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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
36
The First World War: An Illustrated History (Penguin Books)
Format: Paperback|Change
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on 24 March 2010
AJP Taylor was always one of my favourite historians - far more readable than most - and this book is no exception. As the title implies, it is heavier on illustrations than text, but none the worse for that.

Contrary to what some have said, it is not primarily a diatribe against the generals. Taylor may not especially like them (how many do, aside from the late John Terraine?), but his verdict on Haig, in particular, is fair and even generous, especially for the time of writing

"He was a master of railway timetables, deploying divisions as skilfully as any general of his time. His strategical judgements were sound within the framework of the Western front, though he lacked the technical means for carrying them to success until almost the end of the war. - - - Haig had to do what he did, and, though he did not succeed, no one better was found to take his place."

Not a bad epitaph, especially compared to some others Haig has received.

Taylor is tougher on the politicians, who were, after all, in ultimate charge. He records how Joffre had sensibly decided to evacuate Verdun, only to be overruled by Briand. There are many verbal gems, notably his description of the Zimmermann note as "a bright idea such as only a Foreign Office could conceive".

On some points, his prejudices have been toned down, so that emaciated "victims of Allied intervention in Russia" in the first edition became "Victims of civil war in Russia" in the next and finally just "War and famine in Russia" in the paperback. But some still shine through. In particular, Lloyd George is an exception to his low opinion of the political leadership. He hardly has a bad word to say about the man, even swallowing whole his claim (almost certainly false) to have singlehandedly forced the Admiralty to introduce convoys. Taylor also states that American lenders to the Allies would have lost their money had Germany won the war. In fact this was only true of loans made after US entry into the war. The earlier ones were all secured on property in North America, beyond the reach even of a victorious Germany.

All in all, it's a good read but don't rely on it entirely. There are quite a few other histories of WW1 available, so get another to go with this one. But not instead of it. This book would be a great shame to miss.
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on 30 April 2017
Found this book to be a great start in understanding WW1, however I could only give a four star rating due to the low resolution of the maps. When you are trying to explain troop movements and changes in the different theatres of war it becomes very frustrating when the map you are presented with becomes a fuzzy blur and place names and legends become illegible. On the plus side I could get around this using the highlight function on the kindle fire to search wikipedia and the web in order to find more in depth information and clearer maps. In fact I found myself doing this a lot throughout the book as it led me to research areas of the war as I was reading.
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on 18 May 2017
a great overview of the First War, there is a lot of books out there on the subject but they tend to be very specific, this would be an ideal introduction for anyone, easy to read and well put together. Also it feels more contemporary with the time rather than a modern retrospective.
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on 9 July 2017
A good read, very informative and educational
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on 12 December 2017
Great book. Informative and as described
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on 17 April 2017
Very good
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on 10 October 2017
v.god
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on 1 December 2017
Got this book for nephew. His teacher was impressed.
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on 29 June 2015
Great read.
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on 8 March 2011
A. J. P. Taylor was one of the most acclaimed and controversial historians of the twentieth century. Here he writes a classic account of the first World War from the German invasion of France via Belgium and the resulting stagnant trench warfare on the Western front to the Russian disasters on the Eastern front. He also covers Gallipoli, the Balkans and the war at sea along with every other major campaign during the war. He amply covers the apparent senseless slaughter of the trenches and employs the traditional viewpoint of senseless generals sending brave men to their deaths in their hundreds of thousands. It is more than a military history book however as Taylor also analyses the political and social history of the main protagonists in great detail. Far from just covering the war from the perspective of the great loss of human life it becomes more of an analysis of the concept of total war and social change in the first truly industrial global war.

Taylor's book has attained quite a scholarly following in history circles. It is well researched, very accurate in detail and well written. His viewpoints are quite thought provoking but they do mirror quite accurately the viewpoints of modern historians. Some may disagree with this comment but after doing a modern history degree three years ago, the subject matter I read for this period did not detract that much from Taylor's viewpoints. I was actually surprised to find this so seeing as the book is around thirty plus years old and if there was a conflict of detail between Taylor's book and my course material then it certainly provoked a stimulating but often inconclusive debate!

I would say that overall Taylor's book is a classic of its time; it's a great read full of interesting detail about all aspects of the First World War I enjoyed it immensely but I would point out that you would be best put to read other history books covering this period for a better comparative understanding of the period.
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