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on 24 July 2000
Coming from a generation whose grandparents were involved in the Second and not the First World War, before I read John Keegan's book my only knowledge of the whole affair was limited. Although I had heard of names such as the Somme and Ypres and the great suffering that occurred there, I knew little else. Keegan's book has enabled me to increase my knowledge of this era ten fold.
Though, quite often books on war can be dry, Keegan's style of prose makes the book flow more like a novel, while still maintaining the correct tone for such an horrific passage in History, thus making this an ideal book, for those, who like me want to gain a greater insight into the War. The greatest achievement of the book though, is its objectivity. Keegan avoids, and rightly so, laying the blame with any one nation and instead focus on the war itself.
An excellent book that I would reccommend to anyone.
Andrew Stephenson
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on 1 August 2000
Although I have read books on the individual campaigns of the Great War this was the first that I tackled on the whole conflict. It is an excellent starting point for any students of early 20th Century history and the author gives a real feel for the events and consequences. I was moved to tears by his descriptions of the Gallipoli battles and of the War cemeteries dotted around the landscape of Europe. The author doesn't expound theories but sticks to fact and it is that which shows the reader the horror of this war. The only complaints would be the lack of good maps and a bit disappointing in the pictures department.
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To try to encompass a histiory of the Great War in one volume is a task which is impossible. But Keegan comes close. From the opening lines reminding you of the terrible cost to ordinary people, the fact that more people in his village died in this war than in the second world war. And that this is due to the great loss in the first meaning there are fewer to give their lives in the second is a chilling fact. His study of the causes are straightforward and totally human, we can all understand how it happened, Keegan gives us a why. But to his credit never loses sight that it could and should have been avoided. Once the inevitability of the "Railway Timetable" planning comes into play the result is death and destruction on a never before seen scale. Throughout Keegan, while embracing the Lions Led By Donkeys approach, does try to give a balanced view of the planning and execution of the military aspects of the war. Yet this is far from the whole story. His account of the battle of the Somme shows why it was a slaughter, but also a near won victory. The final chapter alone is stunning in its straightforward recounting of the losses endured by both sides.
This thought provoking history is a complete study of the war and gives you a solid basis to go on and read more if you want. But on its own stands as an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the most influential 4 years of the 20th Century.
If you only ever read one book about this terrible conflict, you can do a lot worse than this excellent study.
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on 4 January 2003
This was the first book I read about WW1, having learned that my great grandfather was killed in France in 1918. I was keen to get an overview of the war and to obtain an insight into not only the events of the war itself, but the context of it's beginnings from a political perspective. The book is brilliantly written and illustrated, with good use of photography and maps, clearly setting out the events as they developed. Given the subject matter, the book is remarkably easy to read and I found it difficult to put down. The mark of this book's impact on me was that it inspired me to read other WW1 books. I would thoroughly recommend it and fully intend to read other books by the same author.
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on 30 July 2003
The true facts on the complicated matter the Great War ultimately is and remains, seem doomed to remain shrouded in mists forever.
As one turns the pages of this book with increasing interest, the reader frowns at the stubbornness by which nations and generals keep the wheels of violence in motion. The more so, as it appears how widespread was the apprehension among European heads of state to give in so unavoidably to the battle call in the first place.
A major reflection any reader will make is that perhaps, eventually, generals 'simply' see their own resourcefulness running out, so giving way to separate and half-criminal enterprises of senseless slaughter.
As far as the Balkan history of conflict goes, Keegan succeeds in unravelling the complexity of this long-standing hotbed in the history of modern regional conflict.
Though perhaps the book could have done with a rather more extensive map section, one of its greatest merits is to be found in its objectivity and the subdued tone with which the author builds up his survey.
Qualitatively speaking, it must be about impossible to overrate the value of this book. No reader of this will deny Mr Keegan the reference point value he has so rightly achieved in the field of military history over the years.
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on 16 May 2000
The First World War is a period of history now sinking beyond living memory yet the battles fought and the war's outcome continue to shape the Europe of today. If you want to understand why conflicts in the Balkans began, you need look no further than this mighty work. The events of the summer of 1914 were a catalogue of disaster and, to be honest, beyond my comprehension until now. The characters come alive with their hopes and fears and I was caught in the excitement of the movement of the front in 1914 and again in 1918. In between is the mud and inhuman conditions of the Somme and other battles in great detail. The numbers of men lost is beyond imagining. This book is a testament to their courage and sacrifice. And, did you know how close the Germans came to winning? (What would have happened then - no reason for Hitler's rise? ) What to find out? Read this book.
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An extremely well-written history of WW1 which should take the mantle as the definitive work on WW1 from Liddell Hart's 1932 'History of the First World War'. Covers several topics far more comprehensively than Liddell Hart. Of the First World War histories I have read only Barbara W. Tuchman's 'August 1914' is better crafted, but then that was a Pulitzer Prize-winner, often described as a masterpiece of the historian's art. Keegan writes well enough to maintain the reader's close interest.
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on 16 August 2010
Having previously read A.J.P.Taylors book "The First World War" I found Keegan's account preferable. They are both overviews, (the reader looking for detailed accounts of for example the Gallipolli landings or the sea war needs to look elsewhere) but Keegan writes in a more straightforward style without Taylor's cute and irritating comments and he explains in clearer terms the reason for the German defeat.

As he says (referring to the situation in July 1918), "Merely to make good loses suffered in the attacks so far, the German high command calculated, required 200.000 replacements each month but, even by drawing on the next annual class of eighteen year olds, only 300.000 recruits stood available." They just couldn't take the vast human losses involved in this new type of warfare.

Drawbacks to the book are his view that the First World War " ... destroyed the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent...", which has to be a doubtful statement. The rickety Austro-Hungarian empire was benevolent but certainly not optimistic and it lay at the root of the problem. A closer look in Brigitte Hamann's book, " Hitler's Vienna, A Dictator's Apprenticeship" reveals the chaotic nationalist, communist and racial polarization that was breaking the Empire apart and generating WW1 (and WW2).

He also contradicts himself, saying that, "Most of the accusations against the generals of the Great War - incompetence and incomprehension foremost among them - may therefore be seen to be misplaced." and, "Nothing in human affairs is predestinable, least of all in an exchange of energy as fluid and dynamic as a battle." while at the same time showing that;

- They (the generals) knew that the Germans had deep bunkers. If they had tested their main strategy of intensive bombardment they would have found that most remained undamaged.

- If they had tested the effects of shelling on barbed wire they would have found that it mostly remained impassable. Again not what they assumed.

- They had seen the tremendous loss of life in attack but didn't consider building approach trenches to the German lines reducing the width of non-man's land as Brusilov did in Russia.

- They didn't think through the effect of the 10 minute delay between the lifting their artillery bombardment and the initiation of an attack . It allowed the Germans to lift machine guns from their deep bunkers and have them set up and ready.

I don't see how Keegan can exempt the Allied generals from blame while at the same time illustrating failures that could have been anticipated with testing and thought.
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on 12 February 2015
I have purchased this as I have borrowed it so many times from the library that I thought I should really buy my own copy. This is a really good book it covers the First World War in great detail and is a valuable asset for anybody interested in finding out more about this period in history.
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on 15 February 2014
There will be more interest in WW1 now that the anniversary is imminent. This is a story well told and in sufficient detail to inform the reader without being overwhelmed. He is ready to challenge some of A J P Taylor's views. Taylor is the most accessible of historians and has appeal to the mass market. His opinions are provocative if sometimes exaggerative.

This is a well written and fully researched history which I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject.
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