The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War

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What was it that the British people believed they were fighting for in 1914-1918? This compelling history of the British home front during the First World War offers an entirely new account of how British society understood and endured the war. Drawing on official archives, memoirs, diaries and letters, Adrian Gregory sheds new light on the public reaction to the war, examining the role of propaganda and rumour in fostering patriotism and hatred of the enemy. He shows the importance of the ethic of volunteerism and the rhetoric of sacrifice in debates over where the burdens of war should fall as well as the influence of religious ideas on wartime culture. As the war drew to a climax and tensions about the distribution of sacrifices threatened to tear society apart, Gregory shows how victory and the processes of commemoration helped create a fiction of a society united in grief.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Adrian Gregory has provided the best brief account we have of the history of the Great War. Using an astonishing array of sources uncovering wartime life at the front and at home, Gregory tells the story of the war in a manner which is engaging, combative, and authoritative. Here is an original, tough-minded and thoughtful book, written by an historian unafraid of exploding the myths which still surround the 1914-18 conflict." -Jay Winter, Yale University

"In a series of brilliant, well-argued and powerfully humane thematic chapters, Gregory transforms our understanding of how Britons went to war, how they persevered despite growing anger at unequal ‘sacrifices’, and, crucially, how victory allowed them to transcend the traumas and the hatreds of war by embracing the lie that bereavement and sacrifice had been universal. Throughout, Gregory places experience of life on the home front, in all its rich diversity, centre-stage." -Jon Lawrence, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

"The Last Great War is the most important book on the British Home Front of the First World War to appear since Arthur Marwick's The Deluge, published over 40 years ago, which it largely supersedes. In particular, Adrian Gregory's revision of the idea of 'war enthusiasm' is subtle and persuasive. This is an outstanding work by a major historian." -Gary Sheffield, University of Birmingham

"At first glance, one wonders if we need another book about Britain and the First World War. After reading Adrian Gregory's The Last Great War, it is clear that we do. It offers a stirring reminder of the importance of studying the war on its own terms, not its popular legacy. By taking on some well-entrenched orthodoxies about what the First World War meant, the book will provoke renewed discussion and debate about this pivotal event." -Susan Grayzel, University of Mississippi

" important contribution to this historical subfield and readers of The Journal of Military History will appreciate the author's clarity and brevity, which will make the work a good choice for classroom use." -Stephen M. Miller, The Journal of Military History

"This fascinating, deeply revisionist study sets quite a few received opinions on their heads with its imagination, verve, and extensive use of sources, most of which come, by dint of availability, from the middle class--correspondence, diaries, newspapers, and local records."
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Peter Stansky, Stanford University

"Recommended." -Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521728836
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 362
  • Sales rank: 1,019,878
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Adrian Gregory is Lecturer in Modern History at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. His previous publications include The Silence of Memory: Armistice Day 1919–1946 (1994) and, as editor, A War to Unite Us All: Ireland and the Great War (2002).
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Table of Contents


Introduction The war that did not end all wars 1

1 Going to war 9

2 Defining the enemy: Atrocities and propaganda 1914-1915 40

3 From spectatorship to participation; From volunteering to compulsion 1914-1916 70

4 Economies of sacrifice 112

5 Redemption through war: Religion and the languages of sacrifice 152

6 The conditional sacrifices of labour 1915-1918 187

7 Struggling to victory 1917-1918 213

8 The last war? 249

Conclusion 277

Index 341

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