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The First World War (CASSELL'S HISTORY OF WARFARE) Paperback – 3 Mar 2003
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You should never judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a book about the First World War on how it begins. If it starts with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, by a Bosnian nationalist in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, then you can safely predict that you're in for an undemanding trawl over familiar territory. Trevor Wilson and Robin Prior make no such glib assertions. Instead they offer a variety of historical explanations. They debate the failure of the old diplomacy and the Leninist thesis of the imperatives of advanced capitalism. They even give air time to the vaguely Jungian notion that the war was caused by the mounting alienation and psychological disturbance of the masses consequent upon the vagaries of the trade cycle and the sense of powerlessness engendered by industrialisation. All these theses are of interest, but are ultimately found wanting. Yet the fact that the authors are prepared to entertain them, to indulge them even, makes for a much more interesting and textured read.
Historical cause and effect is seldom linear and seldom obvious. It usually relies on a coming together of a political and public will, with a healthy smattering of coincidence thrown in. The war actually began in August 1914 when Germany invaded Belgium; but if Belgium hadn't fought back, would there have been a war? Prior and Wilson make a good case for suggesting that there would. Whatever else was going on in Europe in the early years of the 20th century, you could not ignore German aggression. Germany kept pushing and pushing its allies until eventually someone was bound to say enough was enough. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was just another lever to ratchet up the political tension. And sure enough the Russians decided that the German-inspired Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia was tantamount to a declaration of war on itself. The invasion of Belgium was merely the coup de grace that secured the involvement of Britain and France. The authors are equally good on the main set pieces. Somme, Ypres and Verdun are all given the same level of analysis, and the less celebrated theatres of war--Gallipoli and the Italian campaign--are not ignored either. Given that this book is little more than 200 pages long and lavishly illustrated with detailed maps and hundreds of photographs, this is a considerable achievement. As a short, sharp introduction to the Great War that neither patronises nor complicates, it is hard to beat. --JohnCrace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The complete history of the First World War written by two leading experts in the field.See all Product description
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Despite their approach, the authors do a good job of presenting the war. Well illustrated, the text is accompanied by a number of computer-generated maps of the various fronts and battlefields, and there is a section at the end with brief biographies of the leading military and civilian commanders of the conflict. Readers familiar with the war would do better to consult some of the books listed in the bibliography at the end, but for anyone seeking an introduction to the 'Great War' this is a good book to start with.
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Except for a few mentions in passing, American contribution to the war effort is covered in three pages. Pershing isn't even listed in the mini-biographies in the back of the book.
If you want to read about the War up to the end of 1917 or about the British contribution to the War I would recommend the book. If you are are interested in the American effort, buy another book.
The book has interesting pictures, a six page chronology, thirty biographical summaries, a four page essay on further reading, and twenty-five colored maps which show the major movements in the battles they depict; but the format of the series of which this book is a part (the Cassell History of Warfare, on my copy) doesn't allow space for the kind of narrative detail that's needed for a wide-ranging grasp of the war. Especially in the accounts of 1914 and 1915, there isn't much context for the battles mentioned, and the battles themselves are described with the briefest of detail. The years 1916-18 are given more attention.
Aside from the value of the maps, the chronology, and the short biographies, the book is a condensed overview of the war, which is all that could be expected with the limited space the format of the series allows.
Map List -
1. British, French and German Colonial Empires, 1914
2. The Eastern Front, 1914
3. The Schlieffen Plan, 1914
4. Battle of the Marne, 5-10 September 1914
5. The Eastern Front, 1915
6. Masuria, 7-18 February 1915
7. Gorlice-Tarnow, May-June 1915
8. The Italian Campaign, 1915-18:
_ The Trentino Offensive, May-June 1916;
_ The Isonzo Battles, June 1915 - September 1917;
_ Caporetto, 24 October - 12 November 1917;
_ Vittorio Veneto, 24 October - 3 November 1918
9. The Balkans: I: 1914-18; II: September-November 1918
10. The Western Front, 1915
11. Gallipoli, 1915
12. The Middle East, 1914-18
13. Battle of Verdun, February-June 1916
14. Battle of the Somme, June-November 1916
15. Operation Alberich, 9 February - 18 March 1917
16. The Nivelle Offensive, 16-19 April 1917
17. Passchendaele, July-November 1917;
_ Battle of Messines, June 1917
18. Operation Michael, 21 March - 4 April 1918
19. Operation Georgette, 9-29 April 1918
20. Operation Blücher-Yorck, 27 May -18 July 1918
21. Allied Advance, 8-25 August 1918
22. United States Involvement in the First World War, 1917-18
23. Allied Advance, September-November 1918
24. Advance to Victory, 5 October - 11 November 1918
25. The Peace Settlements in Europe from 1919
Despite their approach, the authors do a good job of presenting the war. Well illustrated, the text is accompanied by a number of computer-generated maps of the various fronts and battlefields, and there is a section at the end with brief biographies of the leading military and civilian commanders of the conflict. Readers familiar with the war would do better to consult some of the books listed in the bibliography at the end, but for anyone seeking an introduction to the war this is a good book to start with.
The book begins with a short analysis on the causes of the war. The authors place most of the blame squarely on the Kaiser and Moltke and seem to go out of their way to discount AJP Taylor's thesis that the Great Powers stumbled into war. They are probably correct in their analysis, but I'm not sure such an academic debate belongs in a general history such as this.
The next several chapters deal with the chronological events of the war, year by year, with one chapter reserved for events on the peripherpal theaters.
The book concludes with a decent summary of the Treaty of Versailles and how it led to World War II.
All in all, I'd recommend the book to those looking for a general introduction to the land campaigns of World War I on the Western Front. While the maps are a tad busy, the photographs are well selected to enhance the text.