I understand that it may be different in Europe, but in the United States knowledge of World War I is minimal. For those wishing to improve their familiarity, "The Great War" is the place to start.
This book is organized chronologically and by theatre. It begins with The Road To War and follows with a chapters devoted to the eastern and western fronts and the Sea War for each year. Chapters also cover special topics such as Gallipoli, Salonika, Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Italian Front.
The genius of this book is that it is superficial enough to fit in one volume while still telling the whole story. This is a Combat History. It delves only minimally into the political and social currents that drove the war. It is focused on the Western Front. For 1915 the chapter on the Western Front is 32 pages long. The year on the Eastern front is told in 10 pages. Sometimes more is told in what is not said than in what is said. The first United States involvement appears over 90% of the way through the book. The first major U.S. operation is past the 95% mark. I say this not to suggest that the American contribution is under reported, but that this book shows just how late it began and how small it was in comparison to that of its allies.
Although "The Great War" covers the whole conflict, author Peter Hart delves into the significance of various character and incidents involved. He explains the use of aircraft and explores questions such as the quality of generals, the importance of battles such as the Jutland, the relationship between the British and the French on the Western Front and the changing tactics and defenses. He is willing to inject his judgments, such as the worthlessness of sideshows such as Gallipoli and Mesopotamia that took resources from the critical Western Front and the political actions, such as the British confiscation of the Turkish Dreadnoughts that may have driven the Turks to the Central Powers while reporting the raw facts.
I had known bits and pieces of World War I. What this book does is put the
War into context that aids in understanding the whole struggle; its origins, development, conclusions and legacy. This makes "The Great War" an excellent place to start a study of World War I.
on 14 April 2013
At the end of Peter Hart's impressive and timely reassessment of The Great War, the author weaves together some arguments and some questions. Why is it that the events of 1914-1918 continue to exert such a powerful hold on the popular imagination? How can we really understand the scale and the breadth of the campaigns, and of the losses? For this truly was a global conflict, producing losses he estimates at 9.7 million and injuries of 21 million. If your knowledge of the war is mostly focussed on the Western Front, and on 1914-1916, Hart provides useful summaries of the conflict in Italy, Salonika and Palestine, among others. We would expect him to be excellent on Gallipoli, given his past publications, and he is; likewise he is as much at home with the Grand Fleet and the submarine menace as he is in outlining the new technologies of war, a particular strength of this book. That great Hart characteristic, a telling eye for a quotation, whether from the rich archives of the Imperial War Museum or from published accounts, is much in evidence in this book, so the human interest element is never far away. Haig calling Admiral Jellicoe an `old woman'? Right here. Mustafa Kemal ordering his troops not to attack the Anzacs, but to die? Check.
I don't think that this book is intended to provide definitive answers and unassailable opinions about 1914-1918. What it does do is to provide a glorious overview, in succinct chapters, of some strong evidence which must surely influence our opinions. As we face the forthcoming national commemoration of the centenary of the war, we surely cannot continue to accept unquestionably myths and heresies peddled for particular reasons during the last century. To take just one example, we cannot in all seriousness continue to swallow the myth of French military incompetence. Good, knock-about entertainment it may be, but The Battle of the Frontiers on 22 August 1914 saw the French suffer 27,000 killed, in one day. To readers well-versed in the terrible British losses on 1 July 1916 on the Somme, these statistics should prompt reflection. Hart is especially adept at balancing the contributions of all the Allies to the eventual victory achieved, at least in part, by the constant refinement of the `All Arms Battle' strategy formulated by Haig and others.
In the end, it was the generals what won it. Haig and Foch (there at the start, and still there at the end), Plumer and Rawlinson, these were the men who directed the victory, evidence which war poets, screenplay writers and popular fiction have ignored to their detriment. History is about sources and evidence, and it is about arguments, and Peter Hart's The Great War provides a magisterial summary of where his previous books have brought him to this point. He has woven into a rich tapestry of collective mistakes, tough lessons and dire consequences stories of individual courage and ecisive decision-taking. The resulting cloth is dense and strong, a fine fabric in which to wrap the events of 1914-1918. Not that it would have been 1918, but for the sheer bloodyminded attitude of Haig and Foch. That, perhaps, is something to reflect upon in 2018.
on 24 May 2013
Whenever I am asked to recommend one book on the Great War I struggle. I think the world was crying out for a fresh, clear and competent single volume on the conflict and this book absolutely fits the bill. The book's coverage is more than adequate and includes the Eastern Front, the War at Sea, Palestine, Italy and more as well as the Western Front.
The author has proved in the past to be a master of bringing this conflict to a wider audience and despite what must have been an overwhelming prospect, he has done it again. In trying to condense so much material it is easy to become dry and to spout information without really evoking a sense of what the subject is all about but Hart has managed to overcome this as always, maintaining his popular style throughout. The subject matter is conveyed in his usual digestible, flowing manner. You never get the sense that the book is dragging which to my mind is a particular achievement in dealing with such a huge subject.
I really was very impressed with this book and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, not only to newcomers to the subject but to First World War enthusiasts for a new perspective from an accomplished historian. Peter Hart should be immensely proud of "The Great War" because it is set to join the list of must-read efforts on the subject.
on 27 January 2014
Rarely s a factual book so detailed yet easy to read and understand. It comprehensively covers all the areas where fighting took place and explains what happened and why. Some leaders and parts of campaigns are are deemed to have been ill-advised or poorly led but generally this is the well explained alternative to the over-emotional 'lions led by donkeys' rubbish which completely overlooks the problems involved in mass mechanised warfare. Brilliantly selected contemporary reports from those who were there bring the war down to a personal level, so this never feels like an academic 'tome'. If you only read one WW1 book make it this one; if you have read all the others read this one. I hope it is compulsory reading for anyone involved in making programmes for this years anniversary.
on 20 February 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s great to read a ‘proper’ history book again. Peter Hart handles the intricacies of the subject really well, while retaining an excellent narrative. If you only read one book about World War One, than I strongly suggest this one. Well done Peter Hart.
on 10 March 2014
A neat balance between historical facts - major actions, characters, etc. - and personal accounts of those who lived through it, from privates to field-marshals. Peter Hart gives us a clear and lucid picture of what happened from the build-up towards the war to the aftermath and its effects (still being felt today, in part) with a sense of balance that apportions due praise and blame regardless of whose 'side' the participants were on. All in all, if you want to know what the Great War was all about - as well as what happened - in one, reasonably-sized volume, this is the one for you.
Having said that - and why 4 stars not 5 - the Kindle edition comes without any maps (and yes, I know they're not the easiest things to make out on a Kindle anyway). This means the reader is fumbling about in the dark when told that an offensive occurred around Arras or in the Champagne unless you happen to have an atlas to hand. Even one general one would have been handy...
on 21 April 2014
A truly superb account of the Great War. The development of new technologies and the way tactics changed to take advantage of, or overcome them, as the war progressed is thoroughly covered. The options and actions of the generals from all the combatant nations (and in many cases their stunning disregard of their own high command) is well explained. The descriptions of battles are the clearest I have ever read however the book is woefully short of maps. There is one map for each of the main theatres of war. Trying to follow the intricacies of the text of, say, the Battle of the Marne on a single map of the entire Western Front is a frustrating business. The map of the naval actions in the North Sea shows little except where they took place.
If the publishers were to bring out a new addition with an additional 10 to 20 maps (even 30 would not be too many) I would be happy to buy it again.
on 30 April 2013
This is essentially a military history of the First World War, and to my mind, a better introduction to the conflict than more weighty tomes such as David Stevenson's 1914-1918. Logistics, industrial output, economics and politics are barely covered (apart from the usual revisionist trope that all politicians are untrustworthy), but in addition to the Western Front, campaigns in the East, Middle East and Turkey are addressed, along with battles at sea and in the air.
Peter Hart is as always, eminently readable, and never loses sight of the human cost of the conflict. Eyewitness accounts of the action contribute significantly to the readers understanding of the combatants experience.
on 23 November 2015
This a wonderful history of the war, brimming with insights rooted in the words and reports of those who took part, both on the frontline and as senior commanders. The major advantage of the book is its lengthy quotes of the letters, reports and words of the individuals involved. It is very much of the "revised" view of the Western Front, ie that it did not seem pointless at the time, and that the British and French learned the lessons and developed their weapons and tactics to the point where they overwhelmed the central powers in 1918.
Some readers may think there are too many personal recollections compared to the analysis and narrative drive of the book. It's a personal preference. Gary Sheffield's book is the seminal work for intelligent analysis and narrative of the First World War.