David Stevenson's history of the First World War is exhaustive. Every sentence of the 600 densely printed pages is packed with information, often cross referring to other data within the same sentence. As a display of knowledge, and measured by factual coverage, the book is a huge success. Analysis is more sparing. Stevenson tends to drop comment after a comma in a factual statement. His analytic therefore lacks thorough working. For example, he states, in contradiction to Keynes (The Economic Consequences of the Peace), that the strictures of the Versailles treaty were not the cause of the Second World War, but were its necessary precondition. Keynes was actually at Versailles. Stevenson needs to work these kinds of argument much more deeply against their competing alternatives. The same goes for his claim that the start of the First World War was a deliberate decision of aggression by Germany. Philosophically, Stevenson clearly believes in cognitive behavioural decision theory. Very many other academics would put far more weight on causal factors, even though they may not endorse any neo-Marxist `theory of history'.
The book is somewhat exhausting as a result of being exhaustive. You have to persevere. It's as though the trudge of the war itself is reflected in getting through the book. Stevenson may be a great recorder, a chronicler, but not such an effective communicator. We may well eschew the `sound bite', but readers need to be able to digest an author's writing. Stevenson's spaghetti writing style, whilst commendable for its nutrition, does make his book less digestible. He peppers numerical data throughout the text, page 302 being a particularly notable example, whereas a summary data table, and other summary headline or timeline event tables would have eased his text and its digestibility greatly, and have made the book as communicative as it is informative.
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