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on 22 June 1999
Many works have been published on WW1. What makes this one different is that all fronts are given detailed treatment, not just the Western front, but also the Eastern, Italian, Palestine, Mesopotanian, Salonica, Gallipoli, East Africa, the naval front, and to a certain extent the air war. The Pacific front is mentioned but not really covered. Gilbert attempts to personalise the war by filling the history with personal anecdotes, and this succeeds to an extent. You will not find a survey of what motivated millions of young men to sign up, but you will find the comments of one or two of them on the subject. The book is written without bias, although most of the material describes the Entente side. The political issues are well analysed, although military issues are barely considered. Breakthroughs just happen, with no further explanation. You will not guess from the book that tanks were present at Paschendaele, or indeed were prone to sinking in the mud. You will never read about German use of tanks, although you will see the statistic that the Germans built a tenth of the tanks that the Entente built. Blame for the war is laid firmly at the door of Austria, although the part played by their Chief of Staff in all this is barely mentioned. In conclusion, a good primer in that it is all-encompassing. Not much here however for the specialist, although uniquely the book shows the war also from the point of view of both European and Palestinian Jewry.
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on 9 January 2001
Martin Gilbert impresses me with his knowledge of WWI. He has absolutely written the definitive history of the war from a British viewpoint. This massive book is filled with extracts from British diaries, letters from the British soldiers at the frontline and details about British policymakers. But hardly a word about the thoughts and feelings in the German, Austrian or Russian trenches. A look at Gilbert's source material explains why. They are all in english, not one book in German or Russian. Hardly appropriate for a book who claims to be the definitive history of WW1.
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on 2 April 2006
This is certainly one of the finest single-volume histories of the First World War that I have read: concise, clear and comprehensive. I recommend it most highly both for content and readability. It covers land sea and air, the home fronts, all the fighting forces, the high commands, and the fighting men. A paricularly welcome feature of this excellent book are the stories of individuals. It is indeed a true masterpiece of the historian's craft.
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VINE VOICEon 27 November 2007
This is narrative history at its best. It covers events chronologically, moving from front to front, but without awkward breaks. The coverage is military and political but also the human dimension, with many stories of individual tragedy, horror and heroism. This will stay with me for a long time. The only slight downer is the maps, which are all at the end of the book, unrelated to the narrative and not terribly clear.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 November 2008
While Martin Gilbert is clearly writing from a position of huge erudition and learning, the structure of the book is such, in my humble opinion, that it is unclear what his exact purpose is. On the one hand he is trying to paint the big picture, detailing all the intricacies of the various fronts of the war, even introducing fronts that I didn't know or had forgotten were there, such as those of Salonica or Libya. On the other hand he is trying to leaven it with the personal experiences of soldiers on the ground. And while we do get some sort of cross section of the experiences of combatants from the various participant nations, by far the largest preponderance of these are of the British experience on the Western Front. One is thus left with the impression that Gilbert was not sure if he was writing a big picture overview of the whole war, as the book's title would suggest, or an account of the Brish experience on the Western front. Thus I can understand why some reviewers feel the account is anglocentrically biased.

Futheremore, the way these aspects are interleaved - big picture narrative interspersed with personal anecdote - is managed in such a way that gives a somewhat fragmentary reading experience. I recently read an account of the WWII pacific war, Rising Sun (Military Classics) by John Toland, who managed to achieve the same goal much more effectively, by telling the big picture story through narrative accounts of individuals from all ranks and backgrounds in the theatre. So, I know that what Gilbert wanted to do can be done. I just don't think he achieves it here.

Having said that, there is a huge amount of information in this book and one cannot fail to learn a great deal of history from reading it. I am glad however that I had previously read Stevenson's 1914-1918: The History of the First World War which gives an extremely solid amd satisfying big picture account. If I had not read that beforehand this book might have left me with a relatively fuzzy picture of the sequence and significance of developments.

I also have to say, in this book's favour, that its human perspective is very humane and moving. One almost gets a glimpse of the mindset of the age, that kept most people committed to the hostilities, despite the awfulness and even the hopelessness that each side had to endure. Having said that, no matter how much I read about the first world war I cannot escape the conclusion that it was plain ignorance and delusion that led populations into the nightmare. It does seem to me that people of all backgrounds had the mentality of cattle. I cannot conceive of this kind of war being met with such enthusiasm by people today, but then maybe I am deluding myself about how far we have all come.

As for war guilt, this account puts the blame firmly on the Germans and personally on Kaiser Willhelm who vacilated in the days leading up to war, talking himself out of it from time to time only to be manipulated back into it by his overbearing staff. It seems he could have said No, and at times even decided to, only to be talked back into it by the Prussian hardliners around him.
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on 16 October 1998
The first edition of this book was badly let down by blatant errors such as HMS Hampshire sunk by torpedoes when she actually hit a mine. The book is probably fine for a reader who wants a taste of what happend in those cataclysmic years but the serious student will find it lacking
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on 1 February 2007
This is a great history boook, one of the definitive histories of the great war. Very detailed and very accessible.

I msut have read a different book to the some of the critics on here, GIlbert has gone to great lenghths to write about other fronts and areas where the war was fought and what was going on. For example I remember a paragraph about a British Pacific island being visited by a German warship early in the war. The people on the island were so isolated and remote they werent aware of the war and had helped the warship with supplies, unthinkable in our world of instant varied communication. They are loads of stories like this from the Russian Front, the Italinan front, the war in China, Africa, the Pacific, the USA and of course the Western front.

This is great narrative history. I would give it 10 stars.
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on 10 April 2010
I believe that this is as definitive a history as you can get of the First World War. Though some may complain that it does not focus on this or that aspect, such as the battles and military fortunes of the war itself, or of the political and diplomatic side, or that it focuses too much on the British perspective, I believe that there are few books as through a history of the First World War.
Martin Gilbert is the greatest living historian on Twentieth Century history.

The subject on the prelude to war describes the political struggles just prior to the war, and puts the most of the blame on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Serbia could not accept the conditions demanded by Austria for peace, after the assassination by Gavrilo Principe of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The author describes the human dimension of the conflict and that of many British soldiers and their memoirs and poetry are speciality of this volume.
also painfully apparent is the Armenian genocide, the first great genocide of the 20th century in which over a million Armenian men, women and children were barbarously slaughtered in a Ottoman attempt to end the movement for self-determination of that nation.

Gilbert covers the First World War careers of people who later became the giants of the Second World War such as Hitler, Mussolini and Winston Churchill.
We discover that the officer who recommended Hitler for the Iron Cross was in fact Jewish and that far from the Nazi claims of the Jews stabbing Germany in the back, 100s of thousands of Jews served in the German army during the war, and 10 000 Jews died in German uniform. Jewish industrialist and leader Walter Rathenau ( a moderate and opponents of radical Socialism, later assassinated by the Nazis) played a leading role in putting Germany's economy on a war footing, enabling wartime Germany to continue its war effort for years despite the serious shortages of labor and raw materials that were caused by an ever-tightening naval blockade.
While there were unfortunately a significant amount of Jewish Communists, it is equally significant that the German Imperial Government during the First world War, financed and helped build up the Bolshevik movement and injected Lenin like a bacillus into Russia in order to neutralize Russia's effectiveness in the war, , and succeeded only too well
Focusing on the middle Eastern theatre , the book illustrates how the national aspirations of Jews for a re-established homeland in the Holy Land, and of the Arabs for a pan-Arab superstate were given momentum by the events of the First world War.
The book focuses on the aftermath of the war and of the harsh Treaty of Versailles in which Germany was bitterly punished laying the seeds for the rise of Nazism and extremism in Germany, and allowing a demagogue like Hitler to take advantage of massive disenchantment.
The book does however neglect the war in Africa in which Germany lost her African empire.
Ultimately another monumental and thorough history by Martin Gilbert, as always focusing on the human side, with an eye to future events
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on 30 November 1999
The title of the book should be: "The British at the war (and we have been so important and so good and we won the war)". When you read about this book you wonder about the other people who fought that war: what about Franchmen, Italians, Germans, Russians. This is another "The Somme" without the beauty of that book. If you are looking for a book about the British at the war, this is your book, otherwise leave it.
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on 17 October 1998
This is an amazing book that attempts successfully to cover the factors leading up to WWI and what that actually meant in terms of human suffering. A masterfully written book that overcomes the challenge that WWI always seem to encounter - personalising the gruesome statistics of death and injury.
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