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on 15 June 2017
Celebrated British TV presenter and author, Jeremy Paxman, has some fascinating things to tell us in this well-written and highly informative survey of how World War One affected various sectors of the British population. He pays tribute, for instance, to the remarkable pioneering role of Harold Gillies, the inventor of plastic surgery, in reconstructing the often gruesomely shattered faces of badly wounded soldiers, enabling them to hold their heads high in public without undue embarrassment to themselves and others. He vividly narrates the infamous antics of some British women in harassing young males in civilian clothes (they wrongly assumed the latter hadn’t signed up to fight) - an experience my own maternal grandfather, an artillery officer, personally underwent while on leave from the Western Front). The transformative effect on the social complexion of the officer class resulting from the hopelessly ill-conceived Somme offensive of July to November 1916 (160,000 British fatalities, a disproportionately high percentage being upper middle class public (i.e. private) school educated young officers) - which necessitated the rapid infusion of hastily trained officer replacements from lower social backgrounds - is eloquently described. In documenting the squalor, filth and disease-ridden conditions of trench warfare, the author pulls no punches and brings home the horrific immediacy of such warfare.

In its coverage of leading participants in the War, Paxman’s book is, however, open to criticism. Weak and vacillating British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, (who, against his better judgement, let himself be bullied by gung-ho cabinet colleagues into rushing troops to France to oppose the invading Germans) and his flamboyant successor, David Lloyd George, (who shabbily sought to shield a family member from the fray with the offer of a cushy desk job - while at a the same time consigning tens of thousands of British military personnel to needless deaths), both inexplicably get a pass. The impulsive decision of Winston Churchill, then Secretary of the Navy and at 37 the rising star of British politics, to up the ante some three days before the official start of hostilities (and thereby make the outbreak of war almost inevitable) by ordering the main fleet to relocate from the English Channel to the North Atlantic gets barely a mention, despite the fact that the overall purpose of this naval activity – the imminent imposition of a North Sea blockade on German shipping - was instantly recognised by the Germans and correctly interpreted as a preliminary act of war. For the conduct of British generals in the field, their endless preventable blunders and appalling lack of imagination, Paxman offers the lame excuse ‘What else could they do?’ He seems oddly unaware of the principles of initiative and delegation so deeply instilled as a modus operandi in the German Army whereby every rank from colonel down to corporal was trained to immediately assume command of all those under him whenever superior officers were no longer available. Why did the British top brass never think of imitating this policy? Instead, in the event of critical officer staff becoming casualties, infantrymen were left (as happened particularly during the 1916 Somme offensive) to wander aimlessly about, lacking the authority and operational knowledge to exploit any momentary advantage gained on the battlefield. Regarding the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Paxman curiously omits to impart the extraordinary circumstance that Wilhelm was not only fifth in line to the British throne but that he also, since his mother was the eldest child of Queen Victoria, would have automatically become King of Great Britain had the rite of male royal primogeniture been rescinded (this had to wait till 2014) prior to the demise of playboy monarch Edward VII in 1910. Despite his bombastic outbursts, Wilhelm was an Anglophile at heart, his fundamental wish being to avoid war with Britain, an attitude most dramatically expressed during the immediate run-up to the start of the War in August 1914 when he desperately sought to dissuade his resolutely obstinate general staff from implementing the Schlieffen Plan (an utterly misguided strategy because its exclusive focus on winning the war in the west neglected all political realities, in particular the adverse impact on British public opinion of a German violation of Belgian neutrality). Instead, he unsuccessfully pushed for the much more realistic alternative of an offensive war against Russia in the east coupled with a defensive posture in the west. This strategy would almost certainly have paid huge dividends, resulting at the very least in a military stalemate and, even more likely, a complete German victory in the War.
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on 18 January 2018
The format and structure Jeremy Paxman uses to illustrate how the Great War impacted Britain and it's people is wonderfully accessible and unique.

Rather than focus on any one of the personal, social, political, military or economic narratives of the devastating conflict he instead focuses on ALL of them and manages to tie them together in an easy to follow, poignant and entertaining manner.

From the utterance of history's most remembered quotes, ('The lights are going out all over Europe now, we won't see them lit again in our lifetime' - Sir Edward Grey), the machinations of some of history's most famous players like Churchill, Kitchener and Haig, the nightmarish impact of trench warfare on the minds of soldiers, the atmosphere at home being shaped by the media narrative and even the accounts of the now famous war poets like Owen and Sassoon. This book contains endless variety and depth and is a brilliant introduction to those wanting to bolster their knowledge of World War 1.

Paxman was known as a host for his hard-hitting interview style, yet one who fears a ponderous tome full of tedious opinions and righteous moralising should not be put off by this author - it is a read so easy as to almost seem like fiction, and Paxman's own family is even featured to a small degree.

Could not recommend this book more.
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on 31 December 2013
Realy enjoyed this book, I have not read many WW1 books, this made me think about how we percieved the war then and now. Very moving as well when thinking about how many lost their lives. This is one of the few books that is able to informatively talk about statistics and facts whilst never loosing the sensitivity of the lives that were lost. Really moving and informative book.
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on 27 March 2014
Having watched the tv series I followed up with the book which I have found very readable, probably because it is both a social and military history rather than just concentrating on the military side. It does bring home how the concept of duty, which was so evident at the time, has long disappeared.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2014
Having just finished this book, it has made me a great deal more cognisant of the purpose and meaning of our recent Remberance Day events. Paxman is a very good writer, telling not just the story of the war and Britain's involvement, but providing a real insight into the impact it had on Britain and its people. Whilst at such a distance it's difficult to comprehend how people of the time dealt with such events, the book does help make sense of how they could live through such experiences and accepted the sacrifices as their "duty". The book left me regretting that I didn't talk more with my grandparents to hear the first hand accounts of their experiences.
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on 10 March 2016
Ok, I have never been the greatest fan of Jeremy Paxman - indeed, most of the time I have found the man insufferable on the whole.
Nevertheless, and you can take this from a true "honest broker", this really is a very good book indeed.
I have read fairly extensively re the world wars, and yet I still enjoyed Mr Paxman's effort.
Well written, not turgid or dry or hard going- just a blessed good read.
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on 16 April 2018
Very much like Paxman's book on the Empire, this looks an exciting and informative read, and from the many reviews that have given it a full five stars, I'm very much looking forward to reading it.
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on 29 April 2014
A clearly written and most interesting account of the impact of the Great War on the UK's politicians, as well as the military and the civilian population. It clearly shows the ineptitude of both politicians and military leaders at that time, and the complete disregard of the consequences of war on ordinary people's lives and the cost to the country in wasted lives and a ruined economy. The book should be recommended reading for today's politicians and military leaders, as the same impact could so easily be repeated in the 21st Century.
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on 20 August 2014
This is a well written and well informed account of the First World War. Jeremy Paxman has an easy and natural way of writing. His book has many fascinating details of the period which I had never read before. It is a timely release on this the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War and it is a must read for anyone who wishes to honour the memory and sacrifice of the men and women who played a part in the struggle.
Gerry Mc Menemy.
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on 11 October 2017
Well written; Jeremy obviously loves the English language as this history is beautifully crafted. As I had hoped this book was very informative and provided a fuller picture than a purely political or military history.
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