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The First World War: Germany And Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 (Modern Wars)
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on 19 June 2014
Professor Herwig's study of Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I has long been recognized as the best book in any language on the subject, by revising and updating his original work he has ensured that his book will remain indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the actions and the experiences of those two powers in the war.
Indeed, this book is the last edition of a book first published on 1997, that has remained unmatched since then, this new edition includes new material on the domestic front, covering Austria-Hungary's internal political frictions and ethnic fissures and more on Austria-Hungary and Germany's position within the wider geopolitical framework.
This book begins examining how every power got involved in the war, and which war plan was prepared by them. The book , then follows the development of the conflict, with special attention to the main battles: Tannenberg, the Marne, Gallipoli, Western Front on 1915, Verdun, the Somme, Lutsk, Romania, U-boot warfare, the Nivelle Offensive, Caporetto, Operation Michael.
Three chapters of this wonderful book are dedicated to examine the effects of the total war imposed to the Central Powers .
The book is full of first hand accounts and of detailed maps; no important aspect of this terrible war is missing.
As the famous historian Hew Strachan says : " If you read one book in order to learn about the performance of the Central Powers in the war, this is it" !
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on 21 February 2015
The first edition of this book established itself as the best work on its subject, this second edition incorporates some new material but essential it is a case of making an already great book better rather than a reworking. The book gives much attention to the role of Austria-Hungary, this is an element of first world war history which is generally overlooked yet Austria-Hungary was probably the singularly most crucial factor in a political assassination escalating into a general European war.
The reluctance to consider the possibility that Austria-Hungary carried a high degree of responsibility for the first world war in so much history (for example a recent BBC production aiming to provide a dramatic reconstruction of the weeks leading into war all but ignored the role of Vienna and what attention was given to Austria-Hungary was limited to portraying foppish and ineffectual ambassadors) is somewhat baffling. Even more baffling is that insofar as historians do comment on Austria-Hungary it has often been to venerate Conrad as a strategic genius commanding troops not worthy of his greatness. Herwig shows what a bellicose individual Conrad was, his desire for war was more pronounced than Moltke. The bungling of Austro-Hungarian mobilisation, the division of an already numerically and qualitatively inadequate army between a Serbian offensive and an offensive against Russia was catastrophic. The Austro-Hungarian army has had a rather negative press and it is true that as the war progressed it became ever more of a burden for Germany to support their ally however in the opening months of the war the army suffered horrific casualties and the multi-national army maintained high standards of loyalty and a willingness to fight. Far from being an army unworthy of Conrad's greatness it would be more accurate to say that Conrad was unworthy of the sacrifices made by his troops. Throughout his tenure Conrad's failed spectacularly to appreciate local conditions, the capacity of his army to execute his grandiose schemes and the socio-economic fragility of the empire. After the opening months of the war the Austro-Hungarian army never recovered from the horrific losses and set backs and rapidly became much more of a burden than asset to Germany.
A striking aspect of the Central powers was the lack of co-ordination between Germany and Austria-Hungary. There was no joint planning to speak of, either before or during the war and as the war progressed the relationship between Germany and Austria-Hungary became ever more troublesome. Both parties viewed the other with distrust and withheld information, acting based on assumptions.
The other reputation which takes a battering is that of Ludendorff although it is also true that there has been a lot written about Ludendorff's failings and the results of the Hindenburg - Ludendorff duumvirates war management. Herwig presents a compelling case that Ludendorff never rose above the intellectual level of a Regiment commander and was strategically deficient. One of the great myths of the great war is that of a German army inflicting defeats on an inferior Russian army almost at will when in fact the Eastern front was a very hard fought theatre and in general initial breakthroughs tended to run out of steam followed by a stabilising of the front. The command duo in the East which did display military greatness was not Hindenburg and Ludendorff but rather Mackensen and Seeckt.
The book has extensive analysis of the war economies of the Central powers, the impact of the Allied blockage and political leadership. Whenever people fall into condemning the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles it should be remembered just how harsh the terms imposed by a victorious Germany would have been, even those of the relatively reasonable Bethmann-Hollweg. This second edition considerably expands the scope of the coverage of the home front.
This is not a comprehensive history of the Great War, it is a history of the Central powers however in my opinion it consolidates the reputation established by the first edition as the definitive history (to date) on the subject of the Central powers and as one of the finest books written on the Great War. Certainly not the only book you will need on the Great War but if you have a serious interest in the Great War then this book must be in your library. The book is wonderfully written and the Kindle transfer is very good. This is one of those books that I bought in hardback form and then bought on Kindle as a working copy. Words like "classic", "seminal" and "great" are devalued by overuse (including by me I'll admit) but this book fully deserves to be acknowledged as a classic and the definitive work on its subject. Superb, 5*.
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on 5 April 2015
fine
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 December 2015
If you have read one or more of the excellent recent histories of WWI by British authors such as those by Stevenson 1914-1918: The History of the First World War, Beckett The Great War: 1914-1918 (magisterial) or Gilbert The First World War then this is the book to go to for the view from the Central Powers, which is a somewhat different perspective. This is a book of politics and grand strategy (or as often, its absence) rather than the soldiers eye view in the trenches, but one learns much that doesn't come across in the typical allied accounts. Most particularly is just how much worse the suffering on the home front was than for the allies. It is a staple that Allied soldiers home on leave could not communicate the horror of the trenches to the civilians at home, but post 1916 most civilians were dealing with the horrors of near starvation for much of the time, first in Austro-Hungary and then in Germany. One discovers how very disorganised the Central Power's management of the war was from an economic and industrial point of view, compared to the more streamlined production systems of the allies, due to their relative political fragmentation; Austria-Hungary because of its competing ethnicities, and in Germany due to the tension between miltary and civilian government. If the allies were led by donkeys then the Central Powers were led to a large extent by osteriches, most grotesquely by AH's Conrad von Hotzendorf. Througout it all there is expressed the same ghastly hubris and almost childlike wishful thinking that took Europe into the war in the first place.

A highly recommended read for the serious WWI / 20th Century History student.
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