Always enjoy Peter Hart's books and this is no exception. In his usual format, very readable and enlightening history illustrated by the words of those who were there (on both sides). I was particularly taken by the chapters on Salonica, Mesoptamia and Palestine, theatres of the war that I know too little about.
Gripes, I have a few - to few to mention really, but ... the ebook version I read had no pictures or maps (judging by the credits this is not a problem with the real book), no coverage of the, admittedly very minor, fronts in Africa.
Quite simply the best single volume account of the conflict I have ever read. To describe this book as a page turner doesn't' do it justice, but in terms of erudition and sheer readability, if you want a single book which sums up the conflict on land, sea and in the air, this is it!
Although the subject matter is one which is simply gut wrenching, Peter combined the two most important ingredients when writing this compelling book; vivid first hand accounts of the men in the middle of such horror and well researched facts of the wider political and social realities of the time.
It can be quite tempting and easy to go into great detail on any number of the lengthy battles or political nonsense which took place. It would make this book approachable and a battle to finish. Well done and I look forward to my next chapter of The Great War...Gallipoli.
Writing a really worthwhile single volume work on the Great War is a trick many have failed to pull off pull off. The books which seem most widely accepted as successes include Liddell Hart's - although many of his judgements are now questioned - Hugh Strachan's and Charles Cruttwell's. Although published in 1934, Cruttwell's A History of the Great War 1914-1918. has long been a favourite of mine; a yardstick by which I have measured lesser efforts. Whilst Cruttwell's biographer Geffrey Ellis thought the book's judgements of the war's prime movers as "frank and fearless" he considered that it showed "almost no awareness of the appalling degree of suffering it chronicles". As the oral historian the at the IWM Peter Hart has an unique grasp of the material available to the military historian. Consequently, lack of humanity is never a criticism one can direct at him, and as an author he is happy to attack accepted myths before offering judgements. Narrative drive is always a key to his writing, and it is backed by knowledge of the literature of the Great War and the cartulary of written and recorded events in the Imperial War museum. As in his compelling works on Gallipoli, the Somme and the Great War in the air has shown, he gives voice to major and minor actors to illustrate and contextualise the events which he reports and analyses. Sadly the "more obscure campaigns" - like Tsingtao, East Africa remain outside the author's evaluation. Rather he examines the most influential, those where the drive to genuine victory might be pursued: the Western and Eastern Fronts; the war at sea; Gallipoli; Salonika; Mesopotamia, Italy and Palestine. The war Peter Hart asserts "was the most important event of the 20th century". Yet it remains one frequently viewed "as a catastrophic mistake fought for little or no reason". Like 'Wullie' Robertson, the author, has "Heard different" and tells different. Although maps can never be entirely adequate in such a volume, the eight provided are clear, concise and helpful although a bibliography would have been a valuable addition. A success then? In my judgement yes. Clearly written, accessible to the tyro and, potentially, sufficiently challenging in its opinions for the armchair general who can if asked rehearse either the failures or the successes of the Battle of the Somme for you at the drop of a hat.
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.
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.
A fine accompanying read for our recent family visit to the ww1 graves in France to pay our respects to fallen relatives. It's refreshing to have book that doesn't conform to the oft repeated and wholly inaccurate 'lions led by donkeys ' mantra.
Corporal Riggs, Lance Corporal West and Private Smith this book gave me a glimpse into the last days of your lives. We will always be in your debt.
A well written account that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Extremely well researched and punctuated with moving accounts from generals, officers and privates alike. It dispels many myths about WW1 and restores the reputations of many brilliant and valiant leaders.
A informative and well written book that avoids all the usual assumptions and has given me a totally different insight in to the thinking and tactics of WW1. A must read for anyone interested in this subject