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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Comparable
This excellent one volume by Hew Strachan is a reissue of the book first published in 2003. The author is a renowned professor of war at Oxford University. His book 'To Arms', the first volume of a trilogy yet to be completed, was greeted with aclaim by scholars worldwide. Strachan has also written a number of thought-provoking books on current strategy and the problems...
Published 5 months ago by Dr Barry Clayton

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book but some important question marks regarding Memory
I realize that it may seem unduly harsh to deduct 3 stars from the book rating because of objections to its treatment of only a specific aspect of WWI. However, I believe that in the current context of reappearance of extreme ideologies in Europe, of the persistence of incidents of Shoah denial at high levels and the rise of moral relativism, it is better to err on the...
Published 5 months ago by hist12


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Comparable, 19 Feb 2014
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This excellent one volume by Hew Strachan is a reissue of the book first published in 2003. The author is a renowned professor of war at Oxford University. His book 'To Arms', the first volume of a trilogy yet to be completed, was greeted with aclaim by scholars worldwide. Strachan has also written a number of thought-provoking books on current strategy and the problems that have arisen since 1990.

This work is aimed at the general reader. Unlike a number of others however it is not replete with truisms and cliches. The author is far too good at his craft to do this. It would, for example, be very hard to better the introduction to this book in which he discusses, for example, the importance of the brilliant book by Clausewitz on the philosophy of war and its lessons for today.

One paragraph about the Great War is worth repeating here: 'Moreover, many of the answers we come up with can be as subjective and tendentious as many of the views expressed by the war's eyewitnesses'.If only some writers on the war would heed this, particularly its critics.

Strachan rightly criticises the late Basil Liddell Hart's thesis that blockade and naval power was the cause of Germany's demise, a thesis that the influential historian singularly failed, not for the first time in his many writings, to support with any evidence. The author is also rightly dismissive of the research behind many of the statistics that are regularly trotted out to support biased opinion, for example, the claim that 6 million civilians died as a consequence of the war, and the German claim that 1 million civilians died as a result of the blockade. As Strachan says in a brilliant aside: 'Hindsight's hold on objective truth is a fragile thing'.

The chapters in this book deal with all the major aspects of the war including its global nature, the revolution in Russia and Germany's last gamble in 1918 to win the war. It is not a book for those who want to read about battles. Library shelves already creak under the weight of these. There is an excellent and fascinating chapter on Jihad. Millions of Muslims were told to commit holy war against the Entente powers. It failed despite the Kaiser trying to encourage revolution in Egypt and India in order to weaken the Entente's flanks. Temporal loyalties overrode religious ones in most cases.

In a final chapter, Strachan discusses the attempts to ensure stability and peace after 1918. He rightly says one must know about the First World War to understand the Second but there was no inevitability as many have argued, linking the second with the first

Another quote from the book to ponder over:'We gloss over too readily the last letters of those killed in the First World War, letters that tell their loved ones not to grieve because they have died in a just cause'. If only those who condemn the war as futile, and run by butchers and donkeys, would instead focus on the facts instead of on their prejudices based on ignorance.

The accompanying maps are excellent as are the Illustrations.
Chapter notes include many of the best secondary sources including several very important German ones. The Index is excellent and comprehensive.

A book to savour. It will make you think and appreciate the difference between true research and the numerous blood and mud biased accounts that use only those facts that support a predetermined point of view. There are numerous attractive theories about the war, unfortunately inconvenient facts make them worthless.

No other general account can equal this one by a master historian.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant new writing on the Great War, 16 Nov 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The First World War (Hardcover)
So much more than just a 'companion' book to the excellent television series, this is actually a formidable new history of the First World War by one of the world's leading historians on the subject. Hew Strachan shows how the war touched other countries and people while challenging the notion that the loss of life was futile. A constantly stimulating and gripping book, this is a brilliant addition to the many books on the war - as is the other companion title, A War in Words, which brings together some amazing personal stories of the war. Highly recommended!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, 23 Oct 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The First World War (Hardcover)
The best book on the First World War I've ever read. It shatters countless cliches and illusions that have become standard views of the War. Strachan is very convincing in telling us that the War was indeed a 'World' war, not just a european one eg. 2 million Africans fought on the Allied side alone in some shape or form. Simply put, this is essential reading for anyone remotely interested in the topic. In fact, for anyone interested in history at all.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Landmark, 15 Feb 2004
By 
Stephen Bungay (Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The First World War (Hardcover)
The literature on the First World War is vast. A lot of books continue to be published every year. Some are potboilers, most are OK, a few are very good. Occasionally, one appears which is special. This is one of those rarities.
Hew Strachan is engaged on a full-scale three volume history of the conflict, the first of which has recently appeared. This companion to a magnificent TV series provides an overview of all three. I would hazard to say that in time the historiography of the First World War will come to be divided into pre- and post-Strachan eras. He has changed everything.
As a writer myself, his achievement fills me with awe. This book distills twenty years of research. Working painstakingly from the ground up, through pulling together neglected or unknown sources, changing emphasis and correcting old assumptions, Strachan has built up a radically new picture. The weaving together of detail and the big picture is masterly. We begin to understand that this was a global conflict, fought over big issues, which had a huge impact on the world we know today.
It is futile to try to summarise it. Revelations come too thick and fast. It will change your view not just of the First World War, but of the history of the C20th. In writing it, Strachan has not just done great honour to his profession, but great service to the general public. It is a massive achievement. Just buy it and read it.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a 'New History', 25 Mar 2007
This is indeed a `new history'.

For such a short book it's scope is wide and yet not lacking in detail or analysis.

Discharging the `Blame Everyone Equally' popular theory and exposing it as little more than a myth, Strachan puts the blame for the conflict firmly at the feet of the Austro-Hungarians.

The tactical aspects of the conflict are explored with some criticism such as the Schlieffen plan being anything but. However Strachan reminds the reader that those responsible for the (now seemingly mindless) strategies were men of their time, and should be viewed as such, and that many of the belligerents war aims were far from futile.

There is also a considerable portion of this book devoted to the largely ignored African aspect of the war.

Almost as revolutionary a work as A.J.P. Taylor's Origins Of The Second World War (but obviously less contentious).

Minor criticisms of the book are that there is very little on the emergence of air war, and nothing is said of the `Avenger' debacle of the French high command.

Nonetheless a book that every Great War enthusiast should own.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book but some important question marks regarding Memory, 3 Feb 2014
I realize that it may seem unduly harsh to deduct 3 stars from the book rating because of objections to its treatment of only a specific aspect of WWI. However, I believe that in the current context of reappearance of extreme ideologies in Europe, of the persistence of incidents of Shoah denial at high levels and the rise of moral relativism, it is better to err on the side of stressing Memory rather than getting bogged down to hair-splitting arguments about technical aspects of large scale killings.

One of the most prominent examples of the way the book treats some of the more human aspects of the war is the reference to the Armenian Genocide: The book (e.g. on page 114 of the 2005 Penguin edition of the book) contains very compelling and concrete evidence for the designation of the massacres as "genocide", but, despite this, it hesitates to call it a genocide. What is worse, part of the blame for not settling the issue is cast on the "readiness of Armenians and others to use the word 'genocide'" while in the very next sentence it is stated that the number of dead was likely around one million! When we are talking about such massive scale of destruction of human life, it is incredible that the author would expect people (not just Armenians) to not feel strongly about these events and to not insist on such a designation of the killings.

The main cause of the author's uncertainty on the designation of the massacres is some doubts on whether the killings were centrally organized or spontaneously perpetrated by the majority population. However, the facts given within the discussion of exactly this question make such doubts sound like legalistic pedantry at best. Specifically, it is stated that "By this stage-late May 1915-the Turkish leadership was ready to give shape to the whole, to Turkify Anatolia and to finish with the Armenian problem." (page 114 of the 2005 Penguin edition of the book), suggesting that it is not an issue of "whether" but of "when" it was centrally decided to "finish with the Armenian problem". After all this information provided in the book itself, the frustration of its author with those insisting on the designation "genocide" becomes incomprehensible.

That said, the book gives is an extended account of WWI offering an alternative interpretation of the mechanisms leading to the war and to the way it was conducted. For instance, it suggests that, although the war became a "world-war" at a later stage, its roots were always international because they touched upon European colonies and the associated system of international relations. It is further suggested that, because of the internal developments in various European countries, WWI was not a war driven only by interests but also by conflicts of ideologies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and inspirational, 31 Aug 2013
By 
JF (London, England) - See all my reviews
I spent a long time choosing a book about the First World War to take on holiday with me and I think I made the right choice. There was no Kindle version available so I was forced to take the paberback, but I'm glad I did as it's infinitely more satisfying than the Kindle books I sampled on this topic.

It turns out there is a TV series accompanying this book, which I didn't know until I reached the end. I had the impression while reading it that someone had put a gun to Hew Strachan's head and said something like, "Forget the legions of academic essays and lectures you've done up till now give us the First World War in 300 pages or less." That person, it seems, was Alan Clements, who is mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Every sentence has a point. The writing is amazingly lucid and easy to follow. There are revelations on every page and the overall effect is stunning. The book completely overturns popular conceptions of the first world war that have filtered down through films, novels, poetry and the general media. It is informative, logical, comprehensive and concise. You can feel the author's passion for his subject on every page but his presentation is very low-key.

I really can't praise this book enough. One of the remarkable things is how the author combines his insights into tactical military problems with analysis of wider economic and political pressures, so that you understand in a completely new way why events unfolded as they did.

There is only so much you can do in 350 pages (including notes, maps, illustrations and acknowledgements!) but his canvas is huge. It is typical of his approach that his description of the battles of Verdun and the Somme are a brief section in a more wide-ranging chapter.

There are many characters in this great drama, many names of people and places, official titles and roles to remember and loose ends to be tied up, but the author marshals all his facts with the minimum of fuss, gives you everything you need and states his case plainly so that there is never any confusion or doubt.

Above all, the book appears to be a very truthful one. It is very fair in its assessment of who was responsible for specific acts of cruelty, for harsh and difficult decisions, for acts of bravery and for mistakes.

It's a model work for any historian but, like all great literary examples, it's probably impossible to emulate unless, like the author, you have a lifetime's experience of hard work and exhaustive reading on which to draw. I particularly liked the author's statement that '... it seemed otiose to provide a bibliography for this book.' (Acknowledgements, page 335.)

Nevertheless, it has made me want to read more!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars definately maybe, 17 Mar 2014
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What I liked about this book was the way it focused upon the ambitions of the main protagonist Germany, rather than viewing the War entirely from a British perspective. This enabled the ramifications of German policies both within the European theatre and worldwide to be followed with greater clarity and understanding. This was especially interesting when discussing the effects of the War upon the Empire and the attempts of the German Navy to cause havoc from their Far East base from which they issued as the Japanese advanced. I was disappointed that having introduced these theatres of conflict they were not further explored, especially with regard to the Aftermath. Chapters on the Balkan complexities were good and the opportunistic entry into the War of Japan, Turkey and Italy illuminating. So too was the breakdown of the various ethnic minorities and their aspirations for self-determination and how both the Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman empires had sought to contain them. It was surprising how similar the campaigns on the Eastern Front and the Middle East were to those engaged in WW11. I would have welcomed a more opinionated summary from the Author as to his views on the Wars legacy and what he feels to be the main unresolved issues that are still relevant and affecting us today.
The style of writing lacks the flair and verve of an AJP Taylor but it is far from stilted and reads easily although at times you can see how carefully considered a word or phrase has been. The Author often makes reference to earlier pre war events by date only and sometimes I had to stop and 'Google' but it's unreasonable to expect my own ignorance to be fully anticipated and learning something new is why I read in the first place. The Authors depth of knowledge and research is impressive ( and enviable ) More important was the frugality of maps. Those available necessitated leaving the page to view. Perhaps this just applies to the Kindle edition. At times I yearned to have a proper book in my hands.
Despite these small concerns I would recommend this book. It's interesting, stimulating and leaves you wanting more. Do politicians read History Books?
( Oh dear, Churchill immediately comes to mind!)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant military history, 2 Feb 2005
By 
David Stuart (Leeds, Yorks United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The First World War (Hardcover)
Superlative! I have never read better serious military history. Beautifully written with crystal clear analysis, I particularly enjoyed the chapters on trench warfare; the Anglo German naval war, America's involvement and how the economies influenced the outcome, for example the Ententes crucial development of shell production and the ultimately self defeating U-boat war. Interesting too is how people in the immediate aftermath perceived the war - very different from the "futile" verdict of later generations. I'm sure I'll re-read in the near future and take notes - the cherries are all there for the picking.
My favourite military authors John Keegan and Paddy Griffiths have some opposition now and I have some treats in store. Bring on "European Armies" and "Call to Arms"!!!!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really good -- in parts, 27 May 2013
This review is from: The First World War (Hardcover)
I have read all the rave reviews of this book on Amazon and on the book's cover -- such as "Quite simply the best short history of the war in print" and "Meticulous... [with] amazing, newly unearthed photographs within this beautifully designed book."

I can only envy the thorough knowledge of the war that others possess that enables them to praise so highly and without reservation. For the likes of me, someone who has read a fair amount about the first world war (mainly but not only novels and poetry) but is not a student of the war nor a professional historian, a large amount of this book leaves one struggling to find the forest amidst the profusion of trees.

Parts of it I found clear and informative, other parts tangled, dense, filled with names of people and locations I often couldn't place, making chunks of the text thoroughly confusing. Many of the photos are good but often comprise a distraction from the text rather than a help in understanding anything. The placement is decorative rather than instructive. I'd have benefited far more from diagrams showing mountains, rivers, borders, location of armies, salients and suchlike: those would have made some of the dense text intelligible. The six pages of maps in the front of the book are little help, often lacking features one might look for in order to clarify what is said in the text about movements of men and materiel, tactics, and so on.

Elsewhere (again, in place of photos) tables of numbers -- of troops, tanks, ships, artillery, food supplies, etc., etc., etc. -- would have been much more help in grasping the overall argument than complex sentences.

Professor Strachan is praised because he "brings to life and explains an immensely complex historical phenomenon" and "brings together the details of events and the big picture to build a compelling narrative." The only problem is that for a layperson like myself, neither an historian nor a professional book reviewer, this is only intermittently true and I fear that if I took a course taught by Professor Strachan I'd do very poorly. The way he presents material in much of this book is just not good teaching.
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The First World War: A New History by Hew Strachan (Paperback - 13 Feb 2014)
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