The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century Hardcover – 7 Nov 2013
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'A century on, there is no end to the fighting and the writing ... Who better as remembrancer than David Reynolds, with his customary lucidity, his long view, his comparative perspective, his contemporary sensitivity, his scholarly sanity and his crisp humanity? ... This is the work of a master historian' Alex Danchev, THES
'The First World War, David Reynolds notes, has turned sepia in the popular imagination and is 'memorialised' as a thing of mud, trenches and poets. The Long Shadow looks instead at the way the conflict influenced the main issues of the century that followed, from politics and economics to national borders and intellectual parameters' Michael Prodger, New Statesman
'Few are better equipped to [unscramble myths] do so than Cambridge professor David Reynolds, already the author of several outstanding works. His latest book explores the political, cultural and social legacy of the First World War, and offers correctives to many popular delusions. Perspective is critical to a comprehension of history, and Reynolds has no peer in helping us to achieve this' Max Hastings, Sunday Times
'This is a challenging thesis, presented with a masterly array of sources across a busy century, at once thought-provoking and thoroughly informed; the prose is fluent and zestful, and the arguments are constructed with a fine level of critical observation' Richard Overy, Guardian
'Books on the First World War are already filling bookshops ready for the 2014 centenary. Few are likely to be as challenging - or as readable as The Long Shadow. This is magisterial work by one of Britain s foremost historians' Diane Lees, The Times
'Written by an outstanding historian at the height of his powers, this book is a brilliant study in legacies and refractions ... There is burgeoning interest in the debate about the place of the Great War in modern history, to which Reynolds has made a definitive contribution' Piers Brendon, Independent
'As an introduction to the controversies and complexities of a period of history that will be on all our minds next year, it is unlikely to be bettered' Tom Holland, History Today
'Reynolds, a Cambridge don who has written extensively on political and international history, addresses the parliamentary, cultural, military and social legacy of the war, and corrects many of the myths veiling it...If you read no other book on the conflict, it should be this one' Keith Simpson MP, Total Politics Magazine
'This book s deepest message is about the inescapability of history, whether we choose to live in its shadow or to turn our backs on the warnings it offers to the present' 4 star review, Christopher Clark, Mail on Sunday
'This is a masterly study in every sense: by an historian at the top of his game, deploying wide-ranging research in important arguments, sustained alike with rich detail and dry wit' Peter Clarke, Financial Times
'. . . deploying the Great War as his lens, Reynolds has given us one of the most illuminating studies in the history of ideas to appear for many years. Beautifully written, with a masterly command of the diverse subject matter it addresses, The Long Shadow is an immensely rich book . . . if our leaders really want to learn from history, they could start by reading this book' John Gray, Literary Review
'This is broad, big-theme history at its very best, brilliantly written by a giant of the discipline' Times Higher Education
'This hugely impressive work examines the impact of the war on the following century, focusing largely on the British perspective… he exposes the shallowness of this view in a series of perceptive and intellectually exciting essays… it is a book that deserves to be read, and that deserves to endure' --BBC History
About the Author
David Reynolds won the Wolfson Prize in 2004 for his superb book on Churchill, and is the author of Summits (2007) and most recently America: Empire of Liberty (2009). He has made critically acclaimed films and series for both BBC4 and BBC2 including films on Churchill and Attlee.
Top customer reviews
Assumptions are made not just about the nature of the First World War but about the eras preceding and following it. Edwardian England was an age of innocence. The lights went out and were not lit again. The 1920s and 1930s were `morbid decades'.
One of the great strengths of this book is to correct some of these clichés. Edwardian England was rent by bitter class and ethnic antagonisms - not least in Ireland, which was on the brink of civil war. It was striking to learn that today's debates about the status of the UK are in many ways reprises of Edwardian controversies. Home rule was on the cards for Scotland in 1914. Winston Churchill devised an elaborate scheme for no less than 7 English regional parliaments.
As for the morbid years of 1930s, Britain was politically more stable than she was before 1914, more prosperous and peaceful than its continental neighbours (on account of relatively generous welfare benefits and widespread home-ownership). A book like this does not refute the conventional understanding of the immediate pre and post war years but reveals it to be too partial, too shallow. The reality was and is a lot more interesting. And not just for England. The influence of the Battle of the Somme in Ireland is absolutely fascinating, a battle in which many thousands of Irishmen, Protestant and Catholic, perished. Ireland's own national myth, the Easter Rising of 1916, is also discussed: though Ireland was not then a sovereign state and was not belligerent in the war, many Catholic Irish fought and died for Britain and the Easter 1916 rising cannot be understood in isolation from the great conflict on the continent.
Similar observations about the mythologizing narratives around the conflict apply in relation to countries like Germany. Hitler made up his famous account of his war experience in Mein Kampf. A leg wound spared him from the Battle of the Somme (a battle as murderous in its impact for the Germans as much as it was for the British) and his supposed blindness from a British gas attack was probably psychosomatic. The Nazi cult of the trench fighter (which Hitler never was) was a confection. The supposed lure of right-wing ideology among German trench veterans in the 1920s overlooked the truth that socialist veterans' associations enrolled greater numbers of former fighters than their right-wing counterparts.
The book also discusses to what extent the war has been remembered at the expense of being understood. I had my own perceptions of the war shaped by studying Wilfred Owen's poetry for O Level English, as generations of schoolchildren since the 1960s. Owen himself was a decorated officer, with a reputation for reckless courage under fire, who won a military cross for fighting and killing Germans. This biographical detail has not prevented him from elevation to the pantheon of anti-war heroes. But, great as his literary talents were, Reynolds seems sceptical whether the cult of the war poet (which dates from the 1960s and 70s and has been fed by historians and critics of otherwise different political persuasions, such as Paul Fussell and John Keegan) really furthers our understanding of why the British enrolled in great numbers to fight, kill and die. After all, the British army was, from 1914 untill the introduction of conscription in 1916, the second largest volunteer army in history. This is a striking fact, which the sanctification of the war poets does nothing to answer. In the Second World War, which received opinion considers a just war, conscription was introduced at the very outset (Incidentally, the largest ever volunteer army in history was the Indian army of 1939-45). The first day of the Battle of the Somme has come to define the war. But there was so much more to it than that.
What I have described above is not the end of it. Many subjects are covered. The war's long shadow extends in many directions, over great stretches of time. We are as far from World War One as its participants were as far from the war against Napoleon. But the shadow of the Great War can still be discerned in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. This book helps us understand so much as to why this is still the case, and is likely to be so for some time to come. This is definitely one of the best history books I have read for quite a while. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
In particular Reynolds aims to show how little, compared with the continent, the War destabilized Britain and why this was so. Even though it was not always apparent in the strident language of some conservative politicians and newspaper about the dangers of the Labour Party or in that of the more militant trade unions, there was in fact a much stronger consensus about democracy and about distrust of the far left or the far right. Especially in times of crisis, Britain's opposing parties came together in coalitions: how many readers were conscious of the fact that coalitions governed Britain for 21 of the 31 years between 1914 and 1945? In a very technical chapter on economics, Reynolds also shows that, despite well-known distress (to some extent mitigated by the dole), the British economy actually "came through the 1930s much better than most of the developed world". He also pays exceptionally close attention to Irish affairs. There was of course first the war against Britain and then the bitter civil war; but after 1922 Eire, too, enjoyed a democratic stability which it would have been hard to foresee in 1922. In the domestic history of the United States also the War had left the social and political fabric largely unaffected.
The contrast with Weimar Germany and with the successor states in Eastern Europe could not be starker. Germany had been humiliated by defeat, and crippled by reparations and inflation; her constitution made coalitions not a matter of choice but of necessity and these were therefore always unstable and quite unable to agree on how to deal with crises such as the Great Depression. On all of this, Hitler will cash in. The successor states were ostensibly created to give expression to national self-determination, though in fact the borders were often the result of fighting after 1918, and therefore not recognized by their neigbours; and most had substantial discontented minorities within them.
The discussions of the after-effects of the Great War in the Soviet Union, post-war Italy and France are treated rather cursorily compared with Britain and the United States.
Part Two begins with a chapter highlighting how different from the First World War were the tactics on land and in the air of the Second, partly because of the "lessons learnt" from the First. These "lessons" also shaped the decisive final outcome: total victory and Unconditional Surrender this time, and a United Nations that was supposed to be very different from the ineffective League of Nations.
In the 1960s there were new debates about the interpretation of the First World War. Was it a war into which the world had stumbled as the result of the misjudgments of individuals? Did American enter into the First World War in the cause of freedom and self-determination or to impose the American way of life on the world?
In Germany there was the debate about whether Nazi aggression was an aberration or a continuity of German ambitions which had caused the First World War; in France, whether collaboration of so many Frenchmen in the Vichy period was an aberration and whether the real continuity was between the heroes of the First World War and the Resistance in the Second.
In the inter-war period, most people in Britain (though of course there was always a dissenting minority) took the view that, dreadful though the carnage had been, the War had not been pointless. But in the 1960s Alan Clark, Joan Littlewood and A.J.P.Taylor popularized the notion that the First World War, into which bumbling statesmen had slithered, caused y bumbling statesmen, had been a pointless slaughter caused by generals who were "donkeys". This idea was reinforced by the collections, published around that time, and especially in Britain and Australia, of the experiences of individual soldiers on the Western Front and at Gallipoli - Reynolds shows how, in Australia, this coincided with and contributed to that country's emotional detachment from Great Britain - and these, in turn, will be followed by a spate of famous novels right into the new millennium and into the time when the last survivors of the Great War died as centenarians.
In the 1960s the European Economic Community its members surmounted the hostilities of the two wars. In 1964 a film about the Great War was a joint Franco-German production shown simultaneously in both countries; and Reynolds describes a similar joint commemoration by Australians and Turks in the 1980s and 1990s. In Northern Ireland, by contrast, the 50th anniversary in 1966 of the Easter Rising revived passions among Catholics and Protestants alike and would within two years trigger the thirty years of The Troubles. With the dedication in 1998 of the Island of Ireland Peace Tower at Messines in Belgium, commemorating the deaths of Protestant and Irish soldiers at that battle, we have here also at least an aspiration of reconciliation.
Despite Russia's immense losses in the Great War, the communists did nothing to memorialize it. Only in 2004, after the fall of communism were the heroes of that war commemorated.
This is an immensely rich and stimulating book based on an enormous range of reading.
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