on 8 September 2013
There are no shortages of narratives on the Great War and most military aficionados' have expressed much trepidation about the imminent deluge of fresh titles launched to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Any title offering blanket coverage of over four tumultuous years of armed conflict faces a sizable challenge, for example the contemporary Times History of the War, originally issued in weekly parts, occupies almost a metre of my bookshelves. To succinctly incorporate in one 500 page volume, most of the Great War political manoeuvres and campaigns required the skill of a master of the genre - enter Peter Hart.
This accomplished author and excellent narrator needs no introduction, for he has an impressive back catalogue of military titles. In this his latest work, he delivers with great aplomb his typical incisive examination of the successes and failures of the armed forces of the British Empire, in the process rightly condemning the insulting `lions led by donkeys' myth. Also the unjustly maligned general Douglas Haig receives much empathy from revisionist historian Hart, and rightly so. The book also focuses impartially on the principal belligerents, their successes and failures endorsed with telling quotes from lowly soldiers and their bellicose leaders.
Without an understanding of the all arms world war, individual campaigns would appear incomprehensible, consequently from the outset; critically acclaimed Peter Hart takes you on a poignant journey of enlightenment. The first steps on the road to war are by necessity ponderous, until reaching the battle of the frontiers chapters when the book sets off and continues at a blistering pace. No stone remains unturned as Hart delves into the reasons and tactics behind each twist and turn along the road to Armageddon. Meticulously researched throughout, the Western and Eastern fronts are revisited as the years roll by, allowing the author an opportunity to continue the narrative and simultaneously explain the improvement in military tactics and weaponry. In the Gallipoli 1915 chapter, Hart himself no stranger to the peninsular, imparts on the reader the futility of a campaign doomed to failure. Hart sums up part of the Suvla operation in two chilling sentences "The 29th Division was slaughtered. Alongside them the 11th Division fared no better".
After the humiliating evacuation of Gallipoli the allies repeated their error by landing at the Greek port of Salonika, this disease ridden campaign, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Italy, and Palestine are each assigned a chapter. I particularly enjoyed the three annual chapters relating to the much overlooked war at sea where in common with other chapters, Hart delivers his trademark philosophical quote from a long passed veteran, regardless of nationality. The third sea chapter concludes with a thought provoking comment on the vanquished Germany Navy, "No one would ever know what might have been had they sought out battle in 1914 when the Royal Navy was at its most stretched".
The highly enjoyable work greatly benefits from eight clear campaign maps and excellent quality images including one of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig with his Army Commanders taken on Armistice Day 1918, the accompanying caption pointedly reminds readers these are the men that won the war.
I have no hesitation in recommending this highly interesting and meticulously researched work by this bestselling author. It is a worthy addition to his other titles including The Somme, Bloody April, Aces Falling, 1918: A Very British Victory and Gallipoli. What's more this fine book will only require 5cm (two inches) of your bookcase!
on 19 May 2013
Explaining the Great War, its causes, what happened, why and the aftermath is a complex and demanding task. The Great War by Peter Hart rises superbly to the challenge. The structure of the book, year by year, front by front is comprehensive and easy to follow. It is supported by excellent maps of all the fronts which allow easy cross reference with the text.
Peter Hart demonstrates a mastery of the subject but is able to convey the twists and turn of events and characters in a clear and convincing manner. A great strength lies in the stories within the story. The use of personal quotes bring to the book the raw emotion of war and what its participants, from generals to private soldiers, sailors and airman, thought and experienced at the time. The choice of photos follows the strong narrative set within the book, not only complementing and enhancing the text but almost acting as their own photo story book of the conflict.
It is also a book that avoids a single nationalistic perspective of the war. A book that recognises the contributions and sacrifices made by both sides, the wide range of countries involved and the complexity of war. The strategy and tactics used and how they developed are tracked across the war years. The political backdrop and the characters behind the scenes who drove conflict are interweaved.
The centenary of the start of the Great War is almost upon us.Numerous books will be written offering single perspectives on this all important conflict. For a balanced, comprehensive, accessible, clearly written and entertaining understanding of what happened and why, there is unlikely to be a better buy than this book from such an experienced historian and maturing author.
on 10 March 2014
A neat balance between historical facts - major actions, characters, etc. - and personal accounts of those who lived through it, from privates to field-marshals. Peter Hart gives us a clear and lucid picture of what happened from the build-up towards the war to the aftermath and its effects (still being felt today, in part) with a sense of balance that apportions due praise and blame regardless of whose 'side' the participants were on. All in all, if you want to know what the Great War was all about - as well as what happened - in one, reasonably-sized volume, this is the one for you.
Having said that - and why 4 stars not 5 - the Kindle edition comes without any maps (and yes, I know they're not the easiest things to make out on a Kindle anyway). This means the reader is fumbling about in the dark when told that an offensive occurred around Arras or in the Champagne unless you happen to have an atlas to hand. Even one general one would have been handy...
on 6 September 2014
Fascinating insight into the progress of the war, especially how tactics and technology evolved rapidly during its course. The 'eastern' theatre (Gallipoli, Basra, and Palestine etc) was an aspect I didn't know much about. The personal accounts from ordinary soldiers at the front are particularly moving. I have the Kindle version so I don't know if maps and diagrams are included in the printed book, but they would certainly help understand the text better.
on 30 April 2013
This is essentially a military history of the First World War, and to my mind, a better introduction to the conflict than more weighty tomes such as David Stevenson's 1914-1918. Logistics, industrial output, economics and politics are barely covered (apart from the usual revisionist trope that all politicians are untrustworthy), but in addition to the Western Front, campaigns in the East, Middle East and Turkey are addressed, along with battles at sea and in the air.
Peter Hart is as always, eminently readable, and never loses sight of the human cost of the conflict. Eyewitness accounts of the action contribute significantly to the readers understanding of the combatants experience.
on 20 February 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s great to read a ‘proper’ history book again. Peter Hart handles the intricacies of the subject really well, while retaining an excellent narrative. If you only read one book about World War One, than I strongly suggest this one. Well done Peter Hart.
on 23 November 2015
This a wonderful history of the war, brimming with insights rooted in the words and reports of those who took part, both on the frontline and as senior commanders. The major advantage of the book is its lengthy quotes of the letters, reports and words of the individuals involved. It is very much of the "revised" view of the Western Front, ie that it did not seem pointless at the time, and that the British and French learned the lessons and developed their weapons and tactics to the point where they overwhelmed the central powers in 1918.
Some readers may think there are too many personal recollections compared to the analysis and narrative drive of the book. It's a personal preference. Gary Sheffield's book is the seminal work for intelligent analysis and narrative of the First World War.
This is a well-written narrative, offering a military history of the First World War. It covers the key developments, incorporates testimonials from participants which add to the sense of what it was like for the fighting man to be at the sharp end of the conflict, and gives a good overview of the key features of the conflict.
The book offers no provocative, sweeping reinterpretations of the conflict, as Niall Ferguson tried to do in the Pity of War but he does chastise the `lions led by donkeys' view of the conflict ( popularized by TV programmes like Black Adder). This view owes too much to retrospect. The fact was that very good generals on both sides struggled to get to grips with a conflict of a scale and complexity that had no precedent. Both sides struggled to apply untested technological innovations like the aircraft and tanks effectively. Innovations of tactics and planning were effectively countered by the other side in a game of move and counter-move.
There were of course serious blunders and disastrous decisions and the generals were responsible for their share. But politicians have been let off lightly. Churchill and Lloyd George deserve more censure, for diverting resources to pointless sideshows like Gallipoli. Lloyd George thought the war could be won someplace else other than the western front. Haig insisted otherwise. Germany could only be decisively beaten in the West. Haig was right and Lloyd George was wrong.
A few negative reviews on Amazon com complain that the book is Anglo centric. I can see why this perception arises. The Western front features prominently, and of course this front was the principal British theatre of operations. However, the western front was the pivot upon which the outcome of the entire war hung. Whoever won in the west would win the war. This was not the case with other fronts. Germany's victory in the east in 1917 did not win it the war but when it lost in the west, as did it in 1918, then it lost the war. The crucial battles, which decided the course and outcome of the war, were fought in the west, and won mostly by forces of the British Empire - the American contribution, though important, was not the decisive factor in the victories in the summer of 1918. So the west merits greater consideration for these reasons alone.
Also, testimonials are mostly from English, French and German speakers. This means we get little idea of what it was like for Russian or Ottoman fighting men. But it would be churlish to criticize the author for this limitation - most British, French and German soldiers were literate and left a great deal of written material for historians to scrutinisem which was not the case for the average fighting man in the Russian or Turkish armies.
The book does not claim to be an encyclopaedia of the conflict. It does not cover everything (that would be a colossal undertaking). This book is for the general reader who is not looking for an A to Z of the First Word War but a book that covers the salient points. This I think the book succeeds in doing and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. Those who want to understand the how the conflict unfolded, without being overwhelmed with detail, will particularly appreciate it.Inevitably there are going to be raft of books on the First World War. This is going to count as one of the better ones, at least at the level of a general introduction and overview.
on 17 May 2013
`The Great War' by Peter Hart is a compact, comprehensive chronology of World War One that offers a clear and concise narrative, interwoven with personal testimonies many of which are sourced from the Imperial War Museum. The book is structured into small succinct chapters that encompass most aspects of the war providing students of this conflict with an overview of the events that happened on the Western Front, Eastern Front, Gallipoli, Salonika, Italy, Palestine and the war at sea. Some of these topics are new to me and I was completely hooked by Peter Hart's ability to convey the subject to the reader. It is written in the same style and spirit as the author's previous books and demonstrates consistent scholarly research. It is an enormous challenge for any author to write about an epic subject as the First World War within 500 pages, but Peter Hart has successfully written a book that is engaging and informative. He shows the horrors that the men who fought that war like lions, explains what they had endured on a daily basis, at the same time showing that their commanders were far from donkeys; they were under pressure to achieve results, to adapt to new technology as they strived for victory. This book will also appeal to new students of the conflict as an invaluable introduction to a vast, complex and controversial subject.
Peter Hart has met many veterans from World War One through his role as Oral Historian at the Imperial War Museum. Now that the veterans have passed away, historians such as Peter Hart and another author Paul Reed (who has also interviewed WW1 veterans) have become themselves the last link to that generation who listened to their accounts from first hand and can now relay them to our generation today. The firsthand accounts of the participants are the heart and soul of the book which complements the easy to read commentary.
Peter Hart has established himself as one of the leading chroniclers of World War One of our generation in his ability to tell the stories of those that took part in this awful conflict. He has set the benchmark for other authors to aspire and I am sure that this book will be widely referred to in the years to come. I will certainly read the book again and will refer to the author's opinion and comments on the various theatres of operation of this war during my studies in the future. Congratulations to Peter Hart for producing another invaluable contribution to the study of World War One.
on 17 May 2013
This is the 3rd book I have read written by Peter, like the other 2, this book is brilliant. It takes you from the Western Front to the Eastern front and everywhere else in-between. I met Peter in person in Gallipoli, where as a self taught historian I was wandering around the battlefield, Peter invited me to join his group for the day and in that short time my knowledge of Gallipoli was broadened significantly. This is what Peter's book on the Great War will do for you, it will increase your knowledge and understanding of this brutal period in our history. If you know anyone who has an interest in the First World War this is the book for them. What it has done for me is highlight less well known aspects of the conflict, that I will now reach out and discover. Peter as always thank you for making history so enjoyable and easy to discover.