The First World War

The First World War

4.3 18
by Hew Strachan
     
 

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“This serious, compact survey of the war’s history stands out as the most well-informed, accessible work available.” (Los Angeles Times)

Nearly a century has passed since the outbreak of World War I, yet as military historian Hew Strachan argues in this brilliant and authoritative new book, the…  See more details below

Overview

“This serious, compact survey of the war’s history stands out as the most well-informed, accessible work available.” (Los Angeles Times)

Nearly a century has passed since the outbreak of World War I, yet as military historian Hew Strachan argues in this brilliant and authoritative new book, the legacy of the “war to end all wars” is with us still. The First World War was a truly global conflict from the start, with many of the most decisive battles fought in or directly affecting the Balkans, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. Even more than World War II, the First World War continues to shape the politics and international relations of our world, especially in hot spots like the Middle East and the Balkans.

Strachan has done a masterful job of reexamining the causes, the major campaigns, and the consequences of the First World War, compressing a lifetime of knowledge into a single definitive volume tailored for the general reader. Written in crisp, compelling prose and enlivened with extraordinarily vivid photographs and detailed maps, The First World War re-creates this world-altering conflict both on and off the battlefield—the clash of ideologies between the colonial powers at the center of the war, the social and economic unrest that swept Europe both before and after, the military strategies employed with stunning success and tragic failure in the various theaters of war, the terms of peace and why it didn’t last.

Drawing on material culled from many countries, Strachan offers a fresh, clear-sighted perspective on how the war not only redrew the map of the world but also set in motion the most dangerous conflicts of today. Deeply learned, powerfully written, and soon to be released with a new introduction that commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, The First World War remains a landmark of contemporary history.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washingtton Post
If Strachan had the least sense of solidarity with his fellow historians, his book would have failed miserably. Instead, the breadth and depth of his knowledge -- Strachan is midway through a three-volume, "scholarly" history of World War I -- allowed the author to write with a rigor inspired, rather than undermined, by television's brevity. He offers a broad, coherent and convincing vision. The striking period photographs have been chosen with an acuity that reinforces the text. And the prose is so clear that the author's fellow academics may revoke his numerous honors. — Ralph LPeters
Publishers Weekly
One of the leading historians of WWI offers this superior one-volume version of his massive projected three-volume work, the first volume of which, To Arms, clocked in at 1250-plus pages last year. Strachan strenuously avoids the traditional focus on the Western Front (and the British) and the conventional assumptions of generals' stupidity and soldiers' valor. The war as he sees it was a race among generals on all sides to create new weapons and tactics faster than their opponents, a race that the Triple Entente won. It was also a race among soldiers to fight with these new weapons and tactics instead of raw courage and numbers wherever possible. Yet Russia and the Dual Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were totally unfit for a large modern war (one reason the czar and his empire fell in 1917) and were a source of fatal weakness to Germany's alliance even before Italy changed sides. The political background (including the rising consciousness of colonial nationalities conscripted for the war), social consequences and diplomatic finagling all face an equal amount of revision, leaving the book organized more thematically than chronologically. Readers already familiar with the sequence of events in strict order will benefit most. But all readers will eventually be gripped, and even the most seasoned ones will praise the insights and the original choice of illustrations. This is likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan's First World War, and will draw serious readers to the larger work. Five city author tour. (On sale Apr. 26) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
These two books are touted on their dust jackets as outstanding one-volume histories of WW I and both are written by British historians. Strachan's book entitled The First World War is clearly the more accessible of the two, written in a breezier style, with helpful photographs dotting every few pages (and a great set of maps in the beginning); it is also briefer (the type font is not especially small, either). Stevenson's book entitled Cataclysm: the First World War as Political Tragedy is knottier and more academic in style and nearly 500 pages long (with a smaller, less inviting typeface). Stevenson's chapter titles are simply descriptive; Strachan's are more metaphorically allusive (a mark against it, actually—just what, you wonder, is in that chapter.) Both have good end notes, though Stevenson's book, not surprisingly, has a more carefully detailed index. A school looking for one new book on the subject would most likely want the shorter, punchier one. Neither makes as bold a reappraisal of events as fellow Brit Niall Ferguson did a few years back with Pity of War, but they each have a key selling point: Strachan leads directly from the war then to the world now (especially in the Middle East), while Stevenson carefully probes motives and context for key actions throughout the conflict in a way that sheds new light on each element. For libraries building a rich collection on the topic for student research, both books would be useful additions. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Penguin, 364p. illus. maps. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Daniel Levinson
Library Journal
With this superbly written survey, Strachan (Chichele Professor of the History of War, All Souls Coll., Oxford Univ.), a noted authority on this frequently misunderstood but critically important conflict, will provide the scholar and the interested reader alike with a suitable starting point for study. Ninety years since it began, Strachan details the important factors behind World War I, covers the major ground and naval campaigns and battles, and assesses the roles of leading officers and statesmen while simultaneously highlighting the home fronts and the non-European aspects of this cataclysmic event. The coverage is what one would expect from a survey, but the consistently superior writing separates this volume from its competitors. The photographs, many of which will be new to even the most devoted specialist, deserve special mention. General surveys of wars and campaigns are common in all types of libraries, but finely crafted works such as this merit our attention. While Strachan doesn't knock the recent superb efforts of John Keegan and Niall Ferguson off the shelves, he adds another excellent narrative history to the growing recent literature on the Great War. Strongly recommended for academic and public libraries.-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Strachan provides a comprehensive and gripping account of one of the most bloody and important wars in human history, bringing to readers a reality beyond its grim reputation. His greatest contribution is to restore the worldwide dimension to this conflict, for it was a war that was fought in Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific, and Eastern Europe, as well as in Western Europe. Furthermore, he shows the widespread effects of the war wherever it was fought, and he delineates the meaning the conflict had for its combatants. Some of his judgments might be debatable, but his accomplishment with this book is not. Well written and well illustrated with photographs, the volume lifts readers' eyes from the mud of Flanders.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-conceived and lucidly written survey of the 20th century's first great bloodletting, with close attention to little-known episodes in and preceding the conflict. The First World War was preeminently a conflict between England and Germany over control of the sea, and consequently of European trade-a clash of Weltpolitik and Empire, as it were. Germany, writes Strachan (History/Oxford Univ.; World War I, 1999), challenged the "status quo in three ways: colonial, naval, and economic"; but that challenge does not translate to responsibility for the outbreak of the war, which in any event involved many other nations, many rivalries and grudges, and many little martial sparks that added up to one big conflagration. (For a time, Strachan observes, Austro-Hungarians hoped that the fire could be contained in a decisive Third Balkan War, meant to settle Serbia's hash once and for all.) Strachan notes that although the war was global, with theaters in Asia and Africa, our conception and images of it center on Europe-and even then only on the bloody trenches that cut across the continent. He also remarks that the standard histories forget the "war's other participants," apart from the soldiers: namely, "diplomats and sailors, politicians and laborers, women and children." Even in places where the war hit hardest-oddly, England suffered more losses in the First than the Second World War-it's in danger of being lost to memory, and Strachan's overview brings into sharp focus the proximate causes and critical moments of the conflict, from the well-known (Jutland, the Somme) to the comparatively little studied (the abortive English invasion of German-held Cameroon, the savage campaigns in theAlps). The war ended with an astonishing toll: more than 800,000 German soldiers in the spring of 1918 alone, followed by the deaths of many more due not to Allied bullets but to the arrival of the Spanish flu that summer. Heavily illustrated with maps and period photographs: the best single-volume treatment of the conflict in recent years. Agent: Michael Carlisle/Carlisle & Co.
From the Publisher
Praise for The First World War:

"This serious, compact survey of the war’s history stands out as the most well-informed, accessible work available." 
Los Angeles Times

"What Strachan offers is history as only the professionals can do it, and rarely enough even then."
Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

"Likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan’s First World War."
Publishers Weekly

"A brilliant feat."
John Keegan

"Quite simply the best short history of the war in print."
Dennis Showalter

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101153413
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/05/2005
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
163,288
File size:
16 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One: A European Tragedy

The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks of crisis that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice; tragic because the consequences of the first clash ended the lives of ten million human beings, tortured the emotional lives of millions more, destroyed the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent and left, when the guns at last fell silent four years later, a legacy of political rancour and racial hatred so intense that no explanation of the causes of the Second World War can stand without reference to those roots. The Second World War, five times more destructive of human life and incalculably more costly in material terms, was the direct outcome of the First. On 18 September 1922, Adolf Hitler, the demobilised front fighter, threw down a challenge to defeated Germany that he would realise seventeen years later: "It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain . . . No, we do not pardon, we demand--vengeance!"

The monuments to the vengeance he took stand throughout the continent he devastated, in the reconstructed centres of his own German cities, flattened by the strategic bombing campaign that he provoked, and of those--Leningrad, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Rotterdam, London--that he himself laid waste. The derelict fortifications of the Atlantic Wall, built in the vain hope of holding his enemies at bay, are monuments to his desire for vengeance; so, too, are the decaying hutments of Auschwitz and the remnants of theobliterated extermination camps at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. A child's shoe in the Polish dust, a scrap of rusting barbed wire, a residue of pulverised bone near the spot where the gas chambers worked, these are as much relics of the First as of the Second World War. They have their antecedents in the scraps of barbed wire that litter the fields where the trenches ran, filling the French air with the smell of rust on a damp morning, in the mildewed military leather a visitor finds under a hedgerow, in the verdigrised brass of a badge or button, corroded clips of ammunition and pockmarked shards of shell. They have their antecedents also in the anonymous remains still upturned today by farmers ploughing the bloodsoaked soil of the Somme--"I stop work at once. I have a great respect for your English dead"--just as the barely viewable film of bodies being heaped into the mass graves at Belsen in 1945 has its antecedents in the blurred footage of French soldiers stacking the cordwood of their dead comrades after the Second Battle of Champagne in 1915. The First World War inaugurated the manufacture of mass death that the Second brought to a pitiless consummation.

There are more ceremonial monuments. Few French and British communities lack a memorial to the dead of the Second World War. There is one in my West Country village, a list of names carved at the foot of the funerary crucifix that stands at the crossroads. It is, however, an addition and an afterthought. The cross itself was raised to commemorate the young men who did not return from the First World War and their number is twice that of those killed in the Second. From a population of two hundred in 1914, W. Gray, A. Lapham, W. Newton, A. Norris, C. Penn, L. Penn and W. J. White, perhaps one in four of the village's men of military age, did not come back from the front. Theirs are names found in the church registers that go back to the sixteenth century. They survive in the village today. It is not difficult to see from the evidence that the Great War brought heartbreak on a scale never known since the settlement was established by the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman Conquest and, thankfully, has not been known since. The memorial cross is, the church apart, the only public monument the village possesses. It has its counterpart in every neighbouring village, in the county's towns, where the names multiply many times, and in the cathedral of the diocese at Salisbury. It has its counterpart, too, in every cathedral in France, in each of which will be seen a tablet bearing the inscription, "To the Glory of God and in memory of one million men of the British Empire who died in the Great War and of whom the greater number rest in France."

Nearby, certainly, will stand a memorial to the locality's own dead, itself replicated in every surrounding town and village. France lost nearly two million in the Great War, two out of every nine men who marched away. They are often symbolised by the statue of a poilu, defiant in horizon blue, levelling a bayonet eastward at the German frontier. The list of names on the plinth is heartrendingly long, all the more heartrending because repetition of the same name testifies to more than one death, often several, in the same family. There are similar lists to be seen graven in stone in the towns and cities of most combatant nations of the Great War. Particularly poignant, I find, is the restrained classicism of the memorial to the cavalry division of the Veneto that stands beside the cathedral of Murano in the lagoon of Venice, bearing row after row of names of young men from the lowlands of the River Po who died in the harsh uplands of the Julian Alps. I am touched by the same emotion in the churches of Vienna where severe stone tablets recall the sacrifice of historic Habsburg regiments now almost forgotten to history.

The Germans, who cannot decently mourn their four million dead of the Second World War, compromised as the Wehrmacht was by the atrocities of the Nazi state, found a materially, if not morally equivalent difficulty in arranging an appropriately symbolic expression of grief for their fallen of the First, since so many lay on foreign soil. The battlefields of the east were closed to them by the Bolshevik revolution, those of the west made at best grudgingly accessible for the retrieval and reburial of bodies. The French and the Belgians found little room in their hearts or in the national soil for the creation of German war cemeteries.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for The First World War:

"This serious, compact survey of the war’s history stands out as the most well-informed, accessible work available." 
Los Angeles Times

"What Strachan offers is history as only the professionals can do it, and rarely enough even then."
Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

"Likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan’s First World War."
Publishers Weekly

"A brilliant feat."
John Keegan

"Quite simply the best short history of the war in print."
Dennis Showalter

Meet the Author

Hew Strachan is the Chichele Professor of the History of War and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University. The editor of The Oxford History of the First World War, he is writing a three-volume history of the First World War, the first volume of which was published in 2001 to wide acclaim.

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