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The First World War: A New History Paperback – 13 Feb 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK; Reissue edition (13 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471134261
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471134265
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 52,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This serious, compact survey of the war s history stands out as the most well- informed, accessible work available. ("Los Angeles Times") What Strachan offers is history as only the professionals can do it, and rarely enough even then. (Adam Gopnik, "The New Yorker") Likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan s First World War. ("Publishers Weekly") A brilliant feat. (John Keegan) Quite simply the best short history of the war in print. (Dennis Showalter) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

The popular view of the First World War is dominated by cliché. Young British soldiers, many of them budding poets, were led to early and ghastly deaths in muddy wastes by incompetent generals for reasons that were seemingly futile. And although clichés are not necessarily lies, they are at best a selective view of the truth.

Building on his ongoing research for his mammoth three-volume history of the war, Hew Strachan now presents a stunning new account of the hostilities which offers many new interpretations of and insights into one of the defining events of the twentieth century. This one-volume history is not just a riveting digest for the general reader of his other writing, it also provides the narrative structure and direction of the accompanying ten-part Channel 4 series. And, for the first time, it offers a truly global vision of a conflict which is often misconceived as a prolonged skirmish on the Western Front.

Strachan argues convincingly that the war had become a 'world war' long before the involvement of the United States and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Far from being a 'European civil war', the conflict involved the colonial territories of European powers, and touched areas as far-flung as the Balkans, Africa and the Ottoman Empire. And it was the existence of these territories that helped explain why the war did not seem futile at the time: for Britain and France, it quickly became a struggle for the defence of liberalism.

Accessible, compelling and utterly convincing, and featuring a wealth of photographs many of which have never previously been published, this is modern history writing at its finest. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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'.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cliché has it that hindsight gives us understanding. Is that really the case? If that is so, then why are historians still arguing about the causes of the First World War, and who should be blamed? Hindsight doesn't necessarily generate wisdom or understanding but it can give rise to arrogance: we assume that people who lived through an event of which we have no experience must have seen things the way we think we would have done. The First World War is no less prone to the arrogance of hindsight. It is a story of the flower of youth trampled down in the mud of Flanders, of budding poets' lives tragically cut short, of brass hats safely behind the lines callously ordering millions of young men to their deaths. We are going to hear a lot of that over the coming months. But how accurate is it?

This is not how people saw things at the time. Letters revealed that many soldiers though that they fought for a good cause - that went for all sides. Seventy-Eight British generals were killed in action - and 71 German and 55 French generals likewise died in action - not exactly the picture you get from watching Stephen Fry in Blackadder, is it? The ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli were not rugged Digger types but urban dwellers and they felt they were fighting for the old country - again, not the impression you get watching Mel Gibson in the film, Gallipoli. Wilfred Owen does not get a look in in this book - presumably out of no disrespect for his literary talents but because his view on the war was not representative. We can of course debate its point and whether it was worth it - just so long as we don't assume we are speaking for the war's participants when we do, and be aware of our own conflicted judgements when we speak of the war.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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