant portion.
What makes these books particularly good as a reference are that they lead you into the subject at an ever increasing level of knowledge transfer, with an excellent system of reinforcing key points and providing the reader with a good system of cross referencing. As they all utilise a similar system, if you become familiar with one, you can easily use the same process with quite disparate subjects.
So how does it perform as a reference? Personally I think that it is really good and whilst it is some time ago that I took 'O'level History, it did provide me with a refresher on the topic that I studied some years ago. I particularly like the short and sharp "articles" and the diversity of topics, many of which, such as the emancipation of women through undertaking roles previously covered by men was covered in an accurate, brief and concise manner.
As I say, I think this will be an invaluable aid for our 14 year old and I expect it to ell him when he gets stuck on a particular topic and needs an easy to reference explanation to a query he might have, including why the second world war was inevitable following from the poor treatment of the Germans during the various treaties which followed including the debacle at Versailles.
Insightful and Interesting, this book is a great way of looking into the reasons, run up to, and a lot of other stuff relating to WW1 - or The Great War.
Going into more detail and with a lot more information than I ever expected (this is a good thing), this is not a read from cover to cover kind of book. It iss a work of reference, and something to be delved into when required.
Laying things out in good order, and in a way that is easy to digest and understand, the authors and compilers are to be commended for this addition to the " . . . For Dummies" series.
I am nowhere near 'finished' the book, and may never do so, but it will always be there for me to dip into. Watching all these programmes on the BBC at the moment regarding WW1, it is good to be able to think - I read that in the "for Dummies" book, and I also read the context.
This is not just a facts and figures book - although there are plenty of them - but it also attempts to put events into context, and sometimes bring out theories never before explored (or very rarely).
From the bits of information I have thus far read, or double-checked via this book, I can whole heartedly commend it to people want to know more, and who do not want to be overwhelmed by facts and figures, or deep, impenetrable language and style.
History easily learned, but also explained.
Even though the "For Dummies" is a series, I always like to see who wrote the books. Backspace; so I looked up Dr. Seán Lang. Dr. Lang is a prolific author of books on 20th century history. That is why this is not just a world war one story. It is the story of the environment that created the war, the story of the war from many different angles, and the story of the war's aftermath.
If you're familiar with the for dummies series that you are in luck. This book follows the same formulas with the same little sidebar hints and organization. There is a small section on colored pictures but for the most part this is black-and-white. I personally think there are not enough maps and diagrams; maps and diagrams help with visualizing who was who and where the work took place.
If you know what you're looking for you do not need to read from front to back however in doing so you may come across something that you didn't even think about which adds value to this book.
If you're just learning about the war this book will not lead you astray. If you already know just about everything there is to know it's always good to see a different person's view of the same events and their causes. I feel that after you've read this book you will want to read other books by Dr. Seán Lang that complement " First World War For Dummies."